William D. Leavitt

|Assistant Professor
Academic Appointments
  • Assistant Professor of Earth Science

  • Adjunct Assistant Professor of Chemistry

  • Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution

Microbes are central players in Earths' elemental cycles. Microbial cells, enzymes and reactive intermediates drive the biogeochemical cycles on our planet by supporting the establishment and persistence of chemical gradients, reaction networks and ecosystems. The research in my group centers on experiments designed to reveal the fundamental microbiological and environmental (physicochemical) controls that drive Earths' biogeochemical cycles. Using observations from stable isotope geochemistry, biochemistry and microbial physiology we work to constrain fluxes and transformation rates within a subset of elemental cycles central to life on Earth (C, H, O, N, S, P). To address these challenges we utilize state-of-the art tools — including stable isotope and organic geochemistry, in vitro enzymology, and the continuous cultivation and manipulation of aerobic and anaerobic microbes. Much of our experimental infrastructure is custom designed/built to our applications.  My research involves training and working closely with undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral scholars and colleagues around the globe. Their recruitment to and involvement in running projects, as well as the preparation of manuscripts and presentations at national and international meetings, is critical to the success of our research.  

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Fairchild, Room 201
HB 6105


  • Ph.D. Earth & Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 2014
  • A.M. Organismic & Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 2009
  • B.A. Natural Science, Hampshire College, 2006
  • Fossett Fellow, Washington University St. Louis 2014-2016
  • Marine Biological Laboratory, Microbial Diversity, 2008

Selected Publications

  • Peer Reviewed Publications

    [34] Leavitt@, WD, J Waldbauer, MS Sim, S Venceslau, F Boidi, I.A.C Pereira, and AS Bradley. accepted. Energy availability drives net sulfur isotope fractionation and protein abundance in dissimilatory sulfate reducing bacteria. Geobiology.

    Preprint while in press: www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.08.27.555018v1.

    [33] Rhim‡, J.R., Zhou#, Y. Zhang, M Amenabar, FJ Elling, A Pearson, E.S. Boyd, WD Leavitt§. 2024. Mode of carbon and energy metabolism shifts lipid composition in the thermoacidophile Acidianus. Applied & Environmental Microbiology. doi.org/10.1128/aem.01369-23.

    [32] Liu&, J., Treude, T., Abbasov, O.R., Baloglanov, E.E., Aliyev, A.A., Harris#, C.M., Leavitt, W.D. and Young, E.D. 2023. Clumped isotope evidence for microbial alteration of thermogenic methane in terrestrial mud volcanoes. Geology.

    [31] Chiu, B., J. Waldbauer, O. ★Mete, F. Elling, A. Zhang, L., A. Pearson, E. Eggleston, WD §Leavitt. 2023. Membrane lipid and expression responses of Saccharolobus islandicus REY15A to acid and cold stress. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2023.07.24. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1219779.

    [30] Mete★, Ö., Subhas, A., Kim, H., Dunlea, A., Whitmore, L., Shiller, A., Gilbert, M., Leavitt, W.D., Horner, T. 2023. Barium in seawater: Dissolved distribution, relationship to silicon, and barite saturation state determined using machine learning, Earth Syst. Sci. Data Discuss. doi.org/10.5194/essd-2023-67.

    [29] @Leavitt, WD*, S. Kopf*, Weber‡, Y., B. Chiu, McFarlin%, J., Zhou#, FJ Elling, A Pearson*. 2023. Controls on the hydrogen isotope composition of tetraether lipids in an autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing marine archaeon. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2023.04.033.

    [28] #Blum, L.; D. Coleman, E. Boyd, E. Eloe-Fadrosh, M. Kellom, O. Zhaxybayeva, W.D. §Leavitt. 2023. Distribution and abundance of tetraether lipid cyclization genes in terrestrial hot springs reflect pH. Environmental Microbiology, 1– 15. doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.16375.

    [27] Ferreira, D., Venceslau, S.S., Bernardino, R., Preto, A., Zhang, L., Waldbauer, J.R., Leavitt, W.D. and Pereira, I.A., 2023. DsrC is involved in fermentative growth and interacts directly with the FlxABCD‐HdrABC complex in Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough. Environmental Microbiology. doi.org/10.1111/1462.

    [26] Harris#*, C.M, MT Maclay&*, KA Lutz&, V Nathan&, NA Ortega Dominguez&, WD §Leavitt, and MC §Palucis. 2022. Remote and in-Situ Characterization of Mars Analogs: Coupling Scales to Improve the Search for Microbial Signatures on Mars. Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, 9, p.849078. doi.org/10.3389/fspas.2022.849078

    [25] Lengger, S.K., Weber, Y., Taylor, K.W., Kopf, S.H., Berstan, R., Bull, I.D., Mayser, J.P., Leavitt, W.D., Blewett, J., Pearson, A. and Pancost, R.D., 2021. Determination of the δ2H values of high molecular weight lipids by high temperature GC coupled to isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. doi.org/10.1002/rcm.8983.

    [24] Cobban★, A., Zhou#, Y ‡Weber, FJ %Elling, A Pearson, WD §Leavitt. 2020. Cyclization of Sulfolobus acidocaldarius GDGTs changes in response to temperature and pH. Environmental Microbiology. doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.15194.

    [23] Luxem&, K., WD Leavitt, X Zhang. 2020. Large hydrogen isotope fractionation distinguish nitrgenase-derived methane from other sources. Applied & Environmental Microbiology. doi.org/10.1128/AEM.00849-20.

    [22] Taenzer#, L, J Labidi, A Masterson, X Feng, Rumble III, E Young, WD Leavitt§. 2020. Low apparent. Δ12CH2D2 in microbialgenic methane result from combinatorial isotope effects. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2020.06.026.

    [21] Bertran&, E, A Waldeck&, BA Wing, I Halevy, WD Leavitt, AS Bradley, DT Johnston. 2020. Oxygen isotope effects during microbial sulfate reduction: Applications to sediment cell abundances. Nature ISME. doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-0618-2.

    [20] Taenzer#, L, P Carini, J Gaube★, B Bourque%, A Masterson, WD Leavitt§. 2020. Microbial Methane from Methylphosphonate Isotopically Records Source. Geophysical Research Letters. doi.org/10.1029/2019GL085872.

    [19] Zhou#, A, Y Weber, B. Chiu, FJ Elling, A. Cobban★, A Pearson, WD Leavitt§. 2020. Energy flux controls tetraether lipid cyclization in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius. Environmental Microbiology. doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.14851.

    [18] Gomes, M., Leavitt, W.D., Smith, D. (2019). Sulfate Reduction. In: Gargaud, M., et al. Encyclopedia of Astrobiology. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_5420-1.

    [17] Leavitt@, WD, S Venceslau, J Waldbauer, D Smith, IAC Pereira, and AS Bradley. 2019. Proteomic and isotopic response of Desulfovibrio vulgaris to DsrC perturbation. Frontiers in Microbiology. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.00658.

    [16] Bertran&, E, W.D. Leavitt, A.Pellerin, GM Zane, JD Wall, I Halevy, B. Wing, D.T. Johnston. 2018. Deconstructing the dissimilatory sulfate reduction pathway: Isotope fractionation of a mutant unable of growth on sulfate. Frontiers in Microbiology. doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.03110.

    [15] Leavitt@, W.D., S. Jean-Loup Murphy, L. R. Lynd, A.S. Bradley. 2017. Hydrogen isotope composition of Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum lipids: comparing wild type to a nfn- transhydrogenase mutant. Organic Geochemistry. doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2017.06.020.

    [14] Leavitt@, WD, S Venceslau, DT Johnston, IAC Pereira and AS Bradley. 2016. Fractionation of sulfur and hydrogen isotopes in Desulfovibrio vulgaris with perturbed DsrC expression. FEMS Microbiology Letters. 363:20. doi.org/10.1093/femsle/fnw226

  • Manuscripts in revision, review, or submitted (with latest status)

    [i] Li#, J., B.K. Chiu, A.M. Piasecki‡, X. Feng, J.D. Landis&, S. Marcum&, E.D. Young, W.D. Leavitt§. The evolution of multiply substituted isotopologues of methane during microbial aerobic oxidation. In revision at Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. Nov. 2023. Preprint: www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.11.02.565373v1.

    [ii] Rhim‡, J., S.Kopf, J. McFarlin%, H. Batther&, C.M. Harris#, A. Zhou#, X. Feng, Y. Weber‡, S. Hoeft-McCann, A. Pearson, and WD Leavitt§. The hydrogen isotope signatures of autotrophy versus heterotrophy recorded in archaeal tetraether lipids. Submitted Dec. 2023. Preprint: www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2023.11.29.569324v1.

    [iii] Labidi, J., McCollom, T.M., Giunta, T., Sherwood Lollar, B., Leavitt, W.D., Young E.D. Clumped isotope signatures of abiotic methane: the role of combinatorial isotope effect. In Review at Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth as of Nov. 2023. Preprint: essopenarchive.org/doi/full/10.22541/essoar.169947270.05360251/v1.

    [iv] Lyons*, T., C. Tino*&, G. Fournier, R. Anderson, WD Leavitt, K. Konhauser, and E. Stüeken. Invited review: Co-evolution of early environments and microbial life revised/resubmitted at Nature Reviews in Microbiology as of Nov. 2023

Works In Progress

in prep.

i. Calhoun★, Colman, Amenabar, Boyd, Pearson, WD Leavitt^. Fundamental controls on crenarchaeol abundance in hot spring environments.             Est. Winter 2024.

ii. Li#, J., J. Ash, A. Cobban★, S. Berger, K. Morra, Y. Lin, M. Fogel, M. Torres, X. Feng, A. Masterson, D. Stolper, C. Welte, M. Jetten, E. Young, WD Leavitt§. Clumped isotopes differentiate microbialgenic methanogenesis pathways.   Est. Winter 2024.

Active On-going Projects__________________________________________________

Projects where experiments & data collection are underway, conference abstracts available.

i. Harris#, C., S. Kopf, A. Zhou#, B. Chiu, A. Cobban★, J. McFarlin, Y. Weber‡, A. Pearson and W.D. Leavitt. Hydrogen isotope systematics in GDGTs in a model thermoacidophile.

ii. Li#, J., J. Bornik, E. Young, WD Leavitt. A random forest classifier on isotope signatures of methane from different sources.

iii. Marcum&, S., J. Liu&, J. Li#, W.D. Leavitt, E.D. Young. A Bayesian Approach to Developing Methane as a Biosignature.

iv. Benson#, J., WD Leavitt, S. Slotznick. Water column controls on magnetic mineral formation and preservation.

Public Lectures & Fun field trips