Research Statement

My guiding research questions:

How does culture and lifestyle impact our health and biology? What were the ancestral states of human-microbial biology, including pathogen evolution, antibiotic resistance and the microbiome? How do we innovate ancient biomolecules (like ancient DNA) and multi-omic methods (like metagenomics and metabolomics) to address major anthropological and health questions? How do we foster community engaged sciences,  including inquiry into the ethical implications of our work, and mitigating harmful disparities?

I’m a Professor of Anthropology at University of Oklahoma (OU), primarily focusing on the evolution of the human-microbe relationship. In my early career, I focused on human population genetics, but I began to study the human microbiome during the early days of the discipline. My team published the first ever ancient human microbiome profile using next generation DNA sequencing technologies in 2008. This was the same year the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced their Human Microbiome Project (HMP). I became a member of the HMP consortium. Included in my NIH HMP supported studies was an active push toward expanding community engagement, with a particular focus on Native and descended communities that are stakeholders in molecular anthropological studies. My work includes microbiome studies with hunter gatherer and rural agriculturalist communities, and Native communities in the US. For one example, after a four year engagement with Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, we led the first gut microbiome study conducted in partnership with American Indian tribes. These initial studies catalyzed a career in innovating microbiome science, while advocating, where applicable, a community-first perspective.

At OU, I am the founding director of the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research (LMAMR). Highly successful in all metrics of research, mentoring, and community engage impact, LMAMR includes shared staff , laboratories and equipment for faculty representing biochemical, biological, and anthropological sciences. I also serve as the director for OU Consolidated Core Laboratory for genomic services, which also uses shared equipment and external partnerships to pipeline genomic data generation for OU. I feel fortunate that my contributions repeatedly garner national press, represent a series of anthropological and microbiome research milestones, and has been supported repeatedly by NSF, NIH, and other foundations.