Molecular plant-microbe interactions in nitrogen-fixing symbiotic systems, investigations of the use of microorganisms for biodegradation and bioremediation; molecular methods to determine sources and kinds of bacteria in the environment; and metagenomics of soil, water, and intestinal environments.
Professor Michael Sadowsky, a fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Microbiology, is internationally known and respected for his research work in the area of environmental microbiology. He currently is co-director of the Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute. He has published more than 100 original articles, and his work is widely cited by researchers in several scientific disciplines.
A professor in the University's department of Soil, Water and Climate, and The BioTechnology Institute, Sadowsky has been studying the symbiotic relationship between leguminous plants and rhizobial soil bacteria. He has focused on a process called 'nodulation' by which bacteria form root nodules and help fix nitrogen in these plants, allowing them to thrive and reproduce in nutrient-poor soil in the absence of added nitrogen fertilizers. Sadowsky's recent research involving photosynthetic Bradyrhizobium bacteria was recently highlighted in Science magazine and his work has suggested that there are several ways that bacteria can form nodules in the symbiotic relationship, a finding with important agricultural implications.
One of Sadowsky's major research efforts has been directed towards the identification and characterization of bacterial genes and metabolic pathways involved in the biodegradation of chlorinated herbicides. He has used whole genome sequencing and other molecular tools to define the structure and function of atrazine catabolic genes in bacteria. Working in collaboration with Dr. Larry Wackett, Sadowsky has also used recombinant DNA techniques to construct novel biodegradation pathways in bacteria and plants to remediate environmental pollutants.
Sadowsky's methods for determining sources of fecal bacteria in water have been widely published and received mention in an issue of Time magazine as a key contribution to environmental microbiology. The ability to distinguish the sources of fecal contamination is important both in assessing possible health risks and in facilitating effective clean-up strategies. Sadowsky is leading a group of researchers in the development of high-throughput and robotic methods of analyzing water, sand and sediment samples to determine sources of fecal bacteria.
"Current methodologies used by regulatory agencies only determine if fecal bacteria are contaminating waterways and not where the bacteria come from," says Sadowsky. "The assumption is that elevated fecal counts come from human sewage, and thus there is a health risk. Our data and those of others have shown that there are many potential input sources of E. coli in waterways and that, in many instances, wild animals, soils, and even algae can contribute to elevated fecal counts."
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