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Ecosystem Health and Microbiomes

Ecosystems are essential to our survival and welfare, yet their health has been drastically impaired by extensive human activities. As a crucial component of ecosystems, microbes are victims of these adverse effects. In the meanwhile, they could be savers. In the LEAPH Lab, we aim to leverage the power of the microbiome (i.e., all the microbes in a given environment) to generate innovative, sustainable solutions to protect and nurture ecosystems, including agroecosystems and natural ecosystems. We employ field sampling, multi-omics, and machine learning to understand how environmental stresses caused by human activities interact with microbiomes. We further translate this knowledge into practical solutions to enhance ecosystem health and protect the environment by developing microbiome-based tools.

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Food Safety and Bacterial Pathogens

Foodborne pathogens pose a heavy burden on public health and the food industry globally. However, it remains challenging to efficiently control foodborne pathogens in the agricultural and food systems. We tackle this challenge by integrating environmental surveillance, whole genome sequencing, microbial ecology, and population genomics approaches. We monitor foodborne bacterial pathogens (chiefly Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella) in diverse environments and identify genetic and environmental factors contributing to their transmission and adaptation. We further develop ecological-informed tools for foodborne diseases control and outbreak investigation.

Photo credit: MIT News

Antimicrobial Resistance in the Environment

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health threat. While the environment is an important reservoir of AMR, it is an overlooked dimension, which needs more investigations. To this end, we study AMR in two types of biological systems, microbiomes and foodborne pathogens, in food-associated and natural environments. Through (meta)genomic data analysis combined with experimental manipulation, we aim to understand ecological mechanisms underlying the persistence, dissemination, and evolution of AMR in the environment. We use the mechanistic knowledge to inform science-based decisions and environmental actions, ultimately mitigating the threats from AMR to public health.