Dr Jonathan Gropp
What is your field of expertise?
I am biogeochemist studying microbial methane production and consumption. I specialize in combining theoretical and experimental approaches to decipher the molecular and physiological mechanisms that control the isotopic composition of methane.
Tell us briefly about your academic path?
I completed my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at Tel-Hai college in 2014 and started my graduate studies in the Weizmann Institute of Science in the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, under the supervision of Prof. Itay Halevy. In my M.Sc. and Ph.D. I focused on developing and applying theoretical models of methane metabolism, and I graduated in 2022. In the same year I moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to work with Profs. Daniel Stolper and Dipti Nayak where I apply cutting-edge experimental methods to study microbial methane production.
What type of research do you do (what excites you mostly)?
In my research I use high-resolution mass spectrometry to determine the isotopic composition of methane that is produced by a genetically tractable marine methanogen species (Methanosarcina acetivorans). We focus on some key enzymes in the metabolic pathway of methanogenesis and are determining how mutating them will affect the isotopic composition of methane. Since all previous work has been done on wild-type strains, this work could help us get, for the first time, a mechanistic understanding on the relations between microbial metabolism and isotopic fingerprints that they leave behind in the environment.
What are your professional plans/ aspirations?
I am passionate about harnessing our growing understanding of the relations between microbial life and the environment to make an impact on curving down global warming and climate change. My plans are thus either to open an academic research lab that will be focused on studying the connections between the bio- and geospheres, or to join a commercial company that will be focused on mitigating climate change.
How was your experience as a postdoc so far?
In my postdoc, I switched from doing only theoretical work to doing mostly experimental and analytical work, and this has been a major shift for me. The learning curve has been quite steep, but I have great satisfaction from producing my own data, and then applying my theoretical models to it. The two groups that I work in are dedicated to methane research: the geochemistry group led by Prof. Stolper specializes in conducting high-resolution mass spectrometry analysis of doubly substituted methane isotopologues (13CH3D and 12CH2D2), and the biology group led by Prof. Nayak specializes in studying gene regulation and metabolism of methanogenic archaea, using genome editing with CRISPR/Cas9. By combining knowledge and expertise from both groups I was able to conduct research that would have not been possible anywhere else. The postdoc so far has also been a great experience for our family as well, and we really love living in the Bay Area in California and are trying to make the best use of our time here.
Can you give an advice to your younger self or a new postdoc?
I still feel that I just started, but a year has passed since I got here. I guess that main piece of advice is to remember that experimental work is unpredictable, and that things take time. I had to (and still) deal with instruments failing, experiments not working, and new methods taking forever to set up. Having some parallel projects to work on is a possible solution for this, so that even if one of them is completely stuck, I will always have something to work on. Setting clear research and career goals and having a (flexible) roadmap will help you stay focused and motivated. Build meaningful networks and relationships within and outside your research groups and seek guidance and feedback from your mentors, colleagues and peers. Publishing strategically is also very important at this point of your career. While quantity matters, quality is crucial. Focus on producing impactful research rather than just churning out papers.