Congratulations to Maryam Khademian, a recent Illinois PhD graduate in microbiology, whose thesis was chosen for the Sternberg Thesis Prize. The award will be presented to Khademian at the 2021 Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Conference.

The Sternberg Thesis Prize recognizes outstanding doctoral theses and research that contribute to the field of bacterial molecular biology. Recipients receive a financial award as well as an invitation to the conference, which will be held virtually this August.

Khademian’s PhD work at Illinois was in the laboratory of microbiology professor James Imlay. Khademian explored the effects that oxygen and its reactive species (hydrogen peroxide and superoxide) had on bacteria that live in oxygen-free habitats. Her research showed that oxidative stress is prevalent enough in such environments that Escherichia coli, a facultative anaerobe, has evolved an enzyme to exploit hydrogen peroxide as a respiratory substrate.

She also demonstrated that a key node in the central metabolism of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, an obligate anaerobe, is fully inactivated in presence of molecular oxygen. Khademian’s research helps us better understand the evolution of metabolism and oxidative stress response upon the rise of atmospheric oxygen, about 2.4 billion years ago.

Maryam Khademian received her PhD in microbiology from the University of Illinois in 2020. Currently, she is a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Paula Welander, a professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, and fellow Illinois alumni who received her PhD in microbiology.