5159 MSB, 1550 Linden Dr.
Microbial communities associated with herbivores are fundamental to ecosystem functioning in almost all environments on Earth. Specifically, these communities facilitate the conversion of plant biomass into nutrients usable by their host, thereby bridging primary producers and secondary consumers. The Suen Lab research is focused on understanding the evolution and ecology of herbivore-associated microbial communities on three different scales. At the broadest scale, we are interested in how these communities evolve across host type, host diet, and geographical distribution. At an intermediate level, we are interested in how members of these communities interact with each other to coordinate the breakdown of plant biomass and produce nutrients for their host. At the finest scale, we are interested in understanding how microbes fundamentally degrade polysaccharides such as cellulose and hemicelluloses found in plant cell walls. From an applied perspective, these investigations have ramifications for areas including animal health and production and biofuels and. We use as a model, the rumen ecosystem, which functions as the primary driver in the production of key agricultural products like milk and beef. Studying ruminants also has a direct impact on human health and disease, particularly in development, lactation, and the influence of diet on host microbiota. Our research employs number of systems biology approaches to study these key areas including whole-genome sequencing, transcriptomics, metagenomics, and functional genomics. The lab consists of both computational and wet lab students and scientists, as we believe firmly in cross-fostering communication between practitioners of these areas.