Sarah Christofides: Winner (2019) of a Best Article Award from FEMS Microbiology Ecology

27-01-20 Carianne Buurmeijer

Sarah Christofides (neé Johnston), Postdoctoral Research Associate at Cardiff University (UK), is the winner of a 2019 article award from FEMS Microbiology Ecology. She wins the award as the first author of the winning paper: Highly competitive fungi manipulate bacterial communities in decomposing beech wood.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @ecologysarah

This is the first time that FEMS Microbiology Ecology has presented such awards and it has selcted four top papers to be the winners. We interviewed Sarah to find out more about the inspiration behind this paper:

Could you provide a brief, simple overview of the topic your paper covers?

Sarah Christofides, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Cardiff University (UK)

We set out to test whether wood-decay fungi could influence the bacterial community within their territory. There was lab evidence that this was the case, but until now the only field data were correlative. By manipulating fungal communities in the field, we were able to show that fungi can indeed drive bacterial communities. Interestingly, a given fungus’ capacity to do this seems to be linked to how competitive it is against other fungi.”

Why is it important for us to learn about bacterial interactions with wood-decay fungi?

Wood decay fungi have a fascinating and very complex ecology, and they control and regulate the turnover and decay of dead wood. Decomposing wood is a big global carbon pool and a diverse habitat for all sorts of organisms, so understanding what happens within it is key to forest ecology.”

Taxonomic composition of the bacterial community in fungus-colonised wood disks, broken down by treatment. Stacked bar charts of family relative abundance are presented alongside heat trees. Node colour and size on the heat trees represent relative abundance for that taxon.

What encouraged you to perform research in this area of microbiology?

I’m very interested in how the interactions between individuals can shape whole ecological communities. In particular, wood decay fungi are such amazing organisms: each individual is theoretically unlimited in time and space, and they have sophisticated ways of gaining and defending resources. Interactions with bacteria were a very underexplored aspect of their ecology, and ripe for investigation.”

What do you see as the next steps in this area of research?

Well, one of the hanging questions from this study has now been cleared up – it’s not just the heavyweights that can select bacteria! The next study from my PhD used a shorter time period to show that the less-competitive fungi also alter bacterial communities. Having confirmed that fungi do shape bacterial communities, I would love to dig further into the mechanisms and functional interactions. Are the enriched taxa beneficial to the fungus, or are they resistant parasites? Is there an exchange of nutrients between the fungus and the bacteria? There is lots to still find out!”

Read the 2019 award winning paper: Highly competitive fungi manipulate bacterial communities in decomposing beech wood

See more FEMS Journals Article Awards

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