Department of Earth Sciences
Newton Horace Winchell School of Earth Sciences

Cara Santelli


2C PillsH


Assistant Professor
PhD, 2007, MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography


Research Interests

I am a geomicrobiologist in the Department of Earth Sciences and a member of the BioTechnology Institute at UMN.  My research examines the impact of microbial activity on geological and environmental processes such as mineral formation, mineral alteration and weathering, metal and metalloid redox transformations, nutrient biogeochemical cycling, and the remediation of polluted environments.  My specific research objectives are driven by conducting fundamental scientific research on environmentally relevant biogeochemical processes and key elements in nature that are further influenced by anthropogenic activities, such as mining and agriculture.  Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of my research, I work with a multidisciplinary team of scientists and students with diverse scientific training and expertise.  We utilize diverse techniques, ranging from metagenomics, genomics, and transcriptomics to understand microbial communities and molecular mechanisms associated with specific biogeochemical activities to mineralogical X-ray and spectroscopic techniques to identify and characterize biomineralization products and stability of these products in a changing environment.  In addition to answering key questions on the mechanisms, metabolic pathways, and geochemical impact of mineral-microbe interactions, we seek to inform and improve strategies for remediating inorganic pollutants to improve the quality and health of water and soil environments.  To learn more about me and my research group, visit my website at or follow me( @biominerals) on Twitter.


Courses Taught




Select Publications

  • Bohu, T., Santelli, C. M., Akob, D. M., Neu, T. R., Ciobota, V., Rösch, P., Küsel, K., 2015. Characterization of pH dependent Mn(II) oxidation strategies and formation of a bixbyite-like phase by Mesorhizobium australicum T-G1. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6, 734. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.00734
  • Chaput, D.L., Burgos, W.D., Hansel, C.M., and Santelli, C.M., 2015.  Profiling microbial communities in manganese remediation systems treating coal mine drainage.  Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 81, no. 6, pp. 2189-2198.  doi:10.1128/AEM.03643-14
  • Santelli, C.M., Chaput, D.L., and Hansel, C.M., 2014.  Microbial communities involved in the oxidation of Mn in Ashumet Pond, a historically polluted freshwater pond undergoing remedation.  Geomicrobiology Journal, v. 31, no. 7, pp. 605-616. doi:10.1080/01490451.2013.875605
  • Hansel, C.M., Zeiner, C.A., Santelli, C.M., Webb, S.M., 2012. Mn (II) oxidation by an ascomycete fungus is linked to superoxide production during asexual reproduction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, pp. 12621–12625. doi:10.1073/pnas.1203885109
  • Santelli, C.M., Webb, S.M., Dohnalkova, A.C., Hansel, C.M., 2011. Diversity of Mn oxides produced by Mn(II)-oxidizing fungi. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta,vol. 75, pp. 2762-2776. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2011.02.022
  • Santelli, C. M., Pfister, D., Lazarus, D., Sun, L., Burgos, W. D., and Hansel, C. M., 2010. Promotion of Mn(II) oxidation and remediation of coal mine drainage in passive treatment systems by diverse fungal and bacterial communities. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 76, no. 14, pp. 4871-4875. doi:10.1128/AEM.03029-09
  • Santelli, C.M., Edgcomb, V., Bach, W., Edwards, K.J., 2009. The diversity and abundance of bacteria inhabiting seafloor lavas positively correlate with rock alteration.   Environmental Microbiology, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 86-98. doi:10.1111/j.1462-2920.2008.01743.x
  • Santelli, C.M., Orcutt, B.N., Banning, E., Bach, W., Moyer, C.L., Sogin, M.L., Staudigel, H., Edwards, K.J., 2008.  Abundance and diversity of microbial life in ocean crust.  Nature, vol. 453, pp. 643-657. doi:10.1038/nature06899
  • Santelli, C.M., Welch, S.A., Westrich, H.R., Banfield, J.F., 2001.  The effect of Fe-oxidizing bacteria on Fe-silicate mineral dissolution.  Chemical Geology, vol. 180, no. 1-4, pp. 99-115. doi:10.1016/S0009-2541(01)00308-4


Recent Research Support

Smithsonian Institution Competitive Research Grants  – Geomicrobiology of selenium-contaminated soils (2014 – 2015; C. Santelli, PI; C. Rosenfeld, co-PI)

NSF-ECS – Elucidating the Effects of Structure on the Redox Reactivity of Mycogenic Mn Oxide Nanoparticles (2014-2017; O. Duckworth, PI; Santelli, co-PI)

DOE, EMSL/JGI Joint Funding Opportunity – Genome-enabled Investigations of the Role of Secreted Proteins and Reactive Metabolites in Carbon Degradation by Pure and Mixed Ascomycete Fungal Communities (2013-2014; C. Hansel, PI; C. Santelli, co-PI)

NSF-EE – Collaborative Research: Optimization of Metal Attenuation in Biologically-active Remediation Systems (2013-2016; C. Santelli, PI; C. Hansel, co-PI)