Upstream Newsletter

Meet Jen Mosher: Post-Doctoral Associate

Jen Mosher sampling a tributary of Biscuit Brook, Neversink Watershed, New York. Photo: Sherman Roberts

A Scientist at Heart

“I’ve always liked the outdoors. And science,” says Jen Mosher, Ph.D. “When I was a kid, I would turn over leaves, logs, everything while I was playing in the woods. I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out how things work, especially in the outdoor environment.”

Growing up in rural Ohio, she found her bliss in the woods behind her house. “I was always back there either hiking or riding dirt bike.”

When asked if she comes from a family of scientists, Mosher laughs. “No, most of them are business-oriented. I was the odd one out. I used to have a tree house in the woods, and I would go and read books.”

As one of Stroud Water Research Center’s post-doctoral researchers, exploring the outdoors is in her job description, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I made the decision to focus my research, I had the choice between medical research and environmental research. Medical research bored me. I looked into it, and I just couldn’t do it.”

She likes the complexity of environmental science and how all the different geochemical parameters of an environment can shape a bacterial community.

“It’s fascinating, and because we may never fully know everything, it’s never boring.” I like a good puzzle.

Solving Puzzles

The puzzles she’s working on for the Center are part of a collaborative effort to better understand how organic materials that dissolve out of leaves or algae or are excreted by organisms into stream water, called dissolved organic matter (DOM), change with distance downstream and affect the aquatic bacterial communities that feed on DOM.

Along with biogeochemist Lou Kaplan and microbiologist Jinjun Kan, both of Stroud Water Research Center, and Robert Findlay of the University of Alabama, Mosher is helping to build on the scientific theories set forth in the River Continuum Concept (RCC) first advanced by Robin L. Vannote in 1980. The RCC is the idea that a river is not a static body of water but rather a dynamic flow of ecosystems that varies throughout a river’s course.

For this metaecosystems project, they are working from three headwater streams: White Clay Creek in the Pennsylvania Piedmont, Río Tempisquito in the Cordillera de Guanacaste of Costa Rica, and the Neversink River in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Mosher’s job is to analyze the bacteria the way psychiatrists analyze the psyche, probing ever so deeper to reveal the influencers and processes behind streams as they utilize carbon as part of the carbon cycle.

“Is the dissolved organic matter broken down by bacteria immediately? Is it partially broken down? Do bacteria downstream break down the bacteria even more? How fast is it broken down, and how does it affect the bacterial communities?” These are questions she and the research team are asking.

Why?

“Because a lot of it is about the efficiency of carbon uptake, which is helpful to understand when you have an abundance of carbon that contributes to global warming or climate change. We are looking at how the bacterial communities can retain the carbon and transform the carbon at the stream level,” she explains with enthusiasm.

The Lucky Cat

Lucky Cat

Jen Mosher’s lucky cat presides over the microbiology lab. Photo: Heather Brooks

Between her vibrant personality and youthful voice and appearance, it’s hard to believe Mosher has nearly 20 years post-undergrad experience under her belt.

In the quality of her work, however, it shows. Kan says Mosher always has good successes with her experiments, and as a gesture, he gave her a lucky cat — believed to bring good luck to the owner — which now sits in the microbiology lab.

He says, “Jen is great. Her expertise bridges molecular microbial ecology with biogeochemistry, which is a hot topic in the field that leads to further understanding of the functional roles of microbes in natural environments.”

Her unique set of talents is also hard to find. Kaplan says, “There are very few people who are knowledgeable in both of the specialties we were looking for.”

“Like anyone approaching this level of expertise, she is smart, but what truly distinguishes Jen is her work ethic,” says Kaplan.

So strong is her work ethic that Kaplan sometimes reminds her to attend to life outside of scientific pursuits.

“I just love it,” she says. “I’m lucky to have found a career I enjoy so much that I sometimes forget to take time off.”

Post-doctoral positions, by design, last just two years. Mosher began hers in 2012, so while she continues to work on the metaecosystems project, she’s also searching for a faculty position, preferably teaching microbiology, microbial ecology, or microbial physiology.

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Mosher says, “I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to work with Lou, Jinjun, and others here at the Center. The stream ecology focus here allows me to apply techniques in which I specialize into a larger framework of ecosystem concepts.”

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Vol. 2013, Issue 1

February 2013

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