Talia Karasov, PostDoc

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Talia Karasov, PostDoc

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Affiliation: MPI for Developmental Biology, Department for Molecular Biology

What are you working on?
Microbes are all around us, evolving rapidly to colonize new environments. I study how microbes evolve to colonize a host, either to become a pathogen, a beneficial microbe or simply an innocuous resident. By sequencing and studying the genomes of microbes, I identify the genetic changes that make a microbe either a serious disease agent or a benign colonizer. I am particularly interested in understanding how microbes evolve to colonize different plants, organisms whose immune systems evolve rapidly. I collect microbes from plant populations, sequence their genomes, and test how genetic changes affect the ability of a microbe to infect plants and survive in other environments. Ultimately, I aim to use sequence data to predict when a microbe is a pathogen, and the genetic changes that make the microbe a pathogen.

Why is it interesting?
Microbes play a large part in the functioning of our world, whether in human health, in ecosystem stability, or in food production. But only in the last 15-20 years have we begun to appreciate the influence microbes have on our daily life. For example, a human body contains as many bacterial cells as human cells (if not more). These bacteria help us to digest our food, to protect against pathogens, while some can become pathogens. How these microbes evolve to fill these different roles is an open question whose answers are ripe for the picking.

Why did you decide to become a scientist/researcher?
As a researcher, I get to spend my time pursuing questions that fascinate me, and I have the freedom to follow my curiosities. Really, there are so many aspects of life as a scientist that are great for me. Surrounded by a research community and others who are similarly intrigued by the oddities of our world, I am constantly learning and learning broadly, whether about computer science, or microbiology or statistics or biochemistry. Importantly, my research findings could have the potential to improve the lives of others, human and non-human. These different facets of life as a scientist make the endeavor very fulfilling for me.

Your favourite thing outside of science?
A constant in my life since my youth was my love of the outdoors. Climbing and running are two of my favorite hobbies. I try to do both a few times a week. When I go on vacation, I aim for beautiful natural places good for hiking, climbing or snorkeling. My favorite sendentary past-time is definitely reading, whether novels or short stories or non-fiction. A trip in which hiking and reading are interspersed—it doesn’t get better.

If you could have a meaningful conversation with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would you want to talk to?
Mark Twain. Of course there are too many impressive people in history to choose rationally, but I’ll choose one (of the many) who was a human apart, seemingly able to see beyond his time. His writings suggest to me that he was both brilliant and driven by a moral compass, capable of seeing the world and history from many perspectives. Also, he was jarringly funny. But then, I would also want to talk to Abraham Lincoln. These are both very American answers...

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