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Chico State

Biological Sciences Professor Immerses Students into Study of Rust-Producing Bacteria

Emily Fleming chats with a student in a biology lab.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Four Chico State faculty members are being celebrated as recipients of the University’s Professional Achievement Honors, which recognize exemplary teacher-scholar achievement on our campus. Honorees are selected by the University’s Faculty Recognition and Support Committee and sponsored by the University Foundation Board of Governors.

Whether spending a year as a visiting scientist at one of the top microbiology programs in the world or publishing a paper in one of the globe’s leading microbiology journals, Emily Fleming is emerging as a scholar of note.

While she has been sharing her knowledge with students at Chico State for a decade, her last three years have been especially productive. She spent one year on sabbatical at the University of Münster working to create a model system that can be genetically manipulated to understand the mechanisms behind corrosion and biofouling caused by rust-producing bacteria. Back in Chico, Fleming worked her research outcomes into her upper-division “Bacterial Physiology” and “Microbial Genetics” courses where her students began generating mutants without some of those activities—accomplishing publishable work in just a single semester.

She has mentored many graduate students on both projects and theses, as well as nearly two dozen undergraduate students. Most meaningful, she said, is watching her students share her excitement and take on the next level of scientific exploration for a topic that has been her passion for decades. Whether it’s a student presenting their honors thesis or groups spiritedly debating at a poster presentation, they motivate her to keep going.

“It’s about the students getting excited,” she said. “As faculty, we do the research because we love it, but we want this excitement to be taken up by the next generation of microbiologists. We need more of them!”

Other accomplishments of note include publishing two papers related to her sabbatical research. And she secured a multi-year collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to identify the genes and proteins responsible for biological rust formation. In 2019, a Chico State grant supported her work to look for Martian life in underground gas-gas interfaces. Fleming traveled to acidic caves filled with carbon dioxide with other international scholars and together they ultimately published a paper in Nature Microbiology.

She’s published more than a dozen scholarly articles and has been a speaker at the Northern California American Society for Microbiology, the West Coast Bacterial Physiologists Conference, and numerous universities. She’s also a faculty instructor on an international microbial diversity course through the Marine Biological Laboratory, a global center for research and education in biological and environmental science in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

When not teaching or busy in her lab, Fleming has chaired curriculum committees for her department and the College of Natural Sciences and contributed to personnel committees, including chairing two successful searches. And she serves on the University Writing Committee, University Radiation Safety Committee, University Enrollment Management Advisory Committee,

Fleming has a PhD and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from University of California, Davis. She has been a faculty member at Chico State since 2014.