Katie D’Amelio, Research Technician
Katie DAmelio 2017Katie D’Amelio completed her M.S. at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA where she studied the gut microbiome of army ants. Her research focused on identifying how different factors such as host genetics, transmission mode, and host natural history may shape the diversity of microbes found within the army ant gut. She has switched from insects to vertebrates and now studies the gut microbiota of stickleback fish in the Kat Lab.  She will focus on sequencing bacterial communities of stickleback guts and creating whole genomes of bacterial isolates.

Sabrina Hock, fish technician
Sabrina Hock completed her M.S. at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand where she studied the anthropogenic effects on parasites (trematodes) and their hosts in freshwater environments. Her research focused on assessing the survival and behavior of the infected vs. uninfected snail host P. antipodarum when exposed to various concentrations of glyphosate (which is found in agricultural run-off). She quantified the impact of snail exposure to different concentrations of glyphosate on cercarial production (an early stage in the parasites life) and output (to the secondary host). For New Zealand, these trematodes are of concern to the health of the secondary host, a native galaxiid fish species. Sabrina will be splitting her time between Dr. Milligan-Myhre and Dr. Weber’s lab, where she will oversee fish-care and help with a diversity
of research projects.

Kat O’Brien, fish technician
Kat OBrien 2017Kat O’Brien previously worked at Northeastern University modeling Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) in the Gulf of Maine. With the rising ocean temperature and cod stocks declining, EFH is a good indicator where the few remaining cod could be. This information enables researchers and managers to make cogent decisions on fishing area designations. Since coming to Alaska, O’Brien now works as a husbandry technician at UAA, working in both the vivarium and in the Milligan-Myhre lab. She can often be found building the new fishility, in a basement plumbing tanks, or changing mouse cages.

Postdoctoral Fellows
Lucas Kirschman
LJKirschman photoLucas J. Kirschman’s research focuses on how neuroendocrine stress, developmental stage, host genetic background, and host genetic background affect the inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal tract of threespine stickleback. Changes in these traits can upset the balance between the host and microbiota and result in chronic gut inflammation, which presents in humans as inflammatory bowel disease. In his graduate work, he investigated how neuroendocrine stress and life history trade-offs affected growth, development, and immune function in both wild populations and laboratory models.

Dr. Emily Lescak
Emily picture 2015Emily Lescak’s research focuses on how host genetic background and gut microbiota interact to influence development and behavior in the host. She has received an NSF broadening participation postdoctoral fellowship to study the effects of exposure to environmentally-relevant levels of antibiotics on somatic, immune system, and behavioral development in stickleback. In her graduate work, she used behavior experiments, morphological analyses, and population genetics to address questions focused on the stability of phenotypic asymmetry and bimodality in wild populations, the role of predators in shaping prey phenotype, the rate of evolution in the wild, and co-evolution of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes.

Graduate Students
Kelly Ireland, Masters Student
KellyIreland2018Kelly is identifying and characterizing PAH degrading microbes within the threespine stickleback gut microbiota and how they may help the fish respond to crude oil exposure. As an undergraduate, Kelly worked on developing qRT-PCR assays for innate and adaptive immune genes in stickleback. Kelly earned an Undergraduate Research Scholarship through the UAA Honors College, a Molly Ahlgren scholarship through the American Fisheries Society, and a Summer 2017 Alaska INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA). She graduated with a double major in biology and journalism, with honors in each department, academic honors, and leadership honors from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Kenneth Sparks, Masters Student
As an undergraduate, Kenny worked with Dr. Emily Lescak and Ryan Lucas to develop stickleback artificial microbial communities based on antimicrobial resistant phenotypes to determine how microbial communities differ in response to antimicrobial challenge when exposed to antibiotics in vitro vs in vivo. Kenny earned an Undergraduate Research Scholarship through the UAA Honors College, and a Summer 2017 Alaska INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship.

Ryan Lucas, Masters Student
imag0699Ryan focuses on understanding how host genetic background influences microbial community composition and immune response after exposure to clinically relevant levels of antibiotics, and whether stickleback from different genetic backgrounds select for different gut microbes. His work has been funded by an INBRE Graduate Research Fellowship. He has a laboratory section for Introduction to Microbiology for 2 semesters.

Medical Students

Anastasia Khadjinova (WWAMI) is determining whether the host genetic background contributes to the ability of the microbiota to protect the host against pathogens, using stickleback as her model organism.


Anastasia Hanson: Influence of fluridone on metabolism and microbiota. Funded by the Undergraduate Research Scholarship through the UAA Honors College and the Alaskan Heart Institute.

Cooper Danner: Assist in the construction of the EBL stickleback facility. 2018

Jeremiah Lewis: Isolating and characterizing microbes from environmental samples; determining anti-microbial activity of those isolates. Jeremiah earned a Summer 2017 Alaska INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA). 2017-2018

Katherine Lessard: Creating fluorescent gut microbes for analysis of host-microbe interactions. 2018

Kiana Verplancke: DNA isolation and sequencing of microbial communities.

Nikelle Dishon: Isolation and characterization of anaerobic microbes from stickleback microbiota

Rachael Kramp: Developing and implementing assays to isolate and characterize anaerobic microbes from stickleback and environmental samples; fluorescently labeling anaerobic microbes for localization assays. Funded by INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship. 2017-2018

Sherrine Bustista: Creating fluorescent gut microbes for analysis of host-microbe interactions. 2018


Patrice Timmons: Patrice started as an undergraduate, and has continued with the lab as a volunteer after getting her undergraduate degree in Biology. She has focused on learning many techniques, including DNA isolation, image analysis, and tagging microbes with fluorescent tags with Dr. Emily Lescak and Katie D’Amelio. 2018

Tyler Howlette: Isolation of RNA to analyze immune system development in fish exposed to pathogens. 2018

About Dr. Kat: 

UAA 2015 by Rachel1 cropped

Dr. Kat has broad expertise in microbiology, including both pathogenic and symbiotic microbes. As an undergrad and as a lab technician, she helped describe environmental and genetic factors that regulate toxin production in Staphylococcus aureus. For her PhD thesis she identified and characterized genes and their products necessary for an obligate intracellular parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, to establish infections in host brains. She expanded her exploration of host-microbe interactions during her postdoctoral training at the University of Oregon, where, working with a team of talented research associates, undergraduate students, and fellow postdoctoral fellows, she established stickleback as a model to examine how host genetic background contributes to host immune responses to intestinal microbiota. She was trained in host immune response to microbes, and examined how the host genetic background contributes to the ability of the host to shape the intestinal microbiota. During these studies, she built collaborations across two institutions and three universities, and mentored ten undergraduate and graduate students.

Dr. Kat’s long term mentoring goal is to combine the experiences she had as an Inupiaq earning a PhD and the expertise she gained in multiple research fields into a flourishing career as a mentor and professor to microbiologists. Kat was raised in a remote community above the Arctic Circle that was 80% Alaskan Native. She was the first person in her village to earn a PhD in biological sciences. While in school, she was struck by the scarcity of females and minorities in science. As a result, she is committed to making the academic research field a welcoming environment for minorities.

Dr. Kat is an active member in both scientific and native communities. She taught Alaskan Native games to students and community members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon. At UW-Madison she was active in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and Wunk Sheek. At UO she was active in the Native American Strategies group, a group of faculty, staff and students that shaped Indigenous issues on campus. She worked extensively with the Diversity Director and the UO Native American community, staff, students and faculty to develop a new program for recruiting Alaska Natives and Native Americans (AN/NA) into science (Alaska Oregon Research Training Alliance, AORTA). She collaborated with Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon to support an intense college preparation summer program (Bridge of the Gods Summer Academy, BOGSA). As an instructor for BOSGA, she taught Native American high school students Introduction to Microbiology for two weeks every summer to prepare them for the rigors of college and to show them that they can be successful in science classes. Dr. Kat continues to build relationships between the University of Oregon and the University of Alaska Anchorage, and between the UAA and the Alaskan Native/Native American community to recruit and support AN/NA students in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields through ANSEP, Della Keats Health Sciences Summer Program, and UAA STEM day.

Dr. Kat’s Researchgate

Dr. Kat’s SciENcv

Dr. Kat on twitter: @napaaqtuk and @uaamicro