Roberta Fulthorpe

Roberta Fulthorpe

Research Interests: 

The primary focus of my research is on the evolution of bacterial genes for the catabolism of chlorinated organic compounds. I am particularly interested in the mechanisms of genetic exchange that allow the construction of catabolic pathways, and the sharing of degradative capabilities by divergent species. I also have a keen interest in the biogeography of bacteria, something that was previously difficult to study. With the advent of molecular tools we are better able to study the geographic distributions of bacterial strains and their genes, and to ask questions about the links between bacteria and the ecosystems they function in. This has become more important now that chlorinated organic compounds have been proven to be more "natural" than we previously thought, and my research has demonstrated the abundance of chlorinated organic degrading bacteria in pristine ecosystems.


  • Environmental Microbiology
  • Microbial Ecology

Research Area: Conservation Ecology and Evolution, Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology

Current Research

We are studying a representative of a large group of chlorobenzoate degrading bacteria active in uncontaminated systems - Burkholderia phytofirmans OLGA172. Now we know that anthropogenic chemicals have not always been the driving selective force behind the evolution of chloro-organic degradative genes, we are looking for the natural selectors for these capabilities, initially by looking at the environmental triggers and mobile genetic elements that affect chloroaromatic degradative gene expression. The recent genome sequencing of OLGA172 in the lab has expanded this endeavour.

In addition, my lab carries out research on the species composition of bacterial communities in both natural and contaminated systems. These include waste water treatment systems, contaminated soils, rhizospheric communities and the hyporheic zones of streams.

The UTSC campus is heavily infested with an invasive species known as Dog Strangling Vine. My lab has recently begun research into the microbial associations of this plant in an effort to more fully understand its invasive potential