Jennifer M. DeBruyn, Ph.D.

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Associate Professor
  Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

Office: 430 Plant Biotech
Phone: (865) 974-7277

Focus: Environmental Microbiology

  • Microbial ecology: I research microbial communities to better understand their dynamics and functions in a variety of environments.
Educational & Research Programs
  • Current research project areas: Biodegradation of plastics, decomposition of carcasses/cadavers, N cycling in terrestrial and aquatic environments, human and insect microbiomes
  • Outreach projects: I provide environmental science education training to educators. Our current training programs include the Backyard STEM program for 4-H educators and our annual Soils & Our Environment workshop for middle and high school science teachers.

Biographical sketch

Dr. Jennifer DeBruyn, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science. She is a microbial ecologist, studying how microbes interact with each other and their environments to perform critical functions for their ecosystems.

Having grown up on a field research station in northwest Ontario, environmental science has always been her primary interest. As a PhD student, she worked on pollutant remediation in sediments. As a faculty member in BESS, her main research areas are decomposition and biodegradation in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. One of her focus areas is the biodegradation of agricultural plastics, where she and her students investigate impacts of biodegradable plastics on soil health and study microbes that can break down plastics. They are answering questions that are critical to policy questions related to use of biodegradable plastics in agriculture.

Another focus area is the decomposition of vertebrate (human and animal) mortalities. This has included work at the UT Anthropology Research Facility where she and her students are addressing questions about the postmortem microbiome which may be useful for forensic investigations and inform carcass disposal practices for livestock producers. Dr. DeBruyn’s work has been funded by USDA, NSF, EPA, and DOJ.

Dr. DeBruyn also holds an appointment with UT Extension, where her primary focus has been development of the “Backyard STEM” program, a curriculum development and training program for 4-H agents focused on environmental science education for youth.

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Researcher ID

Recent Publications


Ph.D. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, 2008
B.Sc.H. Biology, Queens University, 2003