NorthenLab: Exometabolomics linking genomes with environments to understand how webs of microbes sustain biomes

New Lab Member Highlight: Connor Tomaka

The Northen Lab is excited to welcome Connor Tomaka, a new Research Associate. Learn more about Connor in the following interview. 

What is your area of expertise? Could you talk a little bit about your background and what brought you to your field? 

My research experience has focused on soil microbial ecology, plant population dynamics, and the effects of microbial processes on carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in global, woodland, and agrosystems. I was introduced to rhizosphere and applied plant biology research through my undergraduate mentors and professors. As I delved further into these fields, I developed interests in global change biology, which prompted my interest in biogeochemistry and the accompanying analytic and computational tools that enable more predictive investigations into belowground systems, particularly roots and associated microbial communities. I found that despite the integral role these communities play in resource acquisition, carbon storage, nutrient cycling, etc. we know little about the rhizosphere due to functional and methodological limitations. Metabolomics as applied to environmental systems biology offers such exciting potential for a predictive understanding of these subsurface ecologies in relation to aboveground processes.

Do you have any anecdotes or funny stories from your previous research?

While collecting soil samples in northern Illinois, both of my rubber wading boots were suctioned while struggling through a calcareous fen, leaving me bootless and fighting to get them back with a shovel. 

What research topics or experimental techniques are you most excited to work on in the Northen Lab? 

Working with the Northen Lab and Peter Andeer is an incredibly exciting opportunity to learn from and work on a wide array of experimental techniques and research projects. I am most excited to contribute to both the EcoFab and mass spectrometry platforms in studying microbial processes as they relate to nutrient cycling and expand my knowledge of microbial community metabolomics. 

Could you name a favorite book, piece of music, video game, or movie?

Currently, my favorite piece of music is Obsolete Systems by Laurie Spiegel and my favorite book is Working Conditions by Hans Haacke.

Is there anything you are excited to see or do in the Bay Area? Or, if you have been here before, any recommendations? 

I’m excited to bike around the bay area, access UCB’s library, see SFMOMA’s Nam Jun Paik exhibition, and go backpacking in the King Range National Conservation Area.