E. Virginia Armbrust, Ph.D.

Using molecular approaches combined with lab-based and field-based studies to understand marine ecosystems


Virginia's central aim is to identify key influences on the distribution and abundance of diatoms and the resulting impacts on biogeochemical cycles.

E. Virginia Armbrust, Ph.D.

Research Description

Diatoms are eukaryotic microbes essential for the global cycling of carbon, nitrogen and silicon, as well as biogenic cycling of trace elements. Our central aim is to identify key influences on the distribution and abundance of diatoms and the resulting impacts on biogeochemical cycles. We focus on how diatoms interact with both their physical environment and other members of microbial communities. Our studies address three general types of questions.

  • How do bacteria influence the molecular, metabolic and growth responses of diatoms under controlled laboratory conditions, with a goal of determining whether similar processes can be detected in the field?
  • How are diatoms influenced by environmental conditions relative to other eukaryotic microbes and how can these responses be detected with transcriptomic analyses of cultured diatoms and metatranscriptomic analyses of field populations?
  • How are fine-scale distributions and the biodiversity of diatoms and other phytoplankton in the surface ocean influenced by oceanographic conditions (e.g., density gradients, nutrient conditions)?

Research Impact

The work we have done thus far under the Investigator grant falls into two general categories – one is the development of new tools that allow us to analyze the increasingly large data sets that we are generating and that are required to understand interactions; the second is our development of model laboratory systems that allows us to identify potential interactions that can be examined in the field.

Specific deliverables from this project include:

  1. Development of model diatom/bacteria systems that identify the molecular basis for interactions, with the goal of detecting identified molecules in the field.
  2. Creation of a map of phytoplankton distributions, abundance, biodiversity and growth/mortality rates based on data generated with our continuous flow cytometer, SeaFlow.
  3. Development of new algorithms and open-source software tools to enhance analysis of large meta-omic and flow cytometry datasets.


related links

Marine Microbiology Initiative Science University of Washington, Office of Sponsored Programs Back


Postdoctoral Scholar, Biology
Washington University, 1990-1995

Ph.D., Biological Oceanography
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions, 1990

B.A., Human Biology
Stanford University, 1980


Simons Foundation Investigator, Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology, 2014-present

Elected Member, Washington State Academy of Science, 2012

Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2012

Elected Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology, 2011

Appointed Member, Federal Advisory Committee, National Climate Assessment, 2010-2013

Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2009

Botanical Society of America Darbaker Prize for meritorious work on algae, 2008

Lowell A. and Frankie L. Wakefield Endowed Professor, 2008-present

Luigi Provasoli award, best publication in Journal of Phycology, 2006

Distinguished Research Award, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2005

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigator in Marine Microbiology, 2004-present

Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 2001

Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 1999

National Science Foundation CAREER Award, 1997-2002

National Science Foundation Marine Biotechnology and Ocean Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, 1990–1993


Durham, B. P., S. Sharma, H. Luo, C. B. Smith, S. Amin, S. J. Bender, S. P. Dearth, B. A. S. Van Mooy, S. R. Campagna, E. B. Kujawinksi, E. V. Armbrust, M. A. Moran. (2015). Cryptic elemental cycling between marine bacteria and phytoplankton. Proceedings National Academy of Science, USA doi: 10.1073/pnas.1413137112

Gruber, A., G. Rocap, P. G. Kroth, E. V. Armbrust, T. Mock. (2015). Predicting plastid proteomes of algae with secondary plastids of the red lineage. The Plant Journal, doi: 10.1111/tpj.12734. 

Martens-Habbena, W., W. Qin, R. E. A. Horak, H. Urakawa, A. J. Schauer, J. W. Moffett, E. V. Armbrust, A. E. Ingalls, A. H. Devol, and D. A. Stahl. (2014). The production of nitric oxide by marine ammonia-oxidizing archaea and inhibition of archaeal ammonia oxidation by a nitric oxide scavenger. Environmental Microbiology Reports, doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12677.

Bowman, J. S., C. T. Berthiaume, E. V. Armbrust, J. W. Deming. The genetic potential for key biogeochemical processes in Arctic frost flowers and young sea ice revealed by metagenomic analysis. FEMS Microbiology Ecology doi: 10.1111/1574-6941.12331.

Armbrust, E. V. (2014). Taking the pulse of ocean microbes. Science 345:134-135.

Keeling, P. J., F. Burki, B. Allam, E. Allen, L. A. Amaral-Zettler, E. V. Armbrust, J. M. Archibald, A. K. Bharti, C. J. Bell, B. Beszteri, K. D. Bidle, C. T. Cameron, D. A. Caron, J. Collier, K. Coyne, L. Campbell, R. A. Cattolico, Phillipe Deschamps, Sonya T. Dyhrman, B. Edvardsen, R. Gates, C. Gobler, S. Greenwood, S. M. Guida, J. Hackett, J. L. Jacobi, K. S. Jakobsen, B. Jenkins, M. D. Johnson, U. John, A. Juhl, A. Kamp, L. Katz, A. Kudryavtsev, Senjie Lin, C. Lovejoy, D. Lynn, A. Marchetti, C. Miceli, F. Morel, G. McManus, M. Montresor, M. A. Moran, S. Murray, S. Menden-Deuer, T. Mock, A. Nedelcu, G. Nadathur, S. Nagai, P. B. Ngam, K. Pelletreau, B. Palenik, G. Piganeau, J. Pawlowski, M. C. Posewitz, G. Romano, K. Rengefors, T. Rynearson, K. B. Schilling, S. Smith , A. Simpson, P. Stief, C. H. Slamovits, D. Schroeder, G. J. Smith, H. M. Sosik, E. Theriot, P. E. Umale, G. Wheeler,  B. Wawrik, W. Wilson, A. Zingone, H. M. Wilcox, and A. Z. Worden. (2014). The Marine Microbial Eukaryote Transcriptome Sequencing Project (MMETSP): Illuminating the functional diversity of eukaryotic life in the oceans through transcriptome sequencing. PloS Biology 12(6): e1001889. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001889.

Heal, K. R., L. T. Carlson, A. Devol, E. V. Armbrust, J. W. Moffett, D. A. Stahl, A. E. Ingalls. (2014). Determination of four forms of vitamin B12 and other B vitamins in seawater by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 28: 2398–2404.

Hubbard, K. A., C. H. Ellis and E. V. Armbrust. (2014). Molecular characterization of Pseudo-nitzschia community structure and species ecology in a hydrographically complex estuarine system (Puget Sound, Washington, USA). Marine Ecology and Progress Series 507: 39–55. 

Qin, W., S. A. Amin, W. Martens-Habbena, H. Urakawa, A. H. Devol, A. E. Ingalls, J. W. Motet, E. V. Armbrust, and D. A. Stahl. Novel isolates of marine oxidizing archaea display wide ecotypic variation. Proceedings National Academy of Science, USA 111:12504-12509.

Bender, S.J., C.A. Durkin, C. Berthiaume, R. Morales, and E.V. Armbrust. (2014). Transcriptional responses of three model diatoms to nitrate limitation. Frontiers in Marine Science: Aquatic Microbiology doi: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00003.

Jacquot, Jeremy E., Rachel E. A. Horak, Maija Heller, Shady A. Amin, Allan Devol, Anitra E. Ingalls, E. Virginia Armbrust, David A. Stahl, and James W. Moffett. (2014). The influence of copper bioavailability on nitrification in a dynamic estuary. Marine Chemistry 162:37-49. 

Hennon, Gwenn M. M., Paul Quay, Rhonda L. Morales, Lyndsey M. Sandwick, E. Virginia Armbrust. (2014). Acclimation conditions modify physiological response of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana to elevated CO2 concentrations in a nitrate-limited chemostat. Journal of Phycology 50: 243-253.

Affiliated Investigators