Jill Banfield working at the East River watershed field site in Colorado

Research Expertise and Interest

genomics, geomicrobiology, biogeochemistry, carbon cycling, minerology

Research Description

Jill Banfield is Professor in the Departments of Earth and Planetary Science and Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. She is the Director of the Innovative Genomics Institute Microbiology Program and also has an appointment in the geochemistry group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Her primary research interests are in microbial communities, and environmental microbiology, microbial, viral and phage diversity, and evolution.  Her research group studies how microorganisms shape, and are shaped by, their natural environments. Her research group primarily uses cultivation-independent approaches such as metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and community proteomics to understand how microbial consortia interact with and are shaped by their environments, with implications for climate change research, agriculture and human health.

In the News

In 10 years, CRISPR Transformed Medicine. Can It Now Help Us Deal With Climate Change?

Coming from a long line of Iowa farmers, David Savage always thought he would do research to improve crops. That dream died in college, when it became clear that any genetic tweak to a crop would take at least a year to test; for some perennials and trees, it could take five to 10 years. Faced with such slow progress, he chose to study the proteins in photosynthetic bacteria instead. But the advent of CRISPR changed all that.

Jill Banfield: How a curious Google search led me to Jennifer Doudna

Jill Banfield is a UC Berkeley professor who studies the structure, functioning and diversity of microbial communities in natural environments and the human microbiome. In this “On My Mind” feature, she describes how she first met Berkeley’s newest Nobel laureate, Jennifer Doudna, who gave thanks to Banfield at Wednesday’s press conference.

Whopping big viruses prey on human gut bacteria

Viruses plague bacteria just as viruses like influenza plague humans. Some of the largest of these so-called bacteriophages have now been found in the human gut, where they periodically devastate bacteria just as seasonal outbreaks of flu lay humans low, according to a new study led by UC Berkeley scientists.

Wealth of unsuspected new microbes expands tree of life

Researchers at UC Berkeley, who have discovered more than 1,000 new types of bacteria and Archaea over the past 15 years lurking in Earth’s nooks and crannies, have dramatically rejiggered the tree to account for these microscopic new life forms.

Newfound groups of bacteria are mixing up the tree of life

Jill Banfield, professor of EPS and ESPM, and grad student Christopher Brown discovered a large number of new groups or phyla of bacteria, suggesting that the branches on the tree of life need some rearranging. The more than 35 new phyla equal in number all the plant and animal phyla combined.

Eel River Observatory seeks clues to watershed’s future

University of California, Berkeley, scientists will receive $4,900,000 over the next five years to study the nearly 10,000 square kilometer Eel River watershed in Northern California and how its vegetation, geology and topography affect water flow all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Jillian Banfield profiled in L’Oréal-UNESCO video

UC Berkeley’s Jillian Banfield was named the 2011 North American Laureate at the 13th Annual L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards ceremony in Paris on March 3, which included the screening of a video interview with Banfield discussing her research and philosophy of science.

Microbes in the preemie gut

UC Berkeley scientist Jill Banfield, with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and Stanford University, have for the first time sequenced and reconstructed the genomes of most of the microbes in the gut of a premature newborn and documented how the microbe populations changed over time. Banfield and pediatric surgeon Michael Morowitz hope that characterizing gut microbes of normal and sick infants could lead to cause of necrotizing enterocolitis in preemies.

Jillian Banfield to receive Franklin Medal, L'Oreal-UNESCO award

Jillian Banfield, a biogeochemist and geomicrobiologist, will receive two prestigious awards – the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science and the L-Oréal-UNESCO "For Women in Science" award – for her groundbreaking work on how microbes alter rocks and interact with the natural world.

Weird, ultra-small microbes turn up in acidic mine drainage

For nearly a decade, Jillian Banfield and her UC Berkeley colleagues have been studying the microbe community that lives in one of the most acidic environments on Earth: the drainage from a former copper mine in Northern California. One group of these microbes seems to be smaller, and weirder, than any other known, free-living organism.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
February 21, 2020
Ed Yong
Introducing a new study led by earth and planetary science professor Jill Banfield, this reporter says: "Your mouth is currently teeming with giant viruses that, until very recently, no one knew existed." Reassuringly, they don't cause disease. Instead, they infect and kill bacteria, and Professor Banfield's team, which includes researchers Basem Al-Shayeb and Rohan Sachdeva, has identified more than 300 types that are vastly bigger than usual. "They're in our saliva, and in our gut," Professor Banfield says. "Who knows what they're doing?" The team discovered the giant phages in a lucky accident that is now providing promising insights relevant to CRISPR gene-editing technology and life itself. As a scientist from the University of South Florida says: "Every time we make new discoveries about the virosphere ... it changes our perspective on what even constitutes a virus and how blurry the lines can be between viruses and cellular life." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources around the world, including Interesting Engineering.
February 14, 2020
Ed Cara
Scientists are continuing to discover weird-as-hell viruses all over the world, this reporter writes, covering a new study co-authored by earth and planetary science professor Jill Banfield. The team has identified more than 300 types of phages -- viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria -- that are vastly bigger than usual. "The genomes [we found] are large, some very much larger than 'typical' phages," Professor Banfield says. Some of the large phages have genes that may be important to CRISPR gene-editing technology, and graduate plant and microbial biology student Basem Al-Shayeb, one of the first co-authors of the study, says the CRISPR-relevant genes might be used by the huge phages to amplify the defenses of their hosts. Remarking on one of the big takeaways from the study, Professor Banfield says that the world of viruses, whether they infect amoebas, people, or bacteria, "is much more complicated and interesting than was previously believed." For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources around the world.
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