Field work

Principal Investigator

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Britt KoskellaBritt is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. She received her PhD in 2008 from the department of Biology at Indiana University, and then did her postdoctoral work (first as an NSF International Research Fellow, then a UK NERC Research Fellow) at Oxford University, UC Santa Cruz, and then the University of Exeter.

Postdoctoral researchers

Kyle Meyer: Dr Meyer joined the group in March 2019 from Brendan Bohannan’s group at the University of Oregon. He has published broadly on the spatial ecology of microbial communities, how microbial communities drive biogeochemical functions, and how environmental change impacts microbes living in tropical soils (see here), and we are thrilled to have him join the lab to help us understand the importance of transmission mode in shaping the plant microbiome.
Wenke Smets: Dr. Smets joined the group in October 2019 as a B.A.E.F. Postdoctoral Fellow from Sarah Lebeer’s group at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Her previous work focused on the impact of pollution in urban environments on the phyllosphere, and vice versa. Find out more about her work here.

Graduate students

Kama is a 1st year graduate student in Integrative Biology and Ford Fellow interested in plant microbial communities and how we can harness them to increase disease resistance for horticultural and conservation purposes. More on his website!
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Reena Debray: Reena is a 2nd year graduate student in Integrative Biology, and NSF GRFP fellow. She is using experimental evolution and functional genomics approaches to study host-microbe coevolutionary processes.
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Elijah Mehlferber: Elijah is a 3rd year graduate student in Integrative Biology who is interested in the ecology of the phyllosphere microbiome. Broadly, he wants to understand why certain bacteria associate with plants, how those associations affect the plant’s interactions with other bacteria, and how those bacteria interact with other members of the microbiome.
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Catherine Hernandez: Cathy is a 5th year graduate student in Integrative Biology, and NSF GRFP fellow, currently working on measuring coevolutionary change between bacteria and phages living within leaves of tomato plants. She is taking advantage of experimental evolution to test when/how the coevolutionary process differs between the in planta and in vitro environments.

Research technicians

Emily Dewald-Wang: Emily joined the lab from University of Washington, St. Louis in October 2019 to help coordinate the Pear Fire Blight Project.

Undergraduate researchers

Nikita Chigullapally: Nikita joined the lab in 2019 and is working with Elijah in characterizing within-microbiome interactions using a synthetic phyllosphere community.

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Charmaine Fong: Charmaine joined the Pear project in 2018 and is tracking bacteria-phage dynamics in pear trees.
Joy He: Joy is a second year Nutritional Sciences – physiology major from Waterloo, Canada. She joined the lab in 2019 to work with Shirley on understanding the role of defensive symbionts in shaping disease outcome. 

Elodie Jungerman: Elodie joined the lab in 2019 and is working with Elijah in characterizing within-microbiome interactions using a synthetic phyllosphere community.

Ethan Kau: Ethan joined the lab in 2019, and is working with Wenke on understanding the role of the microbiome (and phages) in shaping disease.

Alina Lee: Alina joined the lab in 2018 and is helping on numerous projects, including leading the way in hunting for phages to complement our growing synthetic microbiome of tomato plants.

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James Lu: James joined the lab in 2018 and is working with Elijah on variation in phage traits.
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Kore Lum: Kore is working on an experimental evolution project using two lytic phages that have evolved in a variety of environmental conditions with different strains of Pseudomonas syringae. She is now working on assays to determine how those conditions have impacted fitness of the evolved phages on the different bacterial strains.

Isabella Muscettola: Isabella joined the lab in 2019 and is working with Kama to characterize interactions among fungi within the phyllosphere.

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Aspen Pastore: Aspen joined the lab in 2018 and is working on the interaction between phages and biofilm formation with Cathy Hernandez.
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Rachel Rovinsky: Rachel joined the lab in 2017 and is working with Elijah on the role of bacterial and plant signaling molecules in inducing plant immunity.
Julia Sherman: Julia joined the lab in 2019 and is working with Kyle in understanding how microbiome transmission shapes host-microbe interactions.

Fernando Trent Diaz: Fernando joined the Pear Project in 2019 to help isolate and characterize phages from the phyllosphere.

Sophie Zhai: Sophie joined the lab in 2019 and is working with Cathy to understand the role of phylogeny in phage host range.

Shirley Zhang: Shirley joined the lab in 2017 and is working with Norma on a project to determine the protective effects of bacterial communities against the pathogen P. syringae.

Current collaborators

David Baltrus, School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona

Timothy Bowles, Environmental Science, Policy, & Management at UC Berkeley

Steven Lindow, Plant and Microbial Biology, UC Berkeley

Rajnish Kanna, i-Cultiver

Henry Lin and Derek Lin, Department of Internal Medicine Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of New Mexico

C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Public Affairs at Princeton University

Justin Meyer, Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution at UC San Diego

Kent McCue, USDA, ARS, PWA, WRRC-CIU

Vivek Mutalik, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Past lab members

Graduate students and research technicians:

Norma Morella (2015-2019, PhD student, UC Berkeley, Plant and Microbial Biology): Dr Morella completed her dissertation work examining: (i) the impact of microbial transmission (e.g. via seeds or via aerial transmission) on microbiome assembly and function; (ii) novel methods to measure bacteria-phage dynamics and assess the risk of bacteriophage infection in microbial populations/communities; and (iii) the impact of phages in host-associated microbial communities. She is now a postdoctoral research fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in the group of Prof. Neelendu Dey, studying the role of the microbiome in cancer.

Sean Meaden (2012-2015, PhD student, University of Exeter): Sean finished his PhD focusing on understanding how coevolution with phages affects the fitness of a bacterial pathogen on its plant host. He went on to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof Mike Boots at UC Berkeley, then as a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Edze Westra, and most recently as a Marie Curie Research fellow in the lab of Prof. Peter Fineran at the University of Otago.

Tristan Caro (2017-2019, Undergraduate researcher and then full-time research technician): Tristan joined the lab in 2017 to work with Britt on developing a new system to explore natural bacteria-phage dynamics during fire blight infection of pear trees. He is now undertaking his PhD work at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Nicole Parr (2013-2015, Full-time research technician, University of Exeter; now a PhD student at the University of Exeter, working with Lucy Hawkes on bird migration)

Alexander Rose (2015, Masters student at Exeter; now a Graduate Teaching Associate at Bangor University)

Will Crowther (2014, Research assistant based at Oxford University; now a research technician at Warwick University)

Reinier van Velzen (2014, Visiting masters student at Exeter)

Amy McLeman (2013, Masters student at Exeter; now pursuing a PhD at the University of Exeter with Profs Richard Ffrench-Constant and Chris Bass to design bee-safe pesticides)

Jennifer Bates (2009, Masters student at Oxford)

Undergraduate researchers:

Aditi Maheshwari: Aditi joined the lab in 2018 to work on the Pear project – helping us track the dynamics of bacteria and phages within the phyllosphere of diseased pear trees infected with Erwinina amylovora, the causal agent of fire blight disease.

Michelle Leung: Michelle joined the lab in 2016 and was working with Britt, in collaboration with Jenn Lewis, on a method for rapidly identifying phage receptors allowing infection of the plant pathogen, P. syringae. She is now attending Medical School at UCSF.

Shangyang Christopher Yang: Chris joined the lab in 2016 and worked with Norma on designing phage specific probes to measure phage-phage competition in vitro. He is now attending Medical School at UCLA.

Callie Cuff: Callie joined the lab in 2017 and worked with Britt on a project exploring natural bacteria-phage dynamics during fire blight infection of pear trees.

Nishani Abeydeera: (2015-2017, Volunteer, Berkeley) Nishani joined the lab within my first few months at UC Berkeley and worked here for nearly two years on projects ranging from phage genome sequencing to identifying new phage receptors on bacterial cells; now working as a medical scribe at the Northridge Hospital emergency room

Izaak Coleman: (2013, 2015, Volunteer, University of Exeter) now pursuing a PhD at Columbia University (see here).

Jennifer Weller: (2014, Undergraduate, University of Exeter) now doing a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast on aggression in domestic animals)

Benjamin Keningale: (2013, Undergraduate, University of Exeter) won Darwin award for top honor’s project in University of Exeter’s BioSciences department; just finished his MSc at the Royal Veterinary College and now deciding among PhD programs.

Olivia Lee: (2013, Undergraduate, University of Exeter) Graduatd with an MSc from University of Liverpool, then volunteered with Edze Westra, looking into the whens and whys of the evolution of CRISPR immune system in bacteria, and now a Lab technician at the University of Southampton, Clinical and Experimental Science department, looking into the effects of a novel topical pharmaceutical gel on skin cells cultured in vivo.

Derek Lin: (2010, Honor’s project student at UC Santa Cruz, where I was a postdoctoral fellow) now a research technician at the Biomedical Research Institute of New Mexico, and an active collaborator.

Angela Pogson: (2015-2017, Volunteer, Berkeley) Angie joined us in her 1st year at Berkeley to work, in collaboration with Britt and Steve Lindow, on bacterial ice nucleation in the tomato leaf.

Priyanka Ranade: (2016-2018) Priyanka joined the lab in 2016 and was working with Cathy on bacteria-phage interactions within the leaves of tomato plants.

Grant Wang: (2016-2017, Volunteer, Berkeley) Grant spent over a year in the lab working closely with Norma to study the impact of phages within the tomato microbiome; now beginning a 1-year’s masters program at Tufts University.

Visiting researchers:

Rob Porch (2019): Rob was a visiting NSF REU scholar at Berkeley who is helping Kyle with his field study to examine the role of plant neighborhoods in the assembly of aboveground microbial communities.

Francis Weng (2018): Francis joined the lab for a semester at the end of his Phd on an Academia Sinica fellowship from the National Taiwan Normal University. He is working with us to apply network models to understand when and how a microbiome confers protection against a given pathogen.

William Feeney (2016): Will visited the lab for a summer as a Fulbright Fellow based between the University of Queensland (AUS) and the University of Delaware studying numerous coevolutionary interactions, including brood parasites. More here: http://www.williamefeeney.com

Annika Gomez (2016): Annika is an undergraduate at Cornell University who spent a summer in the lab as part of the prestigious Amgen Scholars program.

Stefanie Barbosa Potful Soares (2016): Stefanie is an undergraduate at the Federal University of Espirito Santo (UFES) in Brazil who worked in the lab over the summer as part of Brazil’s Scientific Mobility program.

Lab photo 2 May 2018

Lab group May 2018: Top row, from left: Tristan Caro, Shangyang Christopher Yang,  Rachel Rovinsky, Norma Morella, Elijah Mehlferber, Shirley Zhang, Britt Koskella; Bottom row, from left: Callie Cuff, Priyanka Ranade, Catherine Hernandez, Michelle Leung, and Alina Lee; Not pictured: Kore Lum.

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