Dr. Huber is a microbial oceanographer by training and is broadly interested in microbial ecology and understanding how microbial communities establish, function, and evolve in diverse ecosystems. Her research program investigates deep-sea microbial ecosystems with an emphasis on using crustal fluids to interrogate the rocky subseafloor habitat. The potential for production of new biomass within the seafloor is rarely considered in traditional oceanographic paradigms of carbon cycling or microbial food webs due to how little we know about this under-explored and potentially ubiquitous microbial habitat. The functional consequences of an extensive population of microbes living in the subseafloor remains unknown, as does our understanding of how these organisms interact with one another and influence the biogeochemistry of the oceans. Due to the inherently risky nature of deep-sea field investigations, she often has limited access to samples and must leverage the best available technology and experimental strategies in order to maximize return of information from those precious few samples. This includes using next-generation sequencing, high temperature cultivation, stable isotope experimentation, geochemical measurements, and novel sampling and seafloor instrumentation for my subseafloor studies.
To enable and accelerate discovery about the deep sea, Dr. Huber has organized her research around collaborations with diverse ocean scientists to join her microbial datasets with critical chemical, geological, and physical datasets. Key questions include: Is there a core set of organisms or genes specific to the subseafloor and how are they linked (if at all) to distinct geochemical or geographic parameters? Do particular subseafloor environments select for microbial lineages or instead microbial functions that might be provided by genes that move among microbes? How do microbes colonize and disperse in the subseafloor and deep sea in general? Does a subseafloor microbial loop exist and to what extent is viral-mediated horizontal gene flow or gene recruitment to new lineages a major force in shaping microbial lineages and their adaptation to the subseafloor environment? Can we quantify and model the impact of subseafloor communities on deep-sea biogeochemistry?
She examine these topics in a variety of deep-sea environments around the world, including the world’s deepest known hydrothermal vents at the Mid-Cayman Rise (Von Damm and Piccard), actively erupting volcanoes in the western (West Mata and Northwest Rota), and northeast Pacific (Axial), and cold, young oceanic crust in the Mid-Atlantic (North Pond). By using data about microbial community composition and geochemical characteristics from these newly discovered environments, she can then carry out more detailed examinations of specific microbial functional groups, interactions, and activities. These include determining both lineage and transcript abundance of key microbial groups and their functional genes to understand where these organisms and their genes are most abundant and active, and where they likely originate; using stable isotope tracer experiments coupled with molecular tools to identify pathways and rates of specific substrate utilization; and characterizing how subseafloor populations change over time, particularly after disturbances like eruptions or drilling.nnDr. Huber is funded by a variety of agencies, including the NSF, NASA, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Deep Carbon Observatory. In 2007, she received the L’Oréal USA Fellowship for Women in Science.