Sarah Lebeis received her PhD in 2008 from the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics program at Emory University. From 2009-2014, she was a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jeff Dangl’s lab at the University of North Carolina where she studies root microbiome composition in Arabidopsis thaliana. In 2014, she established her independent research laboratory in the Microbiology Department at the University of Tennessee examining how plants and microbes each contribute to host microbiome assembly. Dr. Lebeis joined the faculty in PRI, the Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences Department, and the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Department at Michigan State University in 2020.
Her lab aims to uncover mechanisms of plant microbiome assembly and roles for the microbiome to promote plant resilience. This understanding will be critical as we move from basic lab experiments into development of plant biological products with significant impact on improving food production to meet increasing global demands and climate changes. Specifically, her lab examines plant influence over microbiome composition through chemicals exuded by roots to drive microbial recruitment toward positive factors and microbial susceptibility to negative factors. Their current work focuses on 1) microbial chemotaxis toward positive factors in the root exudates, such as sugars, and 2) microbial survival despite the presence of negative growth factors, such as phenolic compounds made by the plant immune system. Another critical aspect of the lab examines microbe-microbe interactions in plant microbiome assembly. Specifically, they study two examples microbe-microbe interactions: 1) the impact of Streptomyces on other microbes in the root microbiome and 2) construction of a series of individual strain drop-out synthetic community experiments. Although the mechanisms and consequences of plant microbiome assembly are complicate and interweaving by more clearly defining the impact of plant-microbe interactions, we will be able to more consistently harnesses the complex microbiome to promote plant resilience.