Dr. Jacob J. Valenzuela is an environmental systems biologist who received his PhD in Biochemistry from Montana State University. His research aims to understand how climate change is altering the resilience of key organisms in critical marine habitats. For instance, diatoms are unicellular photosynthetic algae that account for 40% of the ocean’s primary productivity and form the basis for various marine food webs. Understanding how these organisms will fare in future ocean conditions is critical. In developing customized photobioreactor systems to simulate oceanic conditions and using systems approaches, his work tries to explain the complex biological behaviors that govern diatom existence in the environment. Recently, his work has included a worldwide collaborative effort called the “Global Search” project. Together, the Global Search team uses the Coral Bleaching Automated Stress System (CBASS) and systems biology approaches to (1) identify coral populations that are thermally tolerant across the Caribbean, Pacific, Great Barrier Reef, and Arabian Seas and (2) investigate their genomic underpinnings and elucidate conserved signatures of heat tolerance across all major holobiont compartments. In addition to marine biology focuses, Dr. Valenzuela also aims to understand how denitrification in anaerobic environments is affected by abiotic fluctuations. His research has shown that dynamic changes in pH can dramatically affect the amount of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria. In addition, soil microbes are rarely observed in isolation and are typically a part of communities that are critical contributors to biogeochemical cycles. Using an evolved syntrophic community, he identified varying transcriptional states and metabolic activities depending on whether the community lives as free-floating organisms in groundwater or attached to sediment like a biofilm in his custom fluidized bed reactors.
Dr. Valenzuela has extensive experience in reactor design, molecular biology, and data analysis. Over the years, he has contributed to numerous awarded scientific and education proposals and is the lead or co-lead investigator on several current projects. He is a former recipient of ISB’s Innovator Award (centraldogmagame.com) and the JoAnn Chrisman Award for Distinguished Service to STEM Education. Over his tenure at ISB, he has mentored eight teachers, eight undergraduate students, and over 23 high school students.
PhD in Biochemistry, Montana State University
BS in Biological Sciences, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
Systems Biology, Marine Biology, Microbiology, Transcriptomics, Molecular Biology, Data Analytics, Data Visualization, STEM education