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Chapter 10 : Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch

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Abstract:

Mary Firestone is a microbial ecologist who has worked extensively on the roles of soil microorganisms in terrestrial ecosystem function. She is known for her early work on microbial mediation of nitrogen oxidation and reduction processes, including microbial control of nitrous oxide and nitric oxide production, microbial adaptation to water regimes, and carbon- and nitrogen-based interactions among plant roots and soil organisms. She is a central player in the development of microbial physiological ecology, and perhaps no other scientist has done more to integrate microbial ecology with terrestrial biogeochemistry. Firestone grew up in Oklahoma City, OK, and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a scientist. Initially a lab technician valued for her instrumentation abilities, she earned a B.S. and M.S. in microbiology from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in soil science; her dissertation on control of NO production won the Soil Science Society of America’s Emil Truog award. She joined the faculty at University of California, Berkeley (UCB), in 1979 and at the time was one of the very few women on soil science faculties in the United States. Mary went only to play many roles at UCB, including chairing the faculty senate in 2008. Her work has been recognized by a range of disciplines: she is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, American Academy of Microbiology, Ecological Society of America, and American Geophysical Union. Universally described as brilliant, beloved, and dedicated to her students, Mary Firestone was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in May 2017.

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
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Figures

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Figure 1

Mary Firestone, professor of soil microbial ecology, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UCB.

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
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Figure 2

From “Microbiological Basis of NO and NO Production and Consumption” ( ). The original caption is, “A conceptual model of the two levels of regulation of N trace gas production via nitrification and denitrification: () flux of N through the process ‘pipes’ and () holes in the pipes through which trace N-gases ‘leak.’”

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
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Figure 3

Alumni of the Firestone group gather regularly at national conferences and Mary’s annual potluck holiday party. Above, Firestoners at the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting in 2002 and 2015.

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
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Figure 4

Mary Firestone and Professor Jizhong Zhou in Ardmore, OK, embarking on a new project on carbon cycling and sustainable biofuels.

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
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References

/content/book/10.1128/9781555819545.chap10
1. Firestone MK,, Tiedje JM . 1979. Temporal change in nitrous oxide and dinitrogen from denitrification following onset of anaerobiosis. Appl Environ Microbiol 38 : 673 679.
2. Firestone MK,, Firestone RB,, Tiedje JM . 1979. Nitric oxide as an intermediate in denitrification: evidence from nitrogen-13 isotope exchange. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 91 : 10 16.
3. Firestone MK,, Firestone RB,, Tiedje JM . 1980. Nitrous oxide from soil denitrification: factors controlling its biological production. Science 208 : 749 751.
4. Firestone MK,, Tiedje JM . 1975. Biodegradation of metal-nitrilotriacetate complexes by a Pseudomonas species: mechanism of reaction. Appl Microbiol 29 : 758 764.
5. Kieft TL,, Soroker E,, Firestone MK . 1987. Microbial biomass response to a rapid increase in water potential when dry soil is wetted. Soil Biol Biochem 19 : 119 126.
6. Schimel JP,, Firestone MK . 1989. Nitrogen incorporation and flow through a coniferous forest soil profile. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53 : 779 784.
7. Hunt JR,, Holden PA,, Firestone MK . 1995. Coupling transport and biodegradation of VOCs in surface and subsurface soils. Environ Health Perspect 103 : 75.
8. Norton JM,, Smith JL,, Firestone MK . 1990. Carbon flow in the rhizosphere of ponderosa pine seedlings. Soil Biol Biochem 22 : 449 455.
9. Killham K,, Firestone M,, McColl J . 1983. Acid rain and soil microbial activity: effects and their mechanisms. J Environ Qual 12 : 133 137.
10. Schimel JP,, Firestone MK,, Killham KS . 1984. Identification of heterotrophic nitrification in a Sierran forest soil. Appl Environ Microbiol 48 : 802 806.
11. Davidson E,, Hart SC,, Shanks CA,, Firestone MK . 1991. Measuring gross nitrogen mineralization, and nitrification by 15 N isotopic pool dilution in intact soil cores. Eur J Soil Sci 42 : 335 349.
12. Firestone MK,, Davidson EA, . 1989. Microbiological basis of NO and N 2O production and consumption in soil, p 7 21. In Andreae MO,, Schimel DS (ed), Exchange of Trace Gases between Terrestrial Ecosystems and the Atmosphere. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.
13. Hart SC,, Stark JM,, Davison EA,, Firestone MK, . 1994. Nitrogen mineralization, immobilization and nitrification, p 985 1017. In Weaver RW,, Angle S,, Bottomley P,, Bezdiecek D,, Smith S,, Tabatabai A,, Wollum A,, Mickelson SH,, Bigham JM (ed), Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2. Microbiological and Biochemical Properties. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI.

Tables

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Box 1

An early mentoring experience

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10
Generic image for table
Box 2

Mary, on being the only woman in the room

Citation: Pett-Ridge J. 2018. Mary K. Firestone: Groundbreaking Journey of a Microbial Matriarch, p 87-97. In Whitaker R, Barton H (ed), Women in Microbiology. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555819545.ch10

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