Randolph-Macon College Biology Professor Grace Lim-Fong is the co-author of two recent publications. Lim-Fong co-authored Single sample resolution of rare microbial dark matter in a marine invertebrate metagenome, which was published in Scientific Reports, and Lack of overt genome reduction in the bryostatin-producing bryozoan symbiont, “Candidatus Endobugula sertula,” which was published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
An Interdisciplinary Approach
"In the past two decades, microbiologists have realized that the biodiversity of microbes has been vastly underestimated," explains Lim-Fong. "We really don't know what microbes are capable of, and this is a shame because microbes, apart from a minority which cause disease, have a pretty good track record in the services they provide to humans. They inhabit our gut to keep the bad ones out, they produce antibiotics, and some marine microbes even 'scrub' carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, our understanding of microbial diversity has been limited by the limited experimental and computational tools available to us."
Tackling this problem required an interdisciplinary approach. With the support from a Jeffress Trust Award in Interdisciplinary Research that Lim-Fong received in 2013, she collaborated with Stephen Fong at Virginia Commonwealth University and Jason Kwan at the University of Wisconsin to uncover the genetic make-up of a bacterium that lives only in a marine invertebrate. This bacterium is notoriously hard to study; it was first observed in the 1970s but little is known about it, except that it makes a chemical that has the potential to treat Alzheimer's disease.
"My collaborators lent their computational expertise to the project, while I brought my knowledge about this bacterium and its ecology," explains Lim-Fong. "We published two papers—one describing the novel computational methods we devised in studying a complex microbial communities, and one detailing the genetics of this cryptic bacterium."
Lim-Fong, whose current research is centered on bryozoan-bacterium symbioses, joined the faculty in 2009. She earned her B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley and her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. In 2013 she was presented the Thomas Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching Award at R-MC's Honors Convocation. That same year, Lim-Fong was awarded a Jeffress Trust Award in Interdisciplinary Research. She is currently the chair of the Biology Department and an Honors Faculty Fellow.
In 2016, Lim-Fong received a National Science Foundation collaborative grant. The three-year, $492,416 grant funds "Biogeography of a marine defensive microbial symbiont: relative importance of host defense vs. abiotic factors." Lim-Fong is collaborating with Professor Nicole Lopanik, a Georgia Tech research scientist in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.