Bennett Kapili is a Ph.D. student in the Dekas Laboratory. He is interested in studying the microbial ecology and biogeochemistry of environments that push the limits of life. Through developing our understanding of how microbes function in extreme environments, he seeks to advance our search for life within our solar system. He holds a BS in Science of Earth Systems from Cornell University.

Honors & Awards

  • Stanford Earth Special Service Award for DEI, Stanford University (2021)
  • Certificate of Achievement in Mentoring, Stanford University (2021)
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellow, National Science Foundation (2018 - present)
  • Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Fellow, Stanford University (2016 - present)
  • Cornell Tradition Fellow, Cornell University (2012 - 2016)
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, National Science Foundation (2016)
  • Magna cum laude with Distinction in Research, Cornell University (2016)
  • Cornell Tradition Senior Recognition Award, Cornell University (2016)
  • Michael W. Mitchell Prize, Cornell University (2016)

Education & Certifications

  • BS, Cornell University, Science of Earth Systems (2016)

All Publications

  • PPIT: an R package for inferring microbial taxonomy from nifH sequences. Bioinformatics (Oxford, England) Kapili, B. J., Dekas, A. E. 2021


    MOTIVATION: Linking microbial community members to their ecological functions is a central goal of environmental microbiology. When assigned taxonomy, amplicon sequences of metabolic marker genes can suggest such links, thereby offering an overview of the phylogenetic structure underpinning particular ecosystem functions. However, inferring microbial taxonomy from metabolic marker gene sequences remains a challenge, particularly for the frequently sequenced nitrogen fixation marker gene, nitrogenase reductase (nifH). Horizontal gene transfer in recent nifH evolutionary history can confound taxonomic inferences drawn from the pairwise identity methods used in existing software. Other methods for inferring taxonomy are not standardized and require manual inspection that is difficult to scale.RESULTS: We present Phylogenetic Placement for Inferring Taxonomy (PPIT), an R package that infers microbial taxonomy from nifH amplicons using both phylogenetic and sequence identity approaches. After users place query sequences on a reference nifH gene tree provided by PPIT (n=6317 full-length nifH sequences), PPIT searches the phylogenetic neighborhood of each query sequence and attempts to infer microbial taxonomy. An inference is drawn only if references in the phylogenetic neighborhood are: (1) taxonomically consistent and (2) share sufficient pairwise identity with the query, thereby avoiding erroneous inferences due to known horizontal gene transfer events. We find that PPIT returns a higher proportion of correct taxonomic inferences than BLAST-based approaches at the cost of fewer total inferences. We demonstrate PPIT on deep-sea sediment and find that Deltaproteobacteria are the most abundant potential diazotrophs. Using this dataset we show that emending PPIT inferences based on visual inspection of query sequence placement can achieve taxonomic inferences for nearly all sequences in a query set. We additionally discuss how users can apply PPIT to the analysis of other marker genes.AVAILABILITY: PPIT is freely available to non-commercial users at Installation includes a vignette that demonstrates package use and reproduces the nifH amplicon analysis discussed here. The raw nifH amplicon sequence data have been deposited in the GenBank, EMBL, and DDBJ databases under BioProject number PRJEB37167.SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/bioinformatics/btab100

    View details for PubMedID 33580675

  • Evidence for phylogenetically and catabolically diverse active diazotrophs in deep-sea sediment. The ISME journal Kapili, B. J., Barnett, S. E., Buckley, D. H., Dekas, A. E. 2020


    Diazotrophic microorganisms regulate marine productivity by alleviating nitrogen limitation. However, we know little about the identity and activity of diazotrophs in deep-sea sediments, a habitat covering nearly two-thirds of the planet. Here, we identify candidate diazotrophs from Pacific Ocean sediments collected at 2893m water depth using 15N-DNA stable isotope probing and a novel pipeline for nifH sequence analysis. Together, these approaches detect an unexpectedly diverse assemblage of active diazotrophs, including members of the Acidobacteria, Firmicutes, Nitrospirae, Gammaproteobacteria, and Deltaproteobacteria. Deltaproteobacteria, predominately members of the Desulfobacterales and Desulfuromonadales, are the most abundant diazotrophs detected, and display the most microdiversity of associated nifH sequences. Some of the detected lineages, including those within the Acidobacteria, have not previously been shown to fix nitrogen. The diazotrophs appear catabolically diverse, with the potential for using oxygen, nitrogen, iron, sulfur, and carbon as terminal electron acceptors. Therefore, benthic diazotrophy may persist throughout a range of geochemical conditions and provide a stable source of fixed nitrogen over geologic timescales. Our results suggest that nitrogen-fixing communities in deep-sea sediments are phylogenetically and catabolically diverse, and open a new line of inquiry into the ecology and biogeochemical impacts of deep-sea microorganisms.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41396-019-0584-8

    View details for PubMedID 31907368

  • An Unusual Inverted Saline Microbial Mat Community in an Interdune Sabkha in the Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter), United Arab Emirates PLOS ONE McKay, C. P., Rask, J. C., Detweiler, A. M., Bebout, B. M., Everroad, R. C., Lee, J. Z., Chanton, J. P., Mayer, M. H., Caraballo, A. A., Kapili, B., Al-Awar, M., Al-Farraj, A. 2016; 11 (3)


    Salt flats (sabkha) are a recognized habitat for microbial life in desert environments and as analogs of habitats for possible life on Mars. Here we report on the physical setting and microbiology of interdune sabkhas among the large dunes in the Rub' al Khali (the Empty Quarter) in Liwa Oasis, United Arab Emirates. The salt flats, composed of gypsum and halite, are moistened by relatively fresh ground water. The result is a salinity gradient that is inverted compared to most salt flat communities with the hypersaline layer at the top and freshwater layers below. We describe and characterize a rich photosynthetically-based microbial ecosystem that is protected from the arid outside environment by a translucent salt crust. Gases collected from sediments under shallow ponds in the sabkha contain methane in concentrations as high as 3400 ppm. The salt crust could preserve biomarkers and other evidence for life in the salt after it dries out. Chloride-filled depressions have been identified on Mars and although surface flow of water is unlikely on Mars today, ground water is possible. Such a near surface system with modern groundwater flowing under ancient salt deposits could be present on Mars and could be accessed by surface rovers.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0150342

    View details for Web of Science ID 000372574900036

    View details for PubMedID 26982497

  • Vertical distribution of algal productivity in open pond raceways ALGAL RESEARCH-BIOMASS BIOFUELS AND BIOPRODUCTS Murphy, T. E., Kapili, B. J., Detweiler, A. M., Bebout, B. M., Prufert-Bebout, L. E. 2015; 11: 334-342
  • Heteromeric transposase elements: generators of genomic islands across diverse bacteria MOLECULAR MICROBIOLOGY Peters, J. E., Fricker, A. D., Kapili, B. J., Petassi, M. T. 2014; 93 (6): 1084-1092


    Horizontally acquired genetic information in bacterial chromosomes accumulates in blocks termed genomic islands. Tn7-like transposons form genomic islands at a programmed insertion site in bacterial chromosomes, attTn7. Transposition involves five transposon-encoded genes (tnsABCDE) including an atypical heteromeric transposase. One transposase subunit, TnsB, is from the large family of bacterial transposases, the second, TnsA, is related to endonucleases. A regulator protein, TnsC, functions with different target site selecting proteins to recognize different targets. TnsD directs transposition into attTn7, while TnsE encourages horizontal transmission by targeting mobile plasmids. Recent work suggests that distantly related elements with heteromeric transposases exist with alternate targeting pathways that also facilitate the formation of genomic islands. Tn6230 and related elements can be found at a single position in a gene of unknown function (yhiN) in various bacteria as well as in mobile plasmids. Another group we term Tn6022-like elements form pathogenicity islands in the Acinetobacter baumannii comM gene. We find that Tn6022-like elements also appear to have an uncharacterized mechanism for provoking internal transposition and deletion events that serve as a conduit for evolving new elements. As a group, heteromeric transposase elements utilize diverse target site selection mechanisms adapted to the spread and rearrangement of genomic islands.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/mmi.12740

    View details for Web of Science ID 000342757200002

    View details for PubMedID 25091064