An interview with Roxana Shafiee

August 2020

Roxana Shafiee is part of the Doctoral Training Partnership in environmental research funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), at the University of Oxford, and a member of the Microbiology Society. In this interview, she tells us more about her research on archaea and its role in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle.

© Roxana Shafiee

Tell us more about your research.

I research the role of trace metals in regulating the growth of archaea and bacteria mediating ammonia-oxidation to nitrite in the oceans. The archaea that I research belong to the phylum Thaumarchaeota.

Why is your research important?

Not only do Thaumarchaeota play a central role in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle, but they are also among the most abundant cells in the ocean, constituting up to 20–30% of planktonic cells. It is important to understand the factors underpinning the growth of Thaumarchaeota at a cellular and mechanistic level, in order to elucidate how fine-tuned Thaumarchaeota are to the marine chemical environment and the niche that they fill. Equipped with this information, we can begin to understand how these micro-organisms have evolved over geologic time and how they may respond to future perturbations.

What are the challenges you face in your work and how do you try to overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges in my work is scaling up the results we obtain from laboratory pure cultures, to make global-scale biogeochemical inferences. To do this, we interpret our results in the context of a variety of different environmental datasets, available through public depositories, such as metagenomic, proteomic and geochemical datasets collected during research cruises.

Why is it important to be a member of an organisation like the Microbiology Society?

It is important to be a member of organisations like the Microbiology Society to keep up to date with novel techniques and approaches, which may provide new perspectives on my own work. Often the best research comes from taking an established method from one field and applying it to another field where such a technique has yet to be used.

© Roxana Shafiee

Why does microbiology matter?

Microbiology underpins many fields – ranging from medicine to environmental studies. Only by understanding the basic principles of life, gleaned through the examination of processes at a cellular level, can we begin to explore what drives more complex large-scale processes.

If you are a member of the Society and would like to find out more about how you can get involved with Society activities and/or showcase your research, please email us at [email protected].