Ben has the happy knack of enjoying most things that are plonked in front of him, but has tended to gravitate towards development and application of bioinformatic techniques to studying biological systems in rewarding ways. Topics of interest include metagenomics, metabolomics, soil meta-omics, methanogen biology and open-source software.
Starting from a computational background at the University of Queensland, Ben’s interest in biological systems was sparked by an undergraduate project in protein structure with Dr Nicholas Hamilton, then an honours project in Prof. Bernie Degnan’s marine biology laboratory studying the genome structure of the most basal animals, sponges. Then he moved south to the University of Melbourne, in doing so moving further away evolutionarily from animals, studying malaria parasites. Specifically, under the guidance of Dr Stuart Ralph (University of Melbourne) and Prof. Terry Speed (Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) his PhD concentrated on the development and application bioinformatic tools to understand the parasite’s complex cell biology. He continued his evolutionary trajectory by taking up this position at Australian Centre for Ecogenomics with Prof. Gene Tyson, using metagenomic approaches to try to understand the carbon cycle in thawing permafrost, concentrating particularly on the role of methanogens in climate change. He is now pursuing scalable hypothetical gene annotation approaches through coupling of genome-centric metagenomics with ultra-high resolution mass-spectrometry based large molecule metabolomics.
Microbial communities in the northern permafrost wetlands are central to understanding current and future global carbon cycling.