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James Herrick
Contact Info

Associate Professor of Biology

B.S. - Brigham Young University
M.S. - Brigham Young University
Ph.D. - Cornell University

Phone - 540-568-6653
Fax - 540-568-3333
Office -  Bioscience 3028G

Office Hours

Courses:   Allied Health Microbiology (BIO 280), Microbial Ecology and Evolution (BIO 453/553), Evolution and Ecology of Infectious Disease (BIO 447/547)

Research Interests:  Environmental and Molecular Microbiology

In our laboratory, we use molecular, genetic, genomic, and microbiological techniques to study populations of native and introduced -- including pathogenic -- bacteria in natural streams and soils. Our main interest is in the lateral transfer of genes to and among bacteria in streams and soils. Lateral gene transfer - as opposed to the 'vertical' transfer of genes via simple cell division - allows genes to move between mature cells and thus to potentially spread very quickly through a population and even from species to species. Lateral gene transfer has had a profound effect on genome evolution, on pollutant biodegradation, and particularly on the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Our current focus is on the transfer of resistance genes in stream waters and sediments. Antibiotic overuse and misuse may lead to selection for resistance genes, many of which are found on mobile genetic elements such as plasmids and transposons, and these can potentially be transferred from human or animal strains to bacteria in the environment. Resistant environmental bacterial populations may then act as environmental reservoirs and evolutionary "incubators" of resistance genes, thus providing new variants and combinations of resistance phenotypes for subsequent transfer to human and animal pathogenic bacteria. We are currently using genetic 'capture' techniques and comparative genomics methods to study actively transferring resistance plasmids which, though acquired from native stream bacteria, may have their origins in introduced, antibiotic-selected fecal bacteria.

Current projects:

  • DNA sequencing of antibiotic resistance plasmids captured directly from environmental bacterial populations. These plasmids confer unexpected resistance to human clinical antibiotics and thus may indicate the presence of an unexplored reservoir of resistance genes in streams and soils (Turner et al., 2015; Herrick et al., 2015; Herrick et al., 2014)
  • Metagenomics of skin bacteria of the red-backed salamander (Muletz et al.,2012)
  • Testing of the new Oxford Nanopore MinION for sequencing the genomes of transmissible plasmids and of pathogens in streams.
  • Comparative genomics of Aeromonas spp., and of methicillin-resistant, coagulase-negative Staphylococcus species isolated from agriculturally-impacted streams.

Selected Publications and Presentations:

S. Turner, E. Gehr, K. Libuit, C. Kapsak, J. Herrick. 2015. Nanopore + Ion Torrent sequencing, assembly, and annotation of culture-free streambed plasmids reveals hitchhiking genes for resistance to multiple human clinical antibiotics. Poster presented at the ASM International Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Sept., 2015. doi:doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.1556156.

J. Herrick, S. Turner, E. Gehr, K. Libuit, C. Kapsak, Nanopore. 2015. Sequencing of transmissible tetracyline plasmids captured without cultivation from stream sediment reveals linked genes encoding resistance to multiple human clinical antibiotics. Poster presented at the ASM Conference "Rapid Next-Generation Sequencing and Bioinformatic Pipelines for Enhanced Molecular Epidemiologic Investigation of Pathogens", Sept. 2015. doi:doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.1564751.

Herrick, J.B., Haynes, R., Heringa, S., Brooks, J., and Sobota, L. 2014. Co-selection for resistance to multiple late-generation human therapeutic antibiotics encoded on tetracycline resistance plasmids captured from uncultivated stream and soil bacteria. Journal of Applied Microbiology 170:380-389.

Muletz, C.R., Myers, J.M., Domangue, R.J., Herrick, J.B. and Harris, R.N. 2012. Soil bioaugmentation with amphibian cutaneous bacteria protects amphibian hosts from infection by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Biological Conservation 152: 119-126.

Heringa, S. D., J. Monroe, and J. Herrick. 2007. A simple, rapid method for extracting large plasmid DNA from bacteria. Nature Precedings <>

Wilson, M.S., J. B. Herrick, C. O. Jeon, D. E. Hinman, and E. L. Madsen. 2003. Horizontal transfer of phn-Ac dioxygenase genes within one of two phenotypically and genotypically distinctive naphthalene-degrading guilds from adjacent soil environments. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69: 2172-2181.

Stuart-Keil, K.G., A. M. Hohnstock, K. P. Drees, J. B. Herrick, and E. L. Madsen. 1998. Plasmids responsible for horizontal transfer of naphthalene catabolism genes between bacteria at a coal tar-contaminated site are homologous to pDTG1 from Pseudomonas putida NCIB 9816-4. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 64: 3633-3640.

Herrick, J. B., E. L. Madsen, and W. C. Ghiorse. 1997. Natural horizontal transfer of a naphthalene dioxygenase gene between bacteria native to a coal tar-contaminated field site. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 63: 2330-2337.

Herrick, J. B., D. N. Miller, E. L. Madsen, and W. C. Ghiorse. 1996. Extraction, purification, and PCR amplification of microbial DNA from sediments and soils. In PCR: Essential Techniques, Julian F. Burke (ed.). Bios Sci. Publ., Oxford.

Ghiorse, W. C., J. B. Herrick, R. L. Sandoli, and E. L. Madsen. 1995. Natural selection of PAH-degrading bacterial guilds at coal tar disposal sites. Environmental Health Perspectives 103 (Suppl. 5): 107-111.

More', M. I., J. B. Herrick, M. C. Silva, W. C. Ghiorse, and E. L. Madsen. 1994. Quantitative cell lysis of indigenous microorganisms and rapid extraction of microbial DNA from sediment. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 60 (5): 1572-1580.

Herrick, J. B., E. L. Madsen, C. A. Batt, and W. C. Ghiorse. 1993. Polymerase chain reaction amplification of naphthalene catabolic and 16S rRNA gene sequences from indigenous sediment bacteria. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 59 (3): 687-694.