Written by Jessica A. Knoblauch, Environmental Science and Policy Program
ESPP welcomes new faculty member Jay Lennon, an assistant professor jointly appointed in the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics department and the Kellogg Biological Station.
Before coming to Michigan State in August 2006, Lennon attended Brown University in Providence, R.I., where he did his post-doctoral work in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. There he studied marine microbial ecology by looking at photosynthetic bacteria and the viruses that infect and kill them.
"There can be upwards of ten million viruses per one milliliter of water," says Lennon. "It has been suggested that viruses can influence global biogeochemical cycles, but in reality, we don't really know what kinds of impacts they have on biodiversity and ecosystem processes."
To better understand those impacts, Lennon and his colleagues infected the Synechococcus, a cyanobacterium that is widespread in the marine environment, with a virus. "We wanted to see how the Synechococcus would change after infecting it with the virus," says Lennon.
Lennon found that once introduced, Synechococcus quickly evolved resistance to the virus. As a result, the virus could no longer infect the microorganism. "We had rapid evolution occurring," explains Lennon. Over a period of time, Lennon and his colleagues found that the virus then evolved so that it could infect the resistant Synechococcus, thereby creating a full cycle of co-evolution.
"We had an arms race going on," says Lennon.
Lennon hopes that his research will help address the broader questions involved with understanding spatial and temporal patterns of microbial diversity and how they influence ecosystem processes.
By definition, a microbe is an organism too small to be visible by the human eye. So how can something that humans can't even see be so important? "Just look at the tree of life," says Lennon. "Most of that 'tree' is comprised of microbes. We need to know what that diversity does or if it matters for ecosystem functioning."
Here at MSU, Lennon is using his knowledge of microbial ecology in the classroom. Currently, he co-teaches both a class on campus in microbial ecology and a field class in biogeochemistry at KBS.
When asked why he chose to come to Michigan State, Lennon answers that MSU has a really good reputation for ecology, biodiversity and microbiology. "I felt pretty lucky to have an offer to come here," says Lennon.