Fan Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate in Marine Estuarine Environmental Science at the University of Maryland, College Park where he is studying nitrogen cycling by sponge associated bacteria and archaea using molecular microbiology techniques. Fan is a recipient of the International Fulbright Science & Technology Award and works under the supervision of Dr. Russell T. Hill who also provides additional funding for Fan’s research through a National Science Foundation grant.
Sponges provide an excellent model system for understanding evolution of complex symbiotic interactions. Microbial communities associated with marine sponges are remarkably diverse and include novel bacteria not found in other ecosystems. Many important compounds with pharmaceutical potential have been discovered in sponges and other invertebrates. In many cases, the compounds of interest are produced not by the sponges themselves but by bacteria associated with them. Fan’s research will help to understand the diversity and roles of microbial symbionts associated with marine sponges and the relationship between symbiont microbial community and natural compound production in microbe-invertebrate system.