Professor Laura Steindler obtained her PhD degree from Tel Aviv University, Israel, on the topic of sponge-bacteria interactions. She then did a first post-doctoral fellowship on rhizosphere bacteria and the involvement of quorum sensing gene-regulation in plant-microbe interactions, in the laboratory of Dr. Venturi at ICGEB, Trieste. In her second post-doctorate, at the laboratory of Dr. Giovannoni (OSU, Oregon, USA) she worked on the marine SAR11 clade, which is the dominant marine bacterium, worldwide, and she deciphered, for the first time, the function of proteorhodopsin in these ecologically important microorganisms. In 2011 she started her own laboratory at University of Haifa, Israel, where she continues studying both sponge-microbe interactions as well as genomic adaptations of bacteria to nutrient deplete oceanic regions. Dr. Steindler is on the Editorial Board of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and associate Editor in Frontiers in Microbiology. She is author of more than 40 peer-reviewed publications. Dr. Steindler has widely advanced the field of microbial sponge symbiosis and is considered an expert on symbiont genomics and transcriptomics, where she applies cutting-edge next-generation sequencing approaches and advanced bioinformatics.
My laboratory is interested in two major research areas:
1) proteorhodopsin phototrophy including adaptations to starvation in marine heterotrophic bacteria, and
2) sponge-microbe interactions, and the isolation of sponge-bacterial-symbionts using high-throughput dilution to extinction techniques.
1. PROTEORHODOPSIN PHOTOTROPHY
It is well known that phytoplankton can convert light energy into chemical energy, but the discovery of proteorhodopsins acting as light-powered proton pumps in heterotrophs is only a decade old. In a recent study I began unraveling the role of this protein in Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique, a dominant marine bacterium in the ocean’s photic zone. In this bacterium respiration of exogenous carbon is reduced in the light probably as a result of proteorhodopsin-mediated ATP production. Our lab is interested in focusing on the many unanswered questions in this system. Specifically, we will be: i) investigating the genetic mechanisms underlying physiological responses to light, ii) understanding when these light mediated energy harvesting mechanisms are utilized in nature, iii) establishing how similar or different are the mechanisms of utilization of PR mediated ATP production in a variety of important marine bacteria that can be cultured in the laboratory.
2. SPONGE-MICROBE INTERACTIONS
Another topic of research that drives the research in our lab is the symbiotic interactions between bacteria and marine invertebrates, with emphasis on sponges.
Sponges harbor specific bacterial communities (heterotrophic and autotrophic) that differ from those present in the surrounding water. These bacterial symbionts are of high interest not only for their important ecological role in marine symbiotic ecosystems, but also because they produce a wide range of secondary metabolites that can be used for the development of new pharmaceuticals. Most of these bacteria have not been isolated in culture. One focus of my lab is to develop methods to culture such previously uncultured organisms and characterize their physiology and chemistry. Another theme we address is the study of signals that maintain sponge-bacteria symbioses which leads to the question of how a sponge differentiates between symbiotic bacteria and bacteria that can be phagocytozed as food.