Dianne K. Newman

California Institute of Technology


Primary Section: 63, Environmental Sciences and Ecology
Secondary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Membership Type: Member (elected 2019)

Biosketch

Dianne Newman is a molecular microbiologist. She is known for having brought genetic approaches to bear on problems involving microbial metabolisms of environmental/geobiological interest. In her work, she iterates between mechanistic studies of cellular processes and analyses of the microenvironments in which these processes occur. Newman was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, where she attended West Potomac High School. She received a BA in German studies (1993) from Stanford University and a PhD in environmental engineering (1997) from MIT. She conducted postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School before joining the faculty at Caltech in 2000. In 2007, Newman moved to MIT as the Wilson Professor of Biology and Geobiology, but returned to Caltech in 2010 where she now holds the position of Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology and directs the Center for Environmental Microbial Interactions. In 2016 Newman was the recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and a MacArthur Fellowship. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Dianne Newman’s laboratory is interested in how microorganisms co-evolve with their environment, with a focus on understanding how electron transfer reactions support energy generation in the absence of oxygen. Using interdisciplinary approaches, her laboratory seeks to learn how particular microbial metabolic processes impact the environment and how to identify specific biosignatures therein. An emerging goal is to understand the physiological strategies taken by microorganisms when they are growing slowly–the dominate pace of life on the planet, yet one that is poorly understood. The laboratory is particularly captivated by how the production and recycling of colorful, redox-active secondary metabolites enables microbial survival when oxidants are scarce. This process supports the development and maintenance of certain types of biofilms, aggregates of cells that reach a high cell density in diverse contexts, from plant roots to chronic human infections. A basic understanding of the survival strategies used in such contexts is needed to control microbial communities for the benefit of environmental and human health.

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