Scientist Spotlight: Tuesday Simmons

IMG_0788 - Tuesday SimmonsSeptember 2017 Spotlight: Tuesday Simmons

CLEAR Member? August 2016 – present

What do you do? I study the bacteria that live inside the roots of plants and how they help plants grow during droughts.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in an itty-bitty, unincorporated “town” called Sugar Grove, West Virginia; we had to drive an hour into Virginia to the nearest city to buy groceries!

What was your favorite class ever and why? Herpetology! I loved going to the swamp/creeks to search for salamanders/frogs/lizards/turtles/snakes (the experts call this “herping”).

Who else in your life is a scientist? Did you grow up around science and researchers? Growing up in West Virginia, the closest thing to a scientist I ever met was my pediatrician. My parents (along with the majority of people in the county) didn’t go to college, and I never met anyone with a Ph.D.

How many labs have you worked in? 3 during undergrad studying: 1) freshwater mussel metabolism, 2) bacterial communities in deep sea sediment, and 3) how rhododendron species are related to each other. 3 rotations during grad school studying: 1) how bacteria use selenium, 2) bacteria that live inside plant roots, and 3) engineering of bacterial communities to have specific properties.

What did you do between undergrad and grad school? I came to Berkeley straight from undergrad, and in the summer between, I drove around the country with my husband (Brian) and dog (Rhea).

What do you hope to do after you leave grad school? I would like to work in industry and help make products (bacterial communities) that can improve soil health and plant growth. Additionally, I want to stay involved in science communication and outreach; one of my goals is to make science more accessible to students in rural areas.

Describe your favorite science accident. The discovery of penicillin, of course! Dr. Alexander Fleming left a messy lab bench when he went away for vacation, and came back to find his petri dishes contaminated with a fungus that had antibacterial properties. I like to think that I might stumble upon a wonderful fungal contaminant as well.

If you could study anything in any location, what would it be and where? I would love to go back to studying the bacterial communities of deep sea sediment! The scientists in that field often go out on research vessels (RVs) in exotic places like the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and even the Antarctic.

What is your favorite element, plant or microbe and why? Deinococcus radiodurans! It’s one of the most radiation-resistant organisms and can even put its genetic material back together after it’s been blasted apart by radiation.

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