Dr Ashley Franks
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Science, Technology and Engineering
Dr Ashley Franks
Environmental microbiology is the study of the composition and physiology of microbial communities in the environment. An understanding of these natural processes is fundamental for comprehension of ecosystem function and application to biotechnology, bioremediation and bioenergy.
In the environment, microbes are commonly found aggregated to each other and/or a surface in what is referred to as a biofilm. Forming biofilms enable microbes to perform unique physiological processes. Our challenge is to understand the microbial biofilms, their function in nature and how these functions can benefit us. In particular, bacterial biofilms that can promote the growth of plants or transfer electrons extracellularly are a focus.
Bacterial interactions with plant roots, a zone referred to as the rhizosphere, can have both beneficial and detrimental effects. Plants can influence microbe activity through root exudates and microbes can affect plant health through biostimulation, biofertilization, biocontrol and infection. These activities involve complex signalling and interactions between the plant and the rhizosphere-associated microbial communities.
Some bacterial biofilms are capable of transferring electrons extracellular between cells and to insoluble electron acceptors. While extracellular electron transfer is commonly associated with electricity production by bacteria in microbial fuel cells, microbial extracellular electron transfer is an important environmental process and has applications in bioremediation and in the microbial mediated production of specialty chemicals.
Fundamental to these applied applications is a basic understanding of the microbial processes, interactions and evolution in the biofilm mode of life.
Run in conjunction with the National Public Radio program "Pulse of the Planet", Kids Science Challenge is a national science competition for children. This challenge also provides teachers/mentors guidelines and lesson plans to promote science. Winner of Editors Choice Blue Ribbon at 2010 "Makers Faire" held at The New York Hall of Science.
2010: Magical Microbes Chomp
Web based interactive science game developed to promote students' interest in microbiology and science. Developed in association with the Kids Science Challenge
2010: World Lab-Gatchan Episode #16 2010. NHK - The Student Channel Japan
Science based Japanese Television series broadcast nationally in Japan. Episode #16 focused on work with Geobacter powered microbial fuel cells and microbial electrosynthesis. Episode produced in collaboration with NHK, NEXTEP TV WORKSHOP Co., Ltd and University of Massachusets.