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Prof Ashley Shade's Visit to Microverse

Ashley Shade is a Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Lyon (France), and one of our Microverse Guest Professors.

Her research, along with her team, focuses on understanding how environmental microbiomes respond to stress, with the ultimate goal of managing them for rapid recovery and maintaining stable functions in the face of changing climates. The ability to recover swiftly and completely from significant stress is referred to as resilience.

Ashley Shade visited the Microverse Cluster at the beginning of 2024. Her recent Science Talk, titled "Mechanisms of Microbiome Resilience," garnered immense interest among the Microverse scientists.

We would like to take this opportunity to introduce her and her research in more detail:

  1. What inspired you to specialize in your current research field, and what personal connection do you have to this area of research?

I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania, USA, and was always curious about anything related to nature and biology. I was that shy kid her nose in books and menagerie of aquaria with frogs, newts, turtles, and fish in her bedroom, spending my extra time outside in the woods and fields. When I got to college as a biology major, I discovered microbial ecology, which perfected combined my interests in ecological concepts (I was already interested in how communities and populations respond to disturbances) with microbiological systems that were critical for ecosystems and also readily accessible in the laboratory and in the field.

  1. Anything you want to say about your career journey, perhaps some aspect that was unusual or especially formative? (Tips for early career researchers?)

Coming from a small town, I did not see myself pursuing a career as a scientist. I did not know anyone with a Ph.D., and even in college the only Ph.D.s that I knew were my professors. I had an excellent mentor in college who saw my potential as a scientist, welcomed me into her laboratory for research, and then encouraged me to apply for an undergraduate research fellowship with the American Society for Microbiology. That critical fellowship set me on the right path to get into an excellent graduate program in microbiology at the University of Wisconsin Madison and truly initiated my career.

For women and for other people underrepresented in the sciences, like first generation college student, mentorship is key not only for encouragement but also to help identify the right opportunities to pursue to have the most career options. I want to encourage every scientist, no matter your career stage, to identify someone more junior who they think has potential to become an excellent scientist but that may not quite understand the “inside” aspects of it, and to take an active role to use what they’ve learned in your career role to elevate their more junior colleague for career advancement. This can include actions like nominations for fellowships, early career talks or awards, or inclusions in meaningful collaborations. If we all do this, then we can together build scientific communities that will become more inclusive with stronger connections.

  1. Where do you see particular points of intersection with the Microverse Cluster (and how could this collaboration influence your research)?

I’m thrilled to connect with members of the Microverse and see so many connections among our research! My current obsession is microbial dormancy and reactivation, and I have new funding from the European Research Council Consolidator award to pursue fundamental research on how microbial activation and inactivation contribute to microbial community resilience. I am excited to work with the Microverse to consider generalisable aspects of dormancy dynamics across microbial systems and different ecosystem contexts. And, of course, I my entire research career has been focused on resilience, and so I hope that I can offer my experiences and synergies with the Microverse members on related questions.

  1. What impacts or applications do you hope to see resulting from your research findings?

My ultimate goal is to understand the drivers of microbiome resilience so that we can manage microbial communities to retain critical functions on our changing planet. Microbial communities are the critical engines driving ecosystems and we need to use all the tools we can to face the climate crisis, including environmental microbiome management. I want my research to point to solutions for building resilient natural and agricultural systems, so that we can ensure food and energy security given climate change.

Thank you very much for the interview!