Kate Lane, a Population Biology Ph.D. student working in Jonathan Eisen’s lab, is currently developing her research ideas about microbes.
Written by Jane Park
For many people, studying large mammals or vibrant, multicolored birds is their dream come true. But for Kate Lane, microscopic organisms like bacteria are her passion.
Lane grew up in Petaluma, California and developed an interest in science, especially microbiology, from a young age. As a child, she loved pathogens. “My favorite book as a kid was called Bloody Moments,” says Lane with a smile. “It was a picture book of the history of medicine, and I just loved it.”
Her early enthusiasm for microbes guided her to a B.A. in Biology from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. During her time there, she studied the gut microbiome—the community of microbes living in the digestive system—of honey bees with Phillip Engel, a microbiologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. “It was my first experience working in a lab, and it was an absolute dream come true,” says Lane. “Honeybees are incredible and so is their microbiome. I began to learn how science works. Philipp Engel and the amazing students in his lab created a space for cultivating my sense of curiosity towards science and research.”
Research at UC Davis
After college, Lane worked as a computational staff researcher in Jillian Banfield’s lab at UC Berkeley and researched microbes in a wide range of systems for two years. Lane then decided that she wanted to pursue a Ph.D., which led her to Jonathan Eisen’s lab at UC Davis. As a student early in her career, she is currently working on formulating research ideas and specific questions about microbes with Eisen.
“I’m really interested in looking at what drives community assembly,” explains Lane. “And specifically, what happens over time. Can we predict change in a community in regards to strain heterogeneity or clonality? Is change adaptive or stochastic? Are there functional implications or not?”
Lane is also considering what her microbial research system will be and emphasizes that she wants her research to have practical applications. “It’s very, very important to me that the system be directly impacted by climate change; that way, my research may be integrated with actions addressing the climate crisis.” She has an idea of what microbial communities to focus on. “It could be marine or aquatic, perhaps eelgrass for example, which is why I joined CMSI,” Lane says.
As Lane starts another phase of her career, she looks forward to the advances microbiology is making. “I think it’s really exciting that we now have sequencing and metabolomics to suddenly start to see these organisms that we couldn’t see before,” she says. “We can only grow and study about two percent of microbes in the environment, and now we’ve got these tools and technologies to see everything that’s there and tell a story.” With these developments, it’s the ideal time for students like Lane to advance our understanding of the world of microbes.
Can’t get enough of microbes? Learn more about Dr. Eisen’s lab here.