New faculty profile: Karthik Anantharaman studies interactions of microbiomes with sulfur metabolism

Karthik Anantharaman joined the faculty in the Department of Bacteriology as an assistant professor in January 2018.

What is your educational/professional background?

My hometown is Mumbai, India, and I did my early schooling in India. My educational/professional background is a rather interesting mix of environmental engineering, microbial ecology, genomics, and biogeochemistry. I received my PhD from the University of Michigan studying microorganisms and viruses in the oceans. After this, I was a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. During my time there, I was part of a multidisciplinary Department of Energy – Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Project investigating below ground microbial communities using large-scale genomics approaches.

How did you get into your field of research?

Accidentally, to be really honest! As part of pursuing a Masters in Environmental Engineering, I was conducting research in chemical treatment of contaminated natural waters when it dawned upon me that biological treatment methods are more prevalent and important in nature. Right then, I knew my research career would take a different direction.

What are the main goals of your current research program?

Sulfur is a fascinating element that is in equal parts: (1) good, in that sulfur compounds can sustain a number of microorganisms and are integral to forming biological molecules. (2) bad, in that sulfur compounds are associated with harmful interactions in a number of diseases and the environment. My lab studies interactions of microbiomes with sulfur metabolism in a variety of environmental and human contexts, all the way from deep-sea hydrothermal vents and freshwater lakes, to the human gut.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?

This is a fantastic university with a long, rich and storied history in microbiology. And to top it all, Madison is a really easy-going and fun city!

What are you most enjoying so far about working here?

The UW–Madison community has been very welcoming and helped me feel at home. Besides this, the thrill of setting up and running my own lab has kept my adrenaline going! My favorite spots on campus are the Memorial Union Terrace and any of the Babcock ice cream shops.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?

Unlike humans that can breathe only oxygen (a gas), many of the microbes I study can breathe solid compounds. If only we, too, had evolved such abilities!

Hobbies/other interests:

Cricket, soccer, football, photography, traveling and scuba diving–in no particular order.