Meet the Team!

Jennifer L. Salerno, Ph.D.


Principal Investigator, Salerno Laboratory of Integrative Microbial Ecology, Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center

Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP), George Mason University

Ph.D. University of Hawaii, Zoology
M.A. College of William and Mary, Biology
B.S. Rutgers University, Biological Sciences and Marine Science

Dr. Salerno’s research interests focus on symbiotic and free-living microorganisms and the role that they play in maintaining and destabilizing organism health and ecosystem function. Recognizing the important link between human health and ecosystem health, this research is approached through the lens of seeking to advance basic science, while also developing environmental monitoring tools, practical applications, and policy guidance for environmental resource management and conservation. Dr. Salerno uses traditional microbiological techniques, as well as molecular biology, next generation sequencing, bioinformatics, and microscopy to characterize microbial (bacterial, archaeal, and fungal) diversity and function in organismal and environmental microbiomes and how they respond to environmental change (temperature, sedimentation, chemical exposure). Previous projects have focused on characterizing the biogeography of bacterial communities associated with reef-building corals in the Pacific and how these communities respond to environmental change; the transmission and nutritional contribution of bacterial symbionts in deep-sea bivalves; mapping the microspatial distribution of soil microorganisms; and the impacts of hydrocarbons and chemical dispersant on the structure and function of deep-sea coral and shipwreck microbial communities. The Salerno Laboratory is currently working on projects pertaining to coral disease, the role of microbiomes in susceptibility of macroorganisms to non-microbial parasites, and microbes as biological indicators of aquatic health.

Dr. Salerno also engages in science communication and interdisciplinary work at the intersection of science, policy, and diplomacy. She previously worked on coastal and ocean issues in the U.S. House of Representatives as a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow and served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Office of Economic Policy. In this capacity she advised and coordinated U.S. policy on science and technology, energy, and oceans issues across U.S. federal agencies and in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Graduate Researchers

Valerie Nguyen

Valerie setting up her crab microbiome experiment

Valerie is a 2nd year Masters student in ESP working on the microbiome of the Harris mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Gould, 1841)) and its potential role in mediating the crab’s susceptibility to infection by parasitic barnacle Loxothylacus panopaei.

Kim Magalona

Kim is a 1st year Masters student in ESP working on the gut microbiome of invasive Snakehead (Channa argus) in the Potomac River and northern Virginia lakes.

Eric Mazur

Eric checking out fossilized corals in Curacao

Eric is a Masters student in ESP using Fluorescent in Situ Hybridization (FISH) and laser capture micro-dissection to identify intracellular microbes in tropical and deep sea corals.

Undergraduate Researchers

Tom Hutchinson

Tom getting ready to sample from his microplasatics biofilm experiment in the Occoquan River

Tom is a Mason OSCAR summer research scholar in the lab. He is working on a project to identify microbes as potential biological indicators of aquatic health in an urban watershed (Cameron Run and Hunting Creek). He has also launched the lab’s first project to characterize microbial succession and biofilm formation on microplastics in the nearby Occoquan River.

Morgan Cahill

Morgan on Half Moon Caye in Belize for a field course

Morgan is our fantastic volunteer researcher. She helps take care of our mud crabs and assists with ongoing research projects in the lab.

Lab Alumni

Dhanush B.

Dhanush sampling
Dhanush sampling microplastic biofilms by canoe

Dhanush was a 2019 summer ASSIP intern in the lab from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. He has been working on a project to identify microbes as potential biological indicators of aquatic health and assisting with the microplastics project.

Hannah H.

Hannah honing her crab  sampling skills

Hannah was a summer 2019 research volunteer from WT Woodson High School. She assisted graduate and undergraduate students in the lab with their research projects.

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