Principal Investigators

  • Forest RohwerBeing a marine microbial ecologist, Dr. Forest Rohwer sees a coral reef as a finely-tuned community in which the microbes and viruses are major players. Recognizing their importance, he pioneered the use of metagenomics as a means to characterize these previously inscrutable organisms and to investigate their role in coral reef health and disease.

    For his scientific contributions, he has received numerous awards including the prestigious Young Investigators Award of the International Society of Microbial Ecology and the Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator Award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

  • Linda Wegley-Kelly Dr. Wegley Kelly and Dr. Rohwer have been working together since 2001. She has directed research projects on everything from fluorescent-labeled phage to large-scale metagenomic from deep mines, salterns, and coral reefs to ammonium oxidizing Archaea.

    Linda's research group mostly works on coral-associated microbes. She uses a combination of large-scale DNA sequencing (e.g., metagenomics), analytical chemistry, and microbiology to study how the coral holobiont changes in response to local and global stressors. Linda recently showed that shipwrecks cause devastating outbreaks of algal-microbial mats the kill kilometers of coral reefs in the iron-poor parts of the central Pacific.


  • CoralCoral Research
    Coral reefs worldwide are in decline. The dramatic rise in incidences of coral disease over the last two decades has been instrumental in this process. We have hypothesized that most of these diseases are actually opportunistic infections instigated by anthropogenic stressors. Our research is focused around understanding the interactions between the microbial world and coral reefs, and how these systems change following perturbation.

  • CFHuman Research
    We are currently investigating the dynamics of bacteria, phage, and eukaryotic viruses in the respiratory tracts of individuals with and without Cystic Fibrosis. Characterization of viral communities coupled with microbial transcriptomics and viral metagenomics will allow a better understanding of how the unique environment of the CF airway drives microbial and viral specialization and vice versa.

  • Phage OutreachPhage Outreach Program
    Our mission is to interest high school students in the study of the Phage Virus and attract them to the field of science in the future. We will do this by sharing the most interesting aspects about the phage virus along with an educational foundation, a fun art contest, and an in-depth field trip. Additionally, 3-5 motivated students will be offered a summer internship at our lab researching the Phage Virus.


  • Life in Our Phage World book coverLife in Our Phage World
    To celebrate a century of phage exploration, we invite you to get intimate with 30 diverse phages in this premier phage field guide. In these 404 pages you'll learn who these phages are, where on Earth they've been found, who their close relatives are, how their genomes are structured, and how they trick their hosts into submission. Researchers who have devoted their lives to phage also recount their experiences in pursuit of their quarry.

    The book is available in electronic (PDF) format for free. It can be downloaded as a high-resolution (323 Mb) or lower resolution (75 Mb) file. For optimal viewing, display the pages with the two-page view that includes the cover.

    Electronic Book Downloads

    Sampler (3 Mb)
    Low-resolution (75 Mb)
    High-resolution (323 Mb)

    Hardcover Book Purchases

    Buy at Amazon
    Buy at Barnes & Noble
    Buy at Powell's

  • Forest Rohwer - Coral BookCoral Reefs in the Microbial Seas
    For millennia, coral reefs have flourished as not only one of the planet's most magnificent ecosystems, but also as its most biodiverse. However, since the 1980s the corals have been struggling. Both coral bleaching and disease have spread globally. During recent research expeditions to the remote Line Islands, microbial ecologist Forest Rohwer and his colleagues found that the large-scale changes to the reefs in recent decades are the work of the microbes as they respond to various human impacts.

    Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas is the first book to recount this story, complete with introductions to the coral reef ecosystem, 21st century metagenomic research tools, and the coral's microbial and viral partners. An engaging book, its science is liberally spiced with artistic illustrations and playful stories from the research expeditions.

    Book Downloads

    Sampler (1.5 MB)
    Buy at Amazon

The Lab

  • Lab Members

    We have a diverse group of researchers in the lab that include undergraduate volunteers, graduate students (MS & PhD), post-docs, and visiting scientists.

  • Join the Lab

    Our lab offers research and training opportunities for students (undergraduate, MS, PhD), postdocs, and scientists.

  • Lab Training & Methods

    Learn how to build the tools that we use to explore diverse ecosystems.

Lab News & Events

Artist Ben Darby uses illustration to communicate important scientific findings and ideas

Jan 27, 2021

Ben Darby, a local San Diego artist, has worked with Dr. Rohwer for 10 years by providing illustrations and creative expertise for various projects. His art has been featured in Dr. Rohwer’s textbook “Life in Our Phage World,” the CoVID-19 environmental sampling project, as well as Dr. Rohwer’s upcoming book, “P.H.A.G.E.S”. Using mainly pen and ink, Ben creates art that communicates important scientific findings or ideas to scientists as well as citizens. He enjoys the freedom he is given by Dr. Rohwer to interpret scientific icons or processes and create visually appealing pieces that aid in breaking down complex ideas. He hopes that his illustrations will aid in cementing the points that scientists are trying to convey. Not only does he put pen to paper, but he takes the time to educate himself on the research and topics he works on, which he refers to as “private tutoring.” Ben says the biggest reward for doing this work is contributing to meaningful scientific contributions and helping others understand and visualize these findings.

Scientific art pieces by Ben Darby will be featured routinely on this site and can also be found on his website: Below are pieces created by Ben for the CoVID-19 project the Rohwer Lab is currently working on. The first is a drawing he produced of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with its envelope and spike proteins. Other drawings are of animal species that have been thought to play important roles in the transmission of this, and other, SARS-viruses, such as a Pangolin, a Camel, and a Bat.

Check back again for more features of Ben Darby’s art, including pieces from Dr. Rohwer’s upcoming book, “P.H.A.G.E.S”.

Ben Darby artwork Ben Darby artworkBen Darby artwork Ben Darby artwork

Light at the End of the Tunnel: Why N95/KN95 masks work

Jan 23, 2021


Lili Todd is a student at Artcenter College of Design where she majors in Illustration design. After working with Forest Rohwer to create posters depicting symbiosis and coral reefs, Dr. Rohwer asked Lili to create a series of posters for public awareness of the ongoing CoVID-19 epidemic, a topic being researched in the Rohwer Lab. For this series, they chose to first focus on the importance of wearing a mask, specifically an N95/KN95. Lili then created other posters to provide information on how the vaccine works to defend the body against the virus. Dr. Rohwer and Lili hope this series will provide clear and concise scientific explanations for exactly how masks, the virus, and the vaccine work. Lili says, “We all deserve to be provided with simple scientific explanations for why things are how they are today and the chance to process and understand them”. With these eye-catching illustrations, Lili hopes to encourage in her viewers a desire to understand the science behind the virus and the precautions we can take that will save people from the spread of CoVID-19. 

These posters will be available to print for free here:

Feel free to print them out for your own home or to hang around your neighborhood. There is a version of each poster in English and Spanish. The posters will also be posted in a square format on Instagram. Please share and re-post them to spread the science!

Lili Todd poster: N95 maks work Lili Todd poster: N95 maks work