New Faculty Returns to MSU

How did Sarah Lebeis — who was inspired by human genetics and evolution, which led her to a PhD in immunology from a medical school, — find her way back to MSU?

New Faculty Returns to MSU

Sarah Lebeis

How did Sarah Lebeis — who was inspired by human genetics and evolution, which led her to a PhD in immunology from a medical school, — find her way back to MSU? “The common thread is my interest in host-microbe interactions,” says Lebeis, who joined PSM faculty as Assistant Professor in 2020.

“In grad school I became fascinated with how hosts and microbes recognize and respond to unlike entities,” says Lebeis who brings passion as well as experience on her journey, combining her knowledge and research in microbiology, immunology, and metagenomics.

Lebeis began her career with a bachelor’s degree at MSU in 2002. She then pursued a Ph.D at Emory University in Atlanta, and enjoyed a post-doc fellowship at University of North Carolina, exploring how plants shape their microbiome: (

In her first faculty position at the University of Tennessee Lebeis earned a top achievement for outstanding undergraduate mentoring, and studied the spatial and temporal scale of plant-microbe interactions:

Growing her program here at MSU, Lebeis says she is always looking for students who want to be good lab teammates. “Two of my students are from the University of Tennessee and two are from Michigan State University, but we feel like one cohesive and collaborative lab group.”

While Lebeis’ pursues her goal — to understand and define the mechanisms by which plants and microbes interact, and how those relationships are affected by changes in season and the climate — she says it’s just as important to “understand how to translate what we observe in the lab to the field.” Ultimately, Lebeis says, she’d like to know how to provide the plant—and farmers—with more resilience.

In addition to research and teaching, Lebeis is excited to be part of the Plant Resilience Institute, which brings together junior and senior faculty from diverse disciplines and to enhance research and experimentation in plant resilience to extreme weather and climate change, and to contribute to the Plant Science Excellence committee, which supports university-level coordination and synergy across disciplines.

Originally from Farmington Hills, Sarah is happy to be among family and friends here at MSU. “It’s an amazing opportunity to return to Michigan, a place I know and love.”

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