James 'Jake' McKinlay

Your UBC Experience

The environment at UBC provided me with countless opportunities to grow my interests in both science and art in a socially vibrant atmosphere. Volunteering as a cartoonist at the 432 taught me how to balance my time and merge my skills as an illustrator with a career in science. UBC also provided me with a tremendous experience spending a year abroad at the University of Melbourne, Australia. It made me realize how great the rewards can be when you seize opportunities as they come along. The classes in the Microbiology program set high expectations and provided the skills to meet them. It wasn't until I started graduate school that I realized just how well the UBC Microbiology program, and especially my research experience in the Mohn lab, had prepared me for the next stage of my career.

Thesis Title

M.Sc. Thesis: Neutral red-mediated extracellular iron reduction by Escherichia coli; Ph.D. Thesis: Insights into Actinobacillus succinogenes fermentative metabolism

Clubs/Programs involved in at UBC

  • The 432 Science newspaper, cartoonist
  • Microbiology Undergraduate Research


  • UBC Outstanding Student Initiative Scholarship, 1996-2000
  • UBC Hugh M. Brock Education Abroad Scholarship, 1999

Your Career Journey and Achievements

After graduating from UBC I entered the professional MSc program at Michigan State University. With Prof. Greg Zeikus, I researched how electrons can be harvested from bacteria to reduce metals and produce electricity. Separately, I spent a Summer as an intern at Pfizer in Groton, CT identifying microbes that could carry out specific steps in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals. I stayed on at MSU to work towards a PhD with Prof. Zeikus and Prof. Claire Vieille. I used stable isotopes to examine the metabolism of a bacterium that can convert sugars into a precursors for industrial resins and solvents, with the potential to augment or even replace a petrochemical industry with one based on renewable resources. After obtaining my PhD I moved to Seattle to conduct postdoctoral research with Prof. Caroline Harwood at the University of Washington. There I studied a bacterium that can convert light and agricultural waste into hydrogen gas, a potential biofuel. In 2011 I was hired into my current faculty position in the Department of Biology at Indiana University. I run a research lab where we coax bacteria to feed each other and form simple cooperative communities that do useful things, like making biofuels. I also teach undergraduate and graduate courses in microbiology. Throughout, I have used my skills as an illustrator in my research and teaching. I am currently working on an illustrated storyline to share the wonders of the microbial world with learners of all ages. Highlights are posted to my twitter page as it comes together.


Grad Year:


UBC Degree/Program:

  • B.Sc/Microbiology&Immunology
  • Visiting Associate Professor, UBC, Dept. Microbiology&Immunology, 2019

UBC Supervisor:

B.Sc supervisor: Dr. William Mohn


Other Education:

  • Michigan State University, 2003, Pro. MSc/Industrial Microbiology
  • Michigan State University, 2006, Ph.D./Microbiology and Molecular Genetics


Vancouver, BC

Job Title & Employer:

Associate Professor/Indiana University

Current Location:

Bloomington, Indiana, USA