Elizabeth A. Edwards

Elizabeth EdwardsUniversity Professor
B.Eng., M.Eng (McGill), Ph.D. (Stanford), P.Eng.
Canada Research Chair in Anaerobic Biotechnology
Principal Investigator
Biodegraders Research Group 
DirectorBioZone – Centre for Applied Bioscience and Bioengineering
Cross-Appointed ProfessorDepartment of Cell & Systems BiologyRoom: WB420D | Tel.: 416-946-3506 | Email: elizabeth.edwards@utoronto.ca



  • Officer, The Order of Canada, 2020
  • Killam Prize in Engineering; Canada Council for the Arts, 2016
  • Canada Research Chair (tier 1) in Anaerobic Biotechnology, 2014
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 2012
  • Fellow, Canadian Academy of Engineering 2011
  • Fellow, AAAS 2011
  • Killam Research Fellowship, 2008-2010


  • Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO)
  • Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP)
  • American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
  • American Chemical Society (ACS)

Research Interests

Anaerobic Microbial Community Analysis

These are very exciting times in fundamental and applied environmental microbiology owing to recent advances in analytical tools and techniques to interrogate complex biological systems. These tools include affordable large-scale sequencing, quantitative DNA and RNA extraction and amplification tools, and proteomic analyses applicable to complex mixtures and small sample sizes. These techniques are enabling novel approaches to uncover fundamental metabolism, regulation, genetics, and interspecies metabolite transfer in complex microbial systems of global importance, such as nutrient cycling, wastewater treatment and the human microbiome. Specific applications related to my own research include biomethane production, wastewater treatment, and soil and groundwater bioremediation. These processes rely on complex microbial communities that have defied traditional reductionist microbiological approaches. My research group is actively engaged in research to understand functional interactions in complex microbial consortia, and how these interactions enable much greater activity in the whole as compared to the sum of the individual parts. We have also been very active at translating such knowledge to practice, particularly in the bioremediation field.

Biodegradation, Biotransformation and Bioremediation

My research group focuses on developing an understanding of how biological processes affect the fate of pollutants in the environment. We apply a wide variety of techniques from analytical chemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, enzymology, environmental genomics and proteomics in conjunction with mass and energy balance approaches to unravel and model complex microbial processes, particularly those that occur in anaerobic environments.

Monoaromatic hydrocarbons (such as benzene, toluene and xylene) are prevalent groundwater contaminants as they are found in most petroleum products. These compounds can be biodegraded under a variety of different conditions both aerobically and anaerobically. Anaerobic processes have significant advantages over aerobic processes for in situ bioremediation (i.e., bioremediation in-place in the subsurface) because anaerobic processes are not limited by the availability of oxygen. My research has explored the biological processes that affect the fate of monoaromatic hydrocarbons in anaerobic environments, including detailed characterization of the microbes that catalyze these reactions and their potential role in site remediation.

Chlorinated solvents are widespread groundwater contaminants in all industrialized regions. These solvents are used extensively as degreasing agents and in dry-cleaning. In the presence of oxygen, these compounds are quite stable. However under reduced conditions, they are susceptible to sequential dechlorination ultimately yielding non-chlorinated (non-toxic) products. Microbes naturally present in the environment are responsible for the reductive dehalogenation of many chlorinated solvents.  My laboratory has been actively engaged in translating this knowledge to practice for bioremediation and in particular bioaugmentation, taking advantage of the unique metabolism of these fascinating anaerobic microbes that “breathe” chlorinated solvents.

Anaerobic Digestion of Industrial and Municipal wastes

Anaerobic digestion of organic waste has tremendous potential to address the economic and the environmental pressures facing most industries and municipalities. While anaerobic digestion is widely applied already in certain sectors, there is keen interest to expand its use to new waste streams, for example in the pulp and paper industry.  Using a combination of pre-treatment methods and reactor configurations, combined with new molecular and analytical tools to gain mechanistic information on anaerobic processes, we are investigating alternative approaches to recover energy from waste liquid and solid streams.

Selected publications

Wang, P.-H., Correia, K., Ho, H.-C., Venayak, N., Nemr, K., Flick,R., Mahadevan, R. and E.A. Edwards. 2018. “Interspecies Malate-Pyruvate Shuttle Drives Amino Acid Exchange in Organohalide-Respiring Microbial Communities.” bioRxiv. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 379438.118.

Molenda, O., Tang, S., Lomheim, L. and E. A. Edwards. 2018. Eight new genomes of organohalide-respiring Dehalococcoides mccartyi reveal evolutionary trends in reductive dehalogenase enzymes. bioRxiv. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 345173.

Molenda, O., Tang, S., Lomheim, L., Guatam, V., Lemak, S., Yakunin, A.F., Maxwell, K.L. and E.A. Edwards. 2018. Extrachromosomal circular elements targeted by CRISPR-Cas in Dehalococcoides mccartyi are linked to mobilization of reductive dehalogenase genes. The ISME Journal, August. Springer US, 1–15. doi:10.1038/s41396-018-0254-2.

Wang, P.-H.; Khusnutdinova, A.; Luo, F.; Xiao, J.; Nemr, K.; Flick, R.; Brown, G.; Mahadevan, R.; Edwards, E. A.; Yakunin, A. F., Biosynthesis and Biochemical Activity of Purified Prenylated FMN Cell Chemical Biology 2018 doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2018.02.007.

Bonilla, S., Choolaei, Z., Meyer, T., Edwards, E.A., Yakunin, A.F., Allen, D.G. 2018 Evaluating the Effect of Enzymatic Pretreatment on the Anaerobic Digestibility of Pulp and Paper Biosludge. Biotechnology Reports. 17:77-85.

Qiao, W., Luo, F., Lomheim, L., Mack, E., Ye, S., Wu, J. and Edwards, E. A. 2018. Natural attenuation and anaerobic benzene detoxification processes at a chlorobenzene-contaminated industrial site inferred from field investigations and microcosm studies. Environmental Science & Technology. 52(1):22-31

Perez de Mora, A.; Lacourt, A.; McMaster, M. L.; Liang, X.; Dworatzek, S.; Edwards, E. A., 2017. Chlorinated electron acceptor availability selects for specific Dehalococcoides populations in dechlorinating enrichment cultures and in groundwater. BioRxiv. doi.org/10.1101/175182; Frontiers in Microbiology 9 (May): 968–914. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.00812.

Telling, J., Voglesonger, K., Sutcliffe, C., Lacrampe-Couloume, G., Edwards, E. and Lollar, B.S. 2017. Bioenergetic constraints on microbial hydrogen utilization in Precambrian deep crustal fracture fluids. Geomicrobiology Journal. 108-119.

Wong, M.T., Wang, W., Couturier, M., Razeq, F.M., Lombard, V., Lapebie, P., Edwards, E.A., Terrapon, N., Henrissat, B. and Master, E. 2017. Comparative metagenomics of cellulose-and poplar hydrolysate-degrading microbial enrichments from gut microflora of the Canadian beaver (Castor canadensis) and North American moose (Alces americanus) after long term enrichment. Frontiers in Microbiology. 8:2504.

Puentes Jacome, L. A. and Edwards, E. A. 2017. A switch of chlorinated substrate causes emergence of a previously undetected native Dehalobacter population in an established Dehalococcoides-dominated chloroethene-dechlorinating enrichment culture. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 93(12):131. doi:10.1093/femsec/fix141.

Yan, J., Bi, M., Bourdon, A.K., Farmer, A.T., Wang, P.H., Molenda, O., Quaile, A., Jiang, N., Yang, Y., Yin, Y., Simsir, B., Campagna, S.R, Edwards, E.A and Löffler, F.E., 2018 Purinyl-cobamide is a native prosthetic group of reductive dehalogenases. Nature Chemical Biology. 14: 8–14 doi:10.1038/nchembio.2512

Garg, S., Judd, K., Mahadevan, R., Edwards, E. and Papangelakis, V. 2017. Leaching characteristics of nickeliferous pyrrhotite tailings from the Sudbury, Ontario area. Canadian Metallurgical Quarterly. 56(4):372-381.

Garg, S., Papangelakis, V., Edwards, E., and Mahadevan, R. 2017. Application of a selective dissolution protocol to quantify the terminal dissolution extents of pyrrhotitie and pentlandite from pyrrhotite tailiungs. International Journal of Mineral Processing. 158: 27–34.

Zhai, W., Wong, M. T., Luo, F., Hashmi, M. Z., Liu, X., Edwards, E. A., Tang, X. and Xu, J. 2017. Arsenic Methylation and its Relationship to Abundance and Diversity of arsM Genes in Composting Manure. Scientific Reports.4:2198.

Mayer-Blackwell, K., Fincker, M., Molenda, O., Callahan, B., Sewell, Ho., Holmes, S., Edwards, E. and Spormann, A. 2017. 1,2-Dichloroethane exposure alters the population structure, metabolism, and kinetics of a trichloroethene-dechlorinating Dehalococcoides mccartyi consortium. Environmental Science & Technology. 50(22):12187-12196.

Meyer, T., H.N. Tran, D.G. Allen and E.A. Edwards. 2017. Natural freezing-thawing and its impact on dewaterability and anaerobic digestibility of biosludge. Environmental Engineering Science. 34(5):357-366.

Wang, P.-H., Tang, S., Nemr, K., Flick, R., Yan, J., Mahadevan, R., Yakunin, A., Löffler F.L. and E.A. Edwards. 2017. Refined Experimental Annotation Reveals Conserved Corrinoid Autotrophy in Chloroform-Respiring Dehalobacter Isolates. The ISME Journal. 11(3):626-640.

Molenda, O., Tang S. and E.A. Edwards. 2016. Complete genome sequence of Dehalococcoides mccartyi strain WBC-2 capable of anaerobic reductive dechlorination of vinyl chloride. Genome Announcements. 4(6):e01375-16

Schnurr, P., Molenda, O., Edwards, E.A., Espie, G.S. and Grant Allen. 2016. Improved biomass productivity in algal biofilms through synergistic interactions between photon flux density and CO2 concentration. Bioresource Technology 219:72-79.

Kocur, C., Lomheim, L., Molenda, O., Weber, K., Austrins, L., Sleep, B., Boparai, H., Edwards, E.A., O’Carroll, D. 2016. Long Term Field Study of Microbial Community and Dechlorinating Activity Following Carboxymethyl Cellulose-Stabilized Nanoscale Zero Valent Iron Injection. Environ Sci & Technol. 50(14):7658-7670.

Wong, M.T., W. Wang, M. Lacourt, M. Couturier, E.A. Edwards, and E.Master. 2016. Substrate-Driven Convergence of the Microbial Community in Lignocellulose- Amended Enrichments of Gut Microflora From the Canadian Beaver (Castor Canadensis) and North American Moose (Alces Americanus). Frontiers in Microbiology. 7:961.

Mahbod, H., Nocek, B.P., Tchigvintsev, A., Brown, G., Flick, R., Xu, X., Cui, H., Hai, T., Joachimiak, A., Golyshin, P.N., Savchenko, A., Edwards, E.A. and Yakunin, A.F. 2016. Biochemical and structural insights into enzymatic depolymerization of polylactic acid and other polyesters by microbial carboxylesterases. Biomacromolecules. 17(6):2027-2039

Meyer, T., Yang, M.I., Allen, D.G., Tran, H.N. and Edwards, E.A. 2016. Impact of resin and fatty acids on full-scale anaerobic treatment of pulp and paper mill effluents. Environmental Engineering Science 33(6):394-403.

Tang, S. Po-Hsiang Wang, Higgins, SA, Löffler FL and E.A. Edwards. 2016. Sister Dehalobacter Genomes Reveal Specialization in Organohalide Respiration and Recent Strain Differentiation Likely Driven by Chlorinated Substrates. Frontiers in Microbiology, 12(7):100.

For Prof. Edwards’ full list of publications, click here.

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