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

New Lab Member Highlight: Edi Wipf

The Northen Lab is excited to feature Edi Wipf, a postdoc who is working with Kate Zhalnina to study plant-microbe interactions. Learn more about Edi 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 expertise lies in the realms of plant bacterial and fungal microbiomes, soil microbial ecology, and eco-evolutionary dynamics.

With regards to my background, I have long been interested in and deeply curious about the varied forces that move, shape, and foster the intricate worlds we can find all around us. If it was the many sci-fi videos and books I grew up on, having parents that immigrated to the States shortly before I was born and communication obstacles arising from English being my second language, or otherwise, the pursuit of discovery and comprehension have been and remain important aspects to my sense of self. Out of a particular awe and appreciation for the impactful ways plants and other natural communities contribute to the structure and well-being of countless others, my scientific career was sparked by a desire to better understand elements of growth, interconnection, transmutation, and adaptability and how these features both arise and may be used in service of others.

From undergraduate work that focused on characterizing how local adaptation to soils containing heavy metals may influence the reproduction of two co-occurring plant species, I went on to explore the associations between soil microscopic life and crops for my doctorate work. It was through this research that my fascination with microbial communities grew, and I am excited by the many questions that remain regarding specific activity and ecological interactions of varied groups of microorganisms.

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

What comes to mind is that during one instance of performing field work in very hot weather (108°F/42°C), I became one of the highlights of an undergraduate’s daily story on the photo-sharing app Snapchat:

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

I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity to work on characterizing the metabolomes of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and archaea, and to determine the impact of specific metabolites on the growth of both organisms. 

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

A beloved book is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer – would highly recommend to everyone!

Is there anything you are excited to see or do in the Bay Area once the pandemic is over? 

Yes – there is so much to look forward to after things are more safe! Two activities in particular I am excited for is going to see live music at the Greek Theatre and practicing aerial arts.