Former members

Research technicians:

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 split her time between Dr. Milligan-Myhre and Dr. Weber’s lab, where she oversaw fish-care and help with a diversity
of research projects. Sabrina is now the vivarium manager at UAA.

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 worked as a husbandry technician at UAA, working in both the vivarium and in the Milligan-Myhre lab. She was often found building the new fishility, in a basement plumbing tanks, or changing mouse cages.

Ruth Isenberg came to us from Doc (Mark O.) Martin’s lab at the University of Puget Sound, where she isolated and characterized microbes from tardigrades. At UAA, she focused on characterizing pH tolerance in stickleback gut isolates, isolating and sequencing whole genomes and microbial gut communities, and collected samples from the field. Ruth is now a PhD student at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Postdoctoral Fellows
Lucas Kirschman
LJKirschman photoLucas J. Kirschman’s research focused 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. He is now a physiological ecologist and adjunct professor at Murray State University.

Dr. Emily Lescak
Emily picture 2015Emily Lescak’s research focused on how host genetic background and gut microbiota interact to influence development and behavior in the host. She 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. She worked for Alaska Department of Fish and Game for a year, and is now doing independent consulting work for various agencies.

Amber R. Nashoba, Postdoc/Research Professional
Amber_near_KWDDr. Nashoba is interested in the application of evolutionary theory to understand and address environmental change. Her dissertation research studied population-level adaptation, natural selection, and the response to selection of a native prairie legume (Chamaecrista fasciculata). This project focused on the empirical application of Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection and among-year environmental variation in the form of trait relationships, adaptive capacity, and fitness landscapes. She recently completed a Future Faculty Fellowship at the Northeastern University; during this time, she examined allele frequency change in drought and salinity associated genes in newly restored Spartina alterniflora in a Rhode Island salt marsh. Her Google Scholar page is here.

Graduate students:

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. He was a Master’s student in Dr. Kat’s lab for a year before transferring to Dr. Jung’s lab to study the affects of circadian rhythms on host physiology.

Medical Students

Anastasia Khadjinova (WWAMI) examined whether the host genetic background contributes to the ability of the microbiota to protect the host against pathogens, using stickleback as her model organism. She worked closely with Dr. Lucas Kirschman on this project.


Alix Wells: Analysis of fish length in a rapidly evolving population of stickleback. 2019

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. Currently a Biological Sciences Master’s student in the Chemistry department at UAA.

Brianna Triplett: lab volunteer who helped organize and establish the lab. 2016

Cooper Danner: Assist in the construction of the EBL stickleback facility. Identify new computational tools to analyze behavior data. 2018-2019

Eli Matthews: Mock community construction and determination of perchlorate resistance in gut isolates. 2017-2018

Haley Miller: Behavior and somatic development in antibiotic treated larvae from different populations. 2016

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

Jessica Pinard: Characterization of unknown microbes. 2017-2018

Keagan Whitcomb: Somatic and behavioral development in germ free and conventional fish. 2016 and 2018

Kiana Verplancke: DNA isolation and sequencing of microbial communities, image analysis. 2018-2019

Koral Campbell: Contributed to flow cytometry and MPO protocols to examine immune response in stickleback; identified potential pathogens to study. 2016-2017

Nikelle Dishon: Isolation and characterization of anaerobic microbes from stickleback microbiota 2018

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

High school students:

2018 Sp          Elsa Hoppenworth, Gifted Mentorship

2016 Su          Gary Hoppenworth, Hutton Scholars recipient

2015                Foster Birnbaum, independent research