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Rosa León Zayas

Associate Professor of Biology

Headshot of Rosa  León Zayas

Contact Information

Salem Campus

Olin Science Center 113
900 State Street
Salem  Oregon  97301


PhD, Marine Biology, University of California, San Diego, 2014

MS, Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 2010

BS, Industrial Biotechnology, University Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, 2007


Rosa León Zayas is an environmental microbiologist and bioinformatician. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, she studied the genomes of ultra deep-sea single-cell microbes from the Puerto Rico Trench and Mariana’s Trench at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. During her postdoctoral work at the University of Delaware, she focused on studies of deep subsurface environments like the Tonga Trench and the Costa Rica margin. Currently, Dr. León Zayas is an Assistant Professor at Willamette University, a small liberal arts college in in Salem, OR. At Willamette University Dr. León Zayas is dedicated to educating the next generation of scientists by doing science, or in other words providing opportunities for undergraduate students from all backgrounds to experience the process of generating new knowledge. Dr. León Zayas is also deeply committed to the advancement of underrepresented minorities in STEM, particularly Puerto Rican/Hispanics and the queer community, and as part of those efforts she has also collaborated with the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program to create a series of science videos in English and Spanish.


In the León-Zayas research lab, we are interested in understanding the community composition and metabolic potential of microbial communities in various environments such as the deep ocean, the subsurface, and coral reefs. In order to answer questions about which microorganisms are present in these environments and what roles those organisms are playing in their ecosystems, we utilize computational biology tools to analyze DNA of the whole microbial community. Among the ongoing research themes in the lab are the discovery of genes involved in the production of novel bioactive compounds, for example antibiotics or anticancer. Also, we are looking to better understand microbial communities that live below the sediment surface in the ocean and hot springs, particularly searching for organisms called Lokiarchaea, that have been suggested to be the missing link between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.


Christman, G., León-Zayas R, Zhao R.,Summers Z., Biddle, J.F. 2020. Novel clostridial lineages recovered from metagenomes of a hot oil reservoir. Scientific Reports – In Press

Farag, I.F., Biddle, J.F., Zhao, R., Martino, A.J., House, C.H. and León-Zayas, R.I., 2020. Metabolic potentials of archaeal lineages resolved from metagenomes of deep Costa Rica sediments. The ISME Journal, pp.1-14.

Coyne, K.J., Parker, A.E., Lee, C.K., Sohm, J.A., Kalmbach, A., Gunderson, T., León-Zayas, R., Capone, D.G., Carpenter, E.J. and Cary, S.C., 2020. The distribution and relative ecological roles of autotrophic and heterotrophic diazotrophs in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. FEMS microbiology ecology96(3), p.fiaa010.

León-Zayas R, Roberts C*, Vague M*, Mellies JL. 2019. Draft genome sequences of five environmental bacterial isolates that degrade polyethylene terephthalate plastic. Microbiol Resour Announc 8:e00237-19. 

Martino A, Rhodes ME, León-Zayas R, Valente IE, Biddle JF, House CH, 2019. Microbial Diversity in Sub-Seafloor Sediments from the Costa Rica Margin. Geosciences, 9(5), p.218.

León-Zayas RI, Peoples L, Biddle JF, Podell S, Novotny M, Cameron J, Lasken RS, Bartlett DH. 2017. The metabolic potential of the single cell genomes obtained from the Challenger Deep, Mariana Trench within the Candidate Superphylum Parcubacteria (OD1). Environmental Microbiology 19(7):2769-2784

Russell JR, León-Zayas RI, Wrighton K, Biddle JF. Deep subsurface life from North Pond: enrichment, isolation, characterization and genomes of heterotrophic bacteria (2016). Frontiers in Microbiology7

León-Zayas RI, NovotnyM, PodellS, ShepardCM, BerkenpasE, NikolenkoS, PevznerP, LaskenRS, BartlettDH (2015). Single Cells within the Puerto Rico Trench Suggest Hadal Adaptation of Microbial Lineages. Applied and Environmental Microbiology vol. 81, no. 24

External Grants and Fellowships


2019-2022 NSFMolecular and Cellular BiosciencesGrant sub-award,
“A REAL Approach to Investigating Bacterial Degradation of PET Plastic Waste” ($94,231; Lead institution: Reed College, Leon-Zayas, Co-PI)

Rosa León-Zayas, Biology. Research Subaward from University of Delaware, Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division Research Opportunities in Space Science Grant, “Our Archaeal Cousins: Evolution and Function of Eukaryotic Homologs in Sedimentary Archaea,” (Jennifer Biddle, PI, Award No. 80NSSC17K00300), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), $25,000, August 2017.


Renjen Prize for Faculty Excellence, Willamette University, 2021

DCO-CoDL sequencing grant Willamette University, 2018

NASA Exobiology Program grant sub-award Willamette University, 2017-2019

NIH supplement grant award for the advancement of underrepresented minorities, University of Delaware, 2016-2018

Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations postdoctoral fellowship, University of Delaware, 2014-2016

Willamette University

Biology Department

Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-375-5425 fax