Ying Zhang, 2011 Postdoctoral Scholar



The discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the late 1970s has changed our view on how life could exist on earth. As one of the most productive aquatic environments, deep-sea vents host a large number of chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms that derive their energy from various geochemical sources rather than the sunlight. These chemolithoautotrophs form the base of the food chain in the deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystem and are responsible for transferring energy from geothermal sources to the higher trophic levels. Despite their importance, little is known about the physiology of these chemolithoautotrophs, especially the metabolic strategies they use to survive the highly dynamic environment.

In order to fully understand the genetic, taxonomic and functional diversity of microbial communities at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, I collaborate with Drs. Stefan Sievert, Jeffrey Seewald and Craig Taylor on an interdisciplinary research program that combines metagenomics, single-cell genomics, metatranscriptomics, and metaproteomics with in situ measurements of chemoautotrophic production and the geochemical characterization of microbial habitats. Specifically, I will perform genome-scale study to investigate the connections between taxonomic diversity and functional adaptability of the dominant species. I will also build metabolic models that integrate the various “-omics” and in situ experimental data to allow computational simulation of the organisms.

The main focus of my research will be on the processes of carbon assimilation and energy metabolism. Through the study, my goal is to identify the predominant metabolic pathways utilized by different taxonomic groups and to gain a community-level overview on how different metabolic pathways are switched on or off depending on the availability of nutrients and the existence of other competitive or mutualistic species.