Sarah R. Smith, PhD

Staff Scientist



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Sarah Smith, PhD, obtained her MS in Marine Science at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (2008) and PhD at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2014). She was a post-doctoral scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a visiting scientist at the JCVI, and now is a staff scientist at JCVI working with Dr. Andy Allen studying diatoms.

Dr. Smith's research is motivated by the desire to understand the evolution and ecology of marine phytoplankton. Diatoms have emerged as an excellent group of model organisms for molecular oceanographic research. Her current research uses a combination of comparative and functional genomics approaches to explore both the evolution and molecular mechanisms of physiological regulation in diatoms. More specifically, she is investigating the architecture of gene regulatory networks in Phaeodactylum tricornutum. Ultimately insights from these studies will not only inform our understanding of the evolution of these important organisms and aid in the interpretation of functional genomics data in the lab and field, but will eventually guide efforts to engineer algae as a feedstock for the cultivation of renewable bioproducts such as sustainable biofuels.

Research Priorities

Evolution of Marine Phytoplankton

  • Adaptive metabolic diversification within phytoplankton (especially diatom) lineages
  • Secondary endosymbiosis, selective gene family loss, maintenance, expansion and acquisition

Diatom Metabolism and Physiology

  • Gene catalogs, compartmentation, and function of central metabolic genes
  • Integration of photo-physiology, metabolic flux, and growth in diatoms in response to fluctuating environmental conditions like light and nutrient (Si, N, Fe) availability
  • Systems biology and metabolic flux modeling to inform genetic engineering for improved traits of biotechnological interest (i.e. lipids for fuels)

Regulation of Eukaryotic Gene Expression

  • Role of transcription factors in regulating transcription, elucidating transcription factor binding sites
  • Gene order as a regulator of co-expression

Select Publications

Nitrate Reductase Knockout Uncouples Nitrate Transport from Nitrate Assimilation and Drives Repartitioning of Carbon Flux in a Model Pennate Diatom.
The Plant cell. 2017-08-01; 29.8: 2047-2070.
PMID: 28765511
Clarification of Photorespiratory Processes and the Role of Malic Enzyme in Diatoms.
Protist. 2017-02-01; 168.1: 134-153.
PMID: 28104538
Probing the evolution, ecology and physiology of marine protists using transcriptomics.
Nature reviews. Microbiology. 2017-01-01; 15.1: 6-20.
PMID: 27867198
Transcriptional Orchestration of the Global Cellular Response of a Model Pennate Diatom to Diel Light Cycling under Iron Limitation.
PLoS genetics. 2016-12-01; 12.12: e1006490.
PMID: 27973599
Genome and methylome of the oleaginous diatom Cyclotella cryptica reveal genetic flexibility toward a high lipid phenotype.
Biotechnology for biofuels. 2016-01-01; 9.258.
PMID: 27933100
Applications of Imaging Flow Cytometry for Microalgae.
Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.). 2016-01-01; 1389.47-67.
PMID: 27460237
Metabolic engineering of lipid catabolism increases microalgal lipid accumulation without compromising growth.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2013-12-03; 110.49: 19748-53.
PMID: 24248374
Metabolic and cellular organization in evolutionarily diverse microalgae as related to biofuels production.
Current opinion in chemical biology. 2013-06-01; 17.3: 506-14.
PMID: 23538202