Former members

Research technicians:

Jace Cussins, Fish technician, 2019
Jace Cussins was a fish technician for the lab for a during the 2018 University of Alaska financial crisis. Although his time with the lab was short, he had a big impact on fish care.

Katie D’Amelio, Research Technician, 2017-2019
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 Master’s 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 switched from insects to vertebrates and studied the gut microbiota of stickleback fish in the Kat Lab, where she focused on sequencing bacterial communities of stickleback guts and creating whole genomes of bacterial isolates. Katie is now working in the Genetics program at NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay Labs in Juneau, focusing on salmon population genetics.

Sabrina Hock, Fish technician, 2018-2019
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 back on the East coast.

Rachael Kramp, Research technician, 2017-2019
Rachael was an undergraduate in Dr. Kat’s lab for almost 2 years before becoming a research technician. Rachael developed and implemented assays to isolate and characterize anaerobic microbes from stickleback and environmental samples and fluorescently labeling anaerobic microbes for localization assays. She was funded by INBRE Undergraduate Research Assistantship while she was an undergraduate. She now prepares and sequences gut microbes using our miseq, and collects fish that are undergoing rapid evolution in a nearby lake for both gut microbial analysis and SNP analysis for our collaborators at Stony Brook University in New York and UC-Berkley. She is now a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.

Abigail Nathlich, research technician, 2018-2019
Abby started as an undergraduate helping with fish care and working as an assistant to research technician before she was promoted to lab technician. She completed many sequencing projects, maintained microbes, and mentored several students during her time in the Katlab. Abby is commercial fishing, and then plans on pursing research.

Kat O’Brien, fish technician, 2017-2018
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. She is now the manager of the vivarium at UAA and pursuing her Master’s Degree at Alaska Pacific University.

Ruth Isenberg, lab technician, 2016-2018
Ruth 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, 2017-2019
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 was a physiological ecologist and adjunct professor at Murray State University, and is joining Southeast Missouri State as an instructor.

Dr. Emily Lescak, 2015-2018
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, and is now doing independent consulting work for various agencies.

Amber R. Nashoba, Postdoc/Research Professional, 2017-2018
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, 2016-2019
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, 2018 (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.

Undergraduates, by starting year:


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

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

Brianna Triplett, 2016: Helped organize and establish the lab.

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


Jeremiah Lewis, 2017-2018: 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). Jeremiah has moved to MN, where he hopes to complete his degree.

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

Jessica Pinard, 2017-2018: Characterization of unknown microbes. Jessica works for the Alaska Department of Public Health.


Sherrine Bustista, 2018-2020: Created fluorescent gut microbes for analysis of host-microbe interactions.

Cooper Danner, 2018-2019: Assist in the construction of the EBL stickleback facility. Identify new computational tools to analyze behavior data. Cooper will be a PhD student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Biomedical Engineering program in the fall of 2020.

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

Anastasia Hanson, 2018: 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 with Dr. Pat Tomco.

Tyler Howlette, 2018: Isolation of RNA to analyze immune system development in fish exposed to pathogens. Tyler was accepted in the WWAMI program at UAA.

Katherine Lessard, 2018-2020: Created fluorescent gut microbes for analysis of host-microbe interactions.

Patrice Timmons, 2018-2019: 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. She developed protocols to identify microbes that can degrade plastic, and is now a PhD student at Northern Arizona University.

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


Christopher Barahona, 2019: Fish care

Destiny Ropati, 2019: Fish care, characterization of microbes.

Nadia Sherman, 2019: Fish care

Alix Wells, 2019: Analysis of fish length in a rapidly evolving population of stickleback. Alix was accepted to medical school in Canada and will start in the fall of 2020.

High school students:

2018 Sp          Elsa Hoppenworth, Gifted Mentorship

2016 Su          Gary Hoppenworth, Hutton Scholars recipient

2015                Foster Birnbaum, independent research