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Crysten E. Blaby-Haas

Principal Investigator

Dr. Blaby-Haas, a native of North Central Florida, received her B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Florida in Microbiology and Cell Science. As a graduate student in the laboratory of Prof. Valérie de Crécy-Lagard, she became fascinated by the elegant logic of comparative genomics as a tool to predict gene/protein function and quickly became immersed in the complexity and diversity of microbial metal homeostasis. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Sabeeha Merchant at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Blaby-Haas received the prestigious NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship and the 2015 Boyer-Peter Award for her research on the diverse and fascinatingly complex world of metal usage by plants and algae. In 2015, Dr. Blaby-Haas moved to BNL to co-found the Quantitative Plant Science Initiative (QPSI), a team-oriented, multi-disciplinary consortium of researchers focused on using high-performance computing, HTP structural and genetic tools, and functional genomics to resolve the knowledge gap that exists in plant protein function. While we are proficient at sequencing plant genomes and determining the inventory of proteins for any given plant, we lack a basic understanding of what most of those proteins are doing in the cell. Within QPSI, Dr. Blaby-Haas leverages her many years of experience in using genomic and post-genomic association data to discover and predict protein function and capitalizes on the capabilities within QPSI with a goal to quickly attain an understanding of the structural and genetic components of plant micronutrient-use efficiency. When not in the laboratory, Dr. Blaby-Haas enjoys spending time with her family, reading fantasy novels and painting.


If left unchecked, the reactivity of metal ions can cause injury or even death. Therefore, organisms must fine-tune morphological, physiological, and molecular responses to meet their catalytic demand for metals while avoiding toxicity. Metal homeostasis involves multiple pathways that are responsible for assimilation of metals from the environment, distribution, delivery to enzymes, efflux and both temporary and long-term compartmentalization.

Research Interests

With modern pressure to increase bioenergy crop production without depleting the agricultural land base, efforts are being made to exploit marginal land for biomass production. However, current bioenergy crop plants have not evolved to maximize biomass production under the nutrient-limiting conditions of marginal soils. A solution is to fast-track the adaptation of these plants to thrive under unfavorable conditions such as metal limitation. Central to this approach is detailed knowledge of the biological processes responsible for ensuring that metal ions are available and distributed to the corresponding enzymes.

We currently lack a complete understanding of metal trafficking within the cell. We know what metals are present and at what concentrations, but we have limited knowledge as to how metal speciation is partitioned across the cell, how the cell senses and regulates metal ion requirements, and the pathways metal ions take to arrive at target enzymes. Decades ago we were under the naïve impression that metals simply exist in a pool from which enzymes can take and give as needed. Today, we know that this would be grossly inadequate given the inherent non-specificity of most metal-peptide interactions and the toxicity of “free” ions. Instead, metal ions must be partitioned into membrane-delineated compartments and are bound temporarily to trafficking and/or storage proteins.

Our research aims to identify and characterize the mechanisms by which organisms thrive in the face of fluctuating and suboptimal metal availability. We begin by leveraging the information encoded in genomes. The changing abundance and availability of metal ions throughout time and in different environments have been powerful pressures in the evolution of life. As a result, each organism’s genome is a roadmap to niche-specific retention and loss of metal-dependent proteins and the pathways required to ensure adequate uptake and proper distribution of metals. The elegant logic of comparative genomics provides a powerful tool in uncovering these pathways. Through analysis of genomes and the mining of post-genomic data, we can construct models of how organisms excel at acclimating to extremes of metal limitation and metal toxicity. With these models at hand, we then move to the bench where we use genetics and molecular biology techniques to test the veracity of each model.

Selected Publications

  • Blaby-Haas CE, Castruita M, Kropat J, Fitz-Gibbon S and Merchant SS. (2016) Ni induces the CRR1-dependent regulon revealing overlap and distinction between hypoxia and Cu-deficiency responses in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Metallomics 8(7), 679-691. PMC4945368
  • Kumar, D, Blaby-Haas, CE, Merchant, SS, Mains, RE, King, SM and Eipper, BA. (2016) Early eukaryotic origins for cilia- associated bioactive peptide-amidating activity. J Cell Sci 129(5), 943-956. PMC4813317
  • Blaby IK, Blaby‐Haas CE, Pérez‐Pérez ME, Schmollinger S, Fitz-Gibbon S, Lemaire SD, & Merchant SS. (2015) Genome‐wide analysis on Chlamydomonas reinhardtii reveals the impact of hydrogen peroxide on protein stress responses and overlap with other stress transcriptomes. Plant J, 84(5), 974-988. PMID: 26473430
  • Pérez-Martín M, Blaby-Haas CE, Pérez-Pérez ME, Andrés-Garrido A, Blaby IK, Merchant SS and Crespo JL. Activation of autophagy by metals in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Eukaryot Cell. 14(9):964-73. PMID: 26163317
  • Allan CM, Awad AM, Johnson JS, Shirasaki DI, Wang C, Blaby-Haas CE, Merchant SS, Loo JA and Clarke CF. (2015) Identification of Coq11, a new coenzyme Q biosynthetic protein in the CoQ-synthome in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. J Biol Chem 290.12: 7517-7534. PMID: 25631044
  • Fristedt R, Herdean A, Blaby-Haas CE, Mamedov F, Merchant SS, Last RL and Lundin B. (2015) PHOTOSYSTEM II PROTEIN33, a protein conserved in the plastid lineage, is associated with the chloroplast thylakoid membrane and provides stability to photosystem II supercomplexes in Arabidopsis. Plant Physiol. 167(2):481-92. PMID: 25511433
  • Blaby-Haas CE, Padilla-Benavides T, Stübe R, Argüello JM and Merchant SS. (2014) Evolution of a plant-specific copper chaperone family for chloroplast copper homeostasis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(50), E5480-E5487. PMC4273408
  • Blaby-Haas CE and Merchant SS. (2014) Lysosome-related organelles as mediators of metal homeostasis. J Biol Chem. 289: 28129-28136. PMID 25160625
  • Blaby IK, Blaby-Haas CE, Tourasse N, Hom EF, Lopez D, Aksoy M, ... and Prochnik S. (2014) The Chlamydomonas genome project: a decade on. Trends Plant Sci. 19: 672-680. PMC4185214
  • Blaby-Haas CE and Merchant SS. (2013) Sparing and salvaging metals in chloroplasts in Metals in Cells. V. Culotta and R.A. Scott eds. Encyclopedia of Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry (EIBC), EIC Books
  • Ming R, Vanburen R, Liu Y, Yang M, Han Y, Li LT, Zhang Q, Kim MJ, Schatz MC, Campbell M, Li J, Bowers JE, Tang H, Lyons E, Ferguson AA, Narzisi G, Nelson DR, Blaby-Haas CE. (2013) Genome of the long-living sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.). Genome Biol. 14(5):R41. PMC4053705
  • Blaby-Haas CE and Merchant SS. (2013) Iron sparing and recycling in a compartmentalized cell. Curr Opin Microbiol. 16(6):677-85. PMC3842415
  • Glaesener AG, Merchant SS and Blaby-Haas CE. (2013) Iron economy in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Front Plant Sci. 4:337. PMC3759009
  • Urzica EI, Casero D, Yamasaki H, Hsieh SI, Adler LN, Karpowicz SJ, Blaby-Haas CE, Clarke SG, Loo JA, Pellegrini M, and Merchant SS. (2012) Systems and trans-system level analysis identifies conserved iron deficiency responses in the plant lineage. Plant Cell. 24(10):3921-48. PMC3517228
  • Blaby-Haas CE and Merchant SS. (2012) The ins and outs of algal metal transport. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1823(9):1531-52. PMC3408858
  • Blaby-Haas CE, Flood JA, de Crécy-Lagard V, and Zamble DB. (2012) YeiR: a metal-binding GTPase from Escherichia coli involved in metal homeostasis. Metallomics 4(5):488-97. PMC3574555
  • Blaby-Haas CE and de Crécy-Lagard V. (2011) Mining high-throughput experimental data to link gene and function. Trends in Biotech, 29(4): 174-182. PMC3073767
  • Gerdes S, El Yacoubi B, Bailly M, Blaby IK, Blaby-Haas CE, Jeanguenin L, Lara-Núñez A, Pribat A, Waller JC, Wilke, A, Overbeek R, Hanson AD and de Crécy-Lagard V. (2011) Synergistic use of plant-prokaryote comparative genomics for functional annotations. BMC Genomics, 12 Suppl 1: S2. PMC3223725
  • Blaby-Haas CE, Furman R, Rodionov DA, Artsimovitch I, and de Crécy-Lagard V. (2011) Role of a Zn-independent DksA in Zn homeostasis and stringent response. Mol Micro, 79(3): 700–715. PMC3076637
  • Haas CE, Rodionov DA, Kropat J, Malasarn D, Merchant SS and de Crécy-Lagard V. (2009) A subset of the diverse COG0523 family of putative metal chaperones is linked to zinc homeostasis in all kingdoms of life. BMC Genomics, 10:470. PMC2770081
  • Haas CE, Rodionov DA, Kropat J, Malasarn D, Merchant SS and de Crécy-Lagard V. (2009) A subset of the diverse COG0523 family of putative metal chaperones is linked to zinc homeostasis in all kingdoms of life. BMC Genomics, 10:470. PMC2770081