Jake McKinlay

Jake McKinlay

Assistant Professor, Biology

  • jmckinla@indiana.edu
  • (812) 855-0359
  • Jordan Hall A309
  • Office Hours
    By Appointment Only


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Washington, 2007-2011
  • Ph.D., Michigan State University, 2006


The McKinlay lab has diverse interests in the physiology and metabolism of bacteria. Much of our work is focused on bacteria having traits that can benefit society, for example through the production of biofuels. With help from our excellent colleagues and facilities at IU, we use a variety of approaches in our research including genetics, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, 13C-guided metabolic modeling, genomics, and microscopy. The information we gather provides unique insights into how bacteria interact with their environment and each other and guides the engineering of bacteria and synthetic communities to perform useful tasks.

The metabolism, ecology, and evolution of microbial communities. In nature, individual microbial species can engage in cooperative relationships to occupy a niche that they otherwise could not occupy alone. Synthetic microbial communities are useful systems for characterizing these interactions and determining how they evolve. The synergistic attributes of some cooperative relationships can also be harnessed to benefit society. However, progress with such consortia has been hampered by the challenge of maintaining stable relationships that yield reproducible results.

Using defined mutations and environmental conditions we have developed a stable coculture between fermentative bacteria (e.g., Escherichia coli) and phototrophic bacteria (e.g., Rhodopseudomonas palustris). The two bacteria exist in a relationship wherein one species cannot grow without the other. Together, the two species convert sugars into H2 gas, a potential biofuel. We are using this synthetic community as a model system to explore the metabolism, ecology, evolution, and applications of microbial consortia.

The coordination of competing metabolic modules. Bacteria are typically equipped with an array of metabolic modules. Individual modules can have overlapping resource demands and thus have the potential to compete against one another. Our lab examines how different electron-requiring pathways are coordinated in biofuel-producing bacteria. Two areas of focus are (i) the coordination of CO2 fixation and H2 production in phototrophic purple nonsulfur bacteria and (ii) the coordination of N2 fixation and ethanol production in Zymomonas mobilis – a potential bacterial rival to yeast for ethanol production.

Integration of light harvesting with metabolic activities. Purple nonsulfur bacteria use specialized photosynthetic organelles to convert light energy into a proton motive force. These organelles are composed of intracellular membranes that harbor the light harvesting complexes and reaction centers. Purple nonsulfur bacteria are also some of the most metabolically versatile bacteria ever described, and are able to thrive under a wide array of environmental conditions. We are examining how the development of these organelles is coordinated with other cell processes and how they form a dynamic response to fluctuations in cellular energy demands.