Kelly Wrighton
Assistant Professor
B.S. California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, Microbiology
M.S. California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, Biology emphasis Ecology
Ph.D. University of California Berkeley, Microbiology
Postdoc. University of California Berkeley, Dept. of Earth Science
Campus Address: 
440 BioSci
Office Phone: 
Lab Phone: 

Research Interests

The Wrighton Environmental Microbiology Laboratory uses community genomics (metagenomics) to reconstruct organismal metabolisms and identify community interactions that impact ecosystem processes. We use laboratory cultivation and biochemical experiments to validate genomic insights. The research in the lab is currently focused on methanogenic systems including microbial factors impacting green-house gas emission from wetlands, biocorrosion of steel in the energy industry, and cultivation of novel fermentative bacteria.

Mechanistic understanding of carbon emissions in wetlands

Wetlands store large amounts of terrestrial carbon and are also the largest source of atmospheric methane. Despite the critical role these systems play in the global carbon balance, little is known about the diversity and metabolic roles of wetland carbon cycling microorganisms. Research in the Wrighton laboratory is dedicated to interrogating feedbacks between microbial communities, organic carbon pools, and green house gas emission in wetlands. Specifically, we are investigating the
i)                    impact of geochemical and vegetative gradients on microbial community structure and activity
ii)                  physiological networks for carbon degradation including biological sources and sinks of methane
iii)                response of microbial processes to predicted climate disturbances (e.g. drought induced water table lowering).
Our research is conducted at the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park. This 52-acre aquatic research facility is located along the northern edge of The OSU campus and includes two experimental wetland basins, an oxbow wetland, bottomland hardwood forest and a mesocosm compound, with the latter being ideal for our climate manipulation experiments.

Players and processes contributing to microbial influenced corrosion (MIC)

MIC can lead to damaged pipelines, storage facilities, and refineries resulting in product interuptions, hazardous material discharges, and profit losses exceeding billions of dollars. Building on prior research experience by in microbial electrochemical cells and microbial-metal interactions the Wrighton lab is using community genomics and laboratory enrichments to identify the microbial ecological and physiological factors impacting the deterioration of steel.

Digging deeper into the physiology of yet uncultivated fermentative bacteria

Given their indisputable biotechnological and medical importance, it may come as a surprise that we still know little about microbial diversity, as at least half the known bacterial phyla lack cultivated representatives. Previously we used metagenomics to generate physiological insight into five uncultivated bacterial phyla from the subsurface (Wrighton et al., 2012). In collaboration with our colleagues at The OSU and the Department of Energy field site in Rifle, CO we are using genomic analyses to guide ongoing biochemistry of novel protein sequences and conducting targeted high-throughput cultivation efforts of novel obligately fermentative bacteria.

 Relevant Publications

  • Castelle CJ, Hug LA, Wrighton KC, Thomas BC, Williams KH, Wu D, Eisen JE & Banfield JF. (2013). Extraordinary phylogenetic diversity and metabolic versatility in aquifer sediment. Nature Communications (in press).
  • Wrighton KC, Thomas BC, Sharon I, Miller CS, Castelle CJ, VerBerkmoes NC, Wilkins MJ, Hettich RL, Lipton MS, Williams KH, Long PE & Banfield JF. (2012). Fermentation, hydrogen and sulfur metabolism in multiple uncultivated bacterial phyla. Science. 337:1661-166
  • Wrighton KC, Thrash JC, Melnyk RA, Bigi JP, Byrne-Bailey KG, Remis JP, Schichnes D, Auer M, Chang CJ & Coates JD. (2011). Evidence for direct electron transfer by a Gram-positive bacterium isolated from a microbial fuel cell. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 21:7633-7639
  • Wrighton KC, Virdis B, Clauwaert P, Read S, Boon N, Piceno Y, Brodie EL, Andersen GL, Keller J, Coates JD & Rabaey K. (2010). Biological nitrate reduction using electrical current: microbial communities and key players. The ISME Journal. 4:1443–1455
  • Wrighton KC, Agbo P, Warnecke F, Brodie EL, Weber KA, DeSantis TZ, Andersen GL, Hugenholtz P & Coates JD. (2008). A novel ecological role of the Firmicutes identified in thermophilic microbial fuel cells. The ISME Journal. 2:1146–1156
For more information on the wetlands
Photo courtesy: Lynn McCready and www.corrosionfluid.com