Environmental engineering student wins poster contest for microbiology research


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Diana Ayala-Muñoz, a doctoral student in environmental engineering and biogeochemistry, recently won a poster contest after presenting at the annual meeting for the Allegheny Branch of the American Society for Microbiology (ABASM).

The meeting took place at Gettysburg College on November 9 and 10 and featured the work of students and professors from across the Allegheny region.

Ayala-Muñoz’s poster featured her research on the microbial view of an acidic pit lake in the Iberian Pyrite Belt. Her research focuses on acidic pit lakes, which are man-made systems with low pH and high metal and sulfate concentrations. She is studying how microbes are able to live under such extreme conditions and trying to find ways to translate this knowledge into applicable solutions. She has also worked on bioengineered systems of low-pH iron oxidation and is pursuing work with low-pH sulfate reducing bioreactors. Both are used with bioremediation purposes.

“I think that this excitement about my research was translated into the poster, and the way I presented it,” Ayala-Muñoz said. “This is what happens when you are proud to present the work you are doing.”

Ayala-Muñoz received her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology engineering at the The Army University in Sangolqui, Ecuador and her master’s in waster management from the University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia.

The award, which was accompanied by a diploma for her work, marks a new breakthrough in the research she is currently working on. Ayala-Muñoz’s explained, “We are part of a project titled “Metal, Microbe, Mineral Interactions and Biomineralization Mechanisms in Anaerobic Acidophiles”.

Currently, her work with adviser William Burgos, professor of environmental engineering, is studying microbial communities in two acidic lake pits in Spain – Cueva de la Mora and Guadiana, using a meta-omics approach.

“I didn’t expect to win,” Ayala-Muñoz said, “The results I presented are just a part of all the data I am still analyzing, but they are contributing so much to understanding the microbial world of acid pit lakes.”


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Alexandra Kohr, aek5409@psu.edu

Jennifer Matthews, jmatthews@psu.edu

Ayala-Munoz standing next to acid pit lake deposits

Ayala-Muñoz stands next to one of the acid pit lake deposits used in her research. Lakes such as these contributed to her poster, which she presented at the ABASM annual meeting.



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