Wilbanks received her B.A. in Chemistry and Biology from Swarthmore College, where she conducted undergraduate research in synthetic organic chemistry (and discovered that microbes are marvelous chemists!). She completed her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California, Davis, where she was co-advised by Jonathan Eisen and Marc Facciotti. Her dissertation research was inspired by projects at the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Microbial Diversity summer course in Woods Hole, and focused on the metabolism and metagenomics of sulfur cycling bacterial aggregates. Following NASA and Agouron postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech with Victoria Orphan, Wilbanks served as a visiting professor at Swarthmore College in the Biology Department. She joined EEMB in 2016.
My research is driven by the hunt for the elusive interactions of wild microbes. Microbial metabolic exchanges drive global biogeochemical cycles, yet often occur over spatiotemporal scales that elude detection by bulk measurements. We work to elucidate microbial processes that are still “black boxes” in current models of global biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem services.
Research in the Wilbanks lab seeks to understand the structure and activity of natural bacterial and archaeal populations with a focus on metabolism and trophic relationships. A theme in our research is to examine the spatial context of microbial interactions in marine aggregates and biofilms, and the effect of such interactions on the population dynamics and evolution of bacteria and archaea. Our study systems currently include phototrophic salt marsh aggregates (the green and pink “berries”), marine snow and particulate organic carbon, and the microbiome of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). We find the tools best suited to the questions at hand – employing a range of technologies from system-wide, data-driven approaches (e.g. (meta)genomics, bioinformatics) to microscopy and microscale geochemistry.