Current Sundt Honors Professor

The M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professor, 2015-2017: Dr. Michele Nishiguchi

The Honors College is pleased to announce that the recipient of the M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professorship for 2015-2017 is Dr. Michele Nishiguchi, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Nishiguchi’s Sundt Honors Seminar, “Corals and Global Climate change: Protecting our natural resources by investing in cultural and economic benefits for society,” will focus on how endangered natural resources (e.g., coral reefs) have been impacted by environmental stresses that are directly linked to global climate change (CO2 emissions, ocean acidification, thermal stress) and the impacts this loss has on both economical and cultural aspects of the community. The main goal of the course will be for students to better understand which biological processes affect coral reef health, and to develop a proactive strategy to educate and involve community “buy in” that will lead to better ways of protecting corals from the impacts of climate change. Dr. Nishiguchi’s course will require students to work in small groups and conduct a two-part case study project during a 12-day field trip (over spring break) to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) located on the island of O’ahu. After this field work, Dr. Nishiguchi’s students will return to NMSU and finish their case studies by providing written documentation of the study, as well as an oral presentation for the Honors College in a small mini-symposium and at URCAS, where the campus community will be invited to learn about climate change using coral reefs as an example.
Dr. Nishiguchi in front of aquarium

About Dr. Nishiguchi :

Dr. Michele “Nish” Nishiguchi is presently a Regents professor in the Department of Biology. She is an evolutionary biologist who specializes in symbiotic interactions between bacteria and marine invertebrates. Dr. Nish obtained her B.S. in Biochemistry with a minor in Theatre Arts in 1985 at the University of California, Davis, an M.S. in Marine Biology in 1989 at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in 1994 in Biology with an emphasis in marine biogeochemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Nish received a prestigious National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to work in the laboratories of Drs. Edward Ruby and Margaret McFall-Ngai at the University of Southern California and University of Hawaii, where she began her work on the bobtail squid-Vibrio bacteria symbiosis. Her second postdoctoral position was held at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the laboratory of Dr. Charles Marshall examining the relationship between camarodont echinoids (sea urchins). Dr. Nish joined the faculty at NMSU as an assistant professor of Biology in 1999.

One of the major areas for which Dr. Nish is known is deciphering the ecological mechanisms that drive bacterial specificity in their animal hosts. The system her laboratory studies is the mutualistic association between bobtail squids and their bacterial Vibrio symbionts, since it provides a unique model to resolve which environmental factors influence the architecture of animal-microbe interactions, particularly with respect to their fitness, success, and physiological dynamics. Dr. Nish’s laboratory has been instrumental in providing an ecological perspective on the relative influence that host and habitat have on bacterial adaptation and diversity. Her students have expanded the focus of symbiosis research to reexamine how abiotic factors influence host-symbiont associations, and not solely the host itself. This different perspective has provided an additional avenue for investigating how beneficial microbes can utilize two very contrasting situations: by taking advantage of already present adaptations to the host and streamlining their abilities to be efficient in their free-living state. From this, researchers working on different symbiotic models (mutualistic or pathogenic) have begun to redirect their efforts from mechanisms of host-symbiont associations to symbiont-environment interactions. Having this additional perspective has illuminated the broader concept of microbial evolution and adaptation, and it has impacted the overall field of symbiosis. More broadly, Dr. Nish’s work helps microbial ecologists understand not only the mechanisms of bacterial adaptation and speciation occurring both in the environment and in a host, but also whether such large scale fluctuations contribute to microbial adaptation and speciation, which lead to increases in biodiversity and recognizable patterns of occurrence and range expansion.

Dr. Nish scuba diving in coral reef

Dr. Nish’s collaborations with both domestic and international colleagues have provided the opportunity to test the hypothesis of whether Vibrio bacteria accommodate changing nutrient conditions (oligotrophic seawater versus nutrient-rich host light organs) by accommodating or regulating specific genes that are co-opted for both conditions. Utilizing expertise from her collaborators in genetic regulation, biofilm formation, predatory grazing, and experimental evolution, her laboratory has been able to elucidate how bacteria can accommodate growth and eventually increase their own fitness by modifying their ability to rapidly switch between two contrastingly different situations. Such rapid responses by the Vibrio bacteria can provide a clearer understanding of how Vibrio adapt to fluctuating environmental stresses, which may eventually lead to local host adaptation. These collaborations not only have broadened Dr. Nish’s students training and expertise in areas such as microbial evolution, predator-prey dynamics, and the genetics of biofilm transformation, but have allowed her laboratory to engage in the study of topics beyond those researched in her own program.

Despite being a marine biologist in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert, Dr. Nish manages to chase after squid and their bioluminescent bacteria in places such as the Indo-West Pacific and Mediterranean Seas, and manages to eat some calamari along the way. Her work spans the bridge between microbial ecology and disease evolution, and is best know for deciphering the genetic mechanisms for bacterial specificity using an experimental evolution approach. She has been passionate about reaching out to students in the US Southwest, and introducing them to marine biology and microbial ecology. She has trained a number of students from underrepresented groups (postdocs, graduate and undergraduate), and continues her commitment to increasing diversity through research, teaching, and outreach. Her hobbies include marathons/ultras, triathlon, ballroom dancing, cooking/eating, and running with her dog, Saupa.

For more information on Dr. Nish’s research, see http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/~nish/