Alaina joined the Aylward Lab in Fall of 2018, focusing on microbial ecology and evolution. Passionate about protecting the environment, she aims to elucidate the effects of microbial communities on ecosystem health and global biogeochemical cycles, particularly in marine systems. While completing her bachelor’s degree in Biology at Penn State, Alaina worked on projects in several coral reef research labs, where she was exposed to the numerous threats to reefs and other marine ecosystems. She was particularly inspired by the ability of some coral to acquire different photosynthetic microbial partners under unfavorable conditions as a means of dealing with environmental stress. This phenomenon made her curious about other roles microbes may play in the response of organisms and ecosystems to environmental disturbances.
To further her understanding of microbial processes in the ocean, Alaina pursued her master’s degree in Marine Microbiology at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. For her master’s thesis project, she used metagenomic data to investigate how viruses affect the microbiome of deep sea mussels at hydrothermal vents. Working on this project exposed her to both the advantages and challenges of applying computational approaches to microbial ecology.
Alaina is working in the Aylward Lab with the goal of developing novel methods in computational biology to address questions in microbial ecology. She plans to explore the structure and function of microbial communities, their metabolic and phylogenetic diversity, and their role in mediating environmental change. Her interest in environmental disturbances led her to enroll in the Interfaces of Global Change Program, to improve her understanding of both their environmental and societal impacts. Her overarching goal is to supplement ecosystem management strategies and environmental policies with microbial knowledge – all with the hopes improving sustainability and environmental stewardship.