Dr. Bayleigh Benner is an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Julie Huber at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry. She is a molecular virologist and microbiologist who is interested in uncovering the viral diversity present in marine and freshwater ecosystems, with a particular emphasis on RNA viruses which are currently missing in our conceptual framework for these ecosystems. Her current research focuses on utilizing genomics-based approaches to identify viral populations and virus-host interactions present within deep sea ecosystems. She aims to characterize the poorly understood roles that viruses play in global biogeochemical cycling, microbial adaptation, modulation of host metabolism, and the evolution of life on Earth.

On the Falkor (too) Bayleigh will be studying virus-host interactions at spatially and geochemically distinct hydrothermal vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. She will be collecting ‘viromes’ and microbial fractions from vent plumes for downstream metagenomics and microscopy. Her research ultimately aims to provide insights into how these viruses can survive in extreme, primordial environments and impact microbial adaptation through modulation of host metabolism and horizontal gene transfer. She will also be collecting, dissecting, and sequencing deep sea invertebrates found at these vent sites to identify viral interactions taking place within invertebrate hosts. This work will shed new light on the prevalence of viral infections within invertebrate populations and the distribution of these viruses across vent sites, which is currently poorly understood.

Bayleigh received her B.S. in Marine Science and Biology, with a minor in Chemistry at The University of Tampa studying the feeding biomechanics of deep-sea squaliform sharks and gene expression changes resulting from Theiler’s Murine Encephalomyelitis Virus (TMEV) infection in mice. Following undergrad she merged her dual degrees and new-found love for viruses to utilize metagenomic approaches to elucidate ssDNA viruses in both marine and terrestrial invertebrates. Bayleigh received her Ph.D. in 2020 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receiving an NSF GRFP and NIH T32 training grant to study how retroviral RNAs function to regulate translation of essential proteins through strong cis-acting RNA structural elements. During her thesis work she applied state-of-the-art live-cell imaging and super resolution microscopy to study virus-host interactions within HIV-1 and other virus models (SARS-CoV-2, Epstein-Barr).