People

Sima Afsharnezhad

Sima Afsharnezhad - Postdoctoral Researcher

(SEE-mah) she/they

The tick microbiome can carry a wide variety of bacteria and viruses like Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Despite rapid breakthroughs in DNA and RNA sequencing technologies, their applications remain limited for understanding tick-borne diseases. Unlike traditional screening approaches, handheld sequencers can simultaneously detect endemic pathogens and new invaders. However, handheld sequencers currently have limited use in clinical or natural contexts due to limitations in laboratory procedures, bioinformatics, and validation.

As a postdoctoral fellow in the Colautti lab, I am investigating new methodologies and informatics paradigms to discover, quantify, and characterize microbes associated with ticks. Making handheld sequencers feasible and cost-effective tools for detecting pathogens in various outdoor settings is one of my long-term goals.

Mia Akbar

Mia Akbar - MSc Student

(MEE-ah) they/them

Invasive species provide a unique lens for studying rapid evolution. We can use systems of plant invasion to learn about the factors that enable individuals to survive and persist in novel environments. Further, we can apply what is learned to predict how native species will respond to novel environments brought on by anthropogenic climate change. I am investigating rapid evolution in response to climate and herbivory in the wetland plant Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife). Specifically, I am curious how these biotic and abiotic factors interact with genetic constraints on flowering time to effect local adaption and consequently the speed of evolution.

Although not directly related to my thesis questions, I am deeply passionate about both social and environmental justice. I am delighted to be working alongside colleagues that also care about conducting ethical research for the benefit of people and nature.

Shrey Anand

Shreyansh Anand - MSc (Computer Science)

(SHRAY) he/him

Lyme disease is one of the most common vector-borne diseases in the northern hemisphere. The national case incidence rate is 2.7/100 000 people, in Ontario, it is 2.9 - however, in Kingston, it is 87.2. Yet, there is very little known about the actual disease. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Computing writing a thesis on techniques to increase the speed and efficiency of multi genetic analysis. I am currently completing a Master's in both the Colautti and Duan lab where I will be using various Computer Science and Bioinformatic techniques to better understand the genes involved in Lyme Disease progression. I hope to use these techniques that I am learning and perfecting to eventually identify genetic networks and identifiers for a variety of diseases as my career progresses.

Damian Bourne

Damian Bourne - MSc/PhD Student

(DAY-mee-an) he/him

Infectious diseases are a growing threat to global health and prosperity. Ticks and tick-borne pathogens are known to be some of the most prevalent zoonotic diseases globally. With climate change increasing tick range limits, there are new opportunities for hybridization and speciation. In order for public health officials to develop effective mitigation strategies, it is important that we understand which species are present and how they are interacting with different hosts and pathogens. My research focuses on understanding the molecular and population genetics of ticks within Eastern Ontario. Through the use of Genotyping-in-Thousands by sequencing (GT-Seq) and high-throughput sequencing, I hope to better understand tick species diversity and population dynamics.

Andrew Le

Andrew Le - MSc Student

(AN-droo) he/him

Chemical Ecology involves the use of chemistry and biology to explain complex plant-plant interactions, such as allelopathy. The definition of allelopathy has changed drastically throughout its course of existence since 1937 by Hans Molisch. Nowadays, it is agreed upon that it involves the secretion of metabolites from a donor plant that causes effects to its surroundings.

The focus of my research is to further understand and define allelopathy to explain important ecological interactions such as plant, microbial, and fungal community structures and plant invasion strength. Invasive plant species such as Vincetoxicum rossicum (dog-strangling vine) are hypothesized to release Phenanthroindolizidine Alkaloids, a class of allelopathic chemical, which may contribute to their invasion strength.

In collaboration with Algoma University and using analytical techniques such as MinION sequencing and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, I hope to further characterize V. rossicum's metabolomics, physiology and belowground effects to combat its intrusion to uninhabited areas and apply these concepts to other invasive plants.

Maria Jose Gomez Quijano

María José Gómez Quijano - PhD Student

(mah-REE-ah HOE-zeh) she/her

Understanding plant local adaptation in response to climate change is crucial for conservation and restoration of plant communities. This is especially for Arctic and boreal forest populations species that are at or near their northern range limit. My research uses population and quantitative genetic techniques to understand population structure and evolutionary forces to understand the response to climate variation of plant communities in Canada's Northwest Territories. I am interested in understanding the evolutionary processes that can lead to population differentiation and local adaptation by combining molecular biology with quantitative techniques.

For my research I combine field experiments with high-throughput sequencing techniques, such as genotyping-by-sequencing, to help manage and conserve native plant communities. My PhD project is in collaboration with the Aurora College in the Northwest Territories, which allows me to connect research with community-based interactions that complement my personal interests in science communication and community-engaged scholarship and education.

Mabel Fuentes Vergara

Mabel Fuentes Vergara - MSc Student

(MAY-bell or ma-BELL) she/her

All organisms adapt to changes in their surrounding environments. Plants may synchronize the timing of critical life stages to maximize survival and reproduction in environmental conditions that are constantly changing. For example, plants may alter flowering time to maximize pollinator visits while minimizing herbivory. Plants can respond to environmental challenges through adaptive evolution and phenotypic plasticity. Genetic changes arise as a result of natural selection while phenotypic plasticity is mainly regulated through variable gene expression. Rapid evolution and inducible trait variation may both be important mechanisms of plant invasion. My thesis applies transcriptome sequencing to study plasticity and genetic variation in gene expression of two invasive plants: Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) and Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard).

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Sherise Vialva - MSc student

(sha-REEZ) she/her

My research is focused on studying the competitive interactions between two invasives in the context of climate change, Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) and Vincetoxicum rossicum (dog-strangling vine). Climate change is expected to cause an increase of mean temperature in Ontario by 2 degrees C in the coming decades. I'm interested in investigating how this abrupt increase in temperature will affect the ability of both species compete and in turn dominate and spread to new areas. Understanding how this rapid change in temperature will affect the spread of these species will help local governments better manage these invasives.

Sreevatshan

Sreevatshan Kannurpatti Srinivasan - PhD student

(sree-VAT-shun) he/him

Tick-borne diseases have seen a rapid increase in the incidence across Canada. Ticks act as vectors for a variety of pathogens which include Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis), and Borrelia miyatomi (relapsing fever). Symptoms of tick-borne diseases are variable and non-specific but include neurological disorders, depression, mood, behavioral changes, and musculoskeletal problems. These symptoms change over time and are sometimes complicated, increasing the difficulty in diagnosis. Research shows that the gut microbiome plays a vital role in neurological diseases, pain, and behavioral changes. However, the gut microbiome effects are not widely explored in the context of tick-borne diseases. So, for my research, I will be exploring the interactions between tick-borne pathogens and the gut microbiome that affect pain and behavior in rodents.

For my PhD thesis, I will be incorporate high-throughput sequencing techniques along with laboratory mouse studies and pain assays. The experiments will be conducted in both controlled laboratory and field environments. This research will be in collaboration with the University of Ottawa and the University of Saskatchewan. Additionally, I will be developing strategies for target enrichment and host depletion in the tick microbiome.

Logan Wisteard

Logan Wisteard - BSc Honours student

(LOW-gan) she/her

In recent decades, we have observed rapid Ixodid tick geographic range expansion primarily due to climate change. Tick range expansion is accompanied by the collection of microbes known as the microbiome, which includes various harmful pathogens that greatly impact human health and well-being. As these ranges expand, it is crucial to understand how the microbiome diversity may be altered during feeding. This can be used to determine if and when ticks are more likely to acquire and spread pathogens that cause human illnesses including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Relapsing fever. Furthermore, research on ticks and how environmental factors, such as geographical location, temperature, humidity, season, habitat type, and soil type, impact the microbiome composition is needed. Using state of the art field and lab techniques, I am studying the impact of tick feeding and engorgement on microbial diversity. This research is a crucial step towards the development of effective mitigation strategies for the spread of tick-borne pathogens.

Emily Crowson

Emily Crowson - BSc Honours student

(Em-i-lee) she/her

Plants evolve many different types of adaptations to deal with herbivores and competitors. For Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), this means protecting its bright purple flowers to increase reproductive output. Rapidly evolving to new environments allows invasive species, such as purple loosestrife, to effectively spread across a variety of regions. Differences in the invaded regions influence the invasive species to adapt in unique ways, allowing them to thrive in areas far from their native habitats.

My research focuses on adaptations of the floral display strategies of Purple Loosestrife along a latitudinal gradient. Specifically, I am investigating latitudinal clines in the density of floral displays as well as flowering schedules. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to explore this research alongside the Colautti lab this year.

Robert I. Colautti

(RAH-bert) he/him

Principal Investigator [CV]

Rob The Anthropocene is marked by several threats to global biodiversity, including climate change, large-scale habitat modification, and long-distance translocation of species across major dispersal barriers (e.g. oceans, mountain ranges, deserts). As a result, species are experiencing environments that are novel with respect to the range of conditions experienced throughout their recent evolutionary history. Rapid evolution in novel environments could prevent extinction, alter species interactions, and ultimately shape the structure and function of ecosystems, yet contemporary evolution and its effects on ecological dynamics are rarely studied in natural populations with a history of human perturbation. Researchers in our group are working hard to understand how and why contemporary evolution occurs in novel environments, and how this influences ecological dynamics.

To help address these questions, we apply cutting-edge advances in next-generation sequencing with tried-and-true methods in basic ecology and quantitative genetics. We combine meticulous field studies at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) with global-scale collaborative projects to produce scientific discoveries that are both locally accurate and globally relevant. Understanding the genetic and environmental basis of ecological success in novel environments will be important, not only for reducing the impacts of invasive species, but to improve management of local crop varieties and other vulnerable species that are struggling to persist in the face of rapid global change.

Collaborators

See also: collaborators at myLyme.ca and the The Canadian Lyme Disease Reseearch Network

Jake Alexander (ETH Zurich)
Jill Anderson (University of Georgia)
Pedro Antunes (Algoma University)
Dan Atwater (Earlham College)
Spencer Barrett (University of Toronto)
Oliver Bossdorf (University of Tuebingen)
Katrina Dlugosch (University of Arizona)
Chris Eckert (Queen's University at Kingston)
Jill Hamilton (North Dakota State University)
Anna Hargreaves (McGill University)
Ruth Hufbauer (Colorado State University)
Manisha Kulkarni (University of Ottawa)
John Maron (University of Montana)
Tom Mitchell-Olds (Duke University)
Hugh MacIsaac (University of Windsor)
Riyadh Muhaidat (University of Yarmouk)
David Reed (Queen's University / Kingston Health Sciences Centre
Loren Rieseberg (University of British Columbia)
Prameet Sheth (Queen's University / Kingston Health Sciences Centre
Calvin Sjaarda (Queen's University / Kingston Health Sciences Centre

Alumni

Postdoc & Technician

Name Degree Project Year Post-lab experience
Amber Paulson Postdoc Tick microbiome 2021 BC Environment & Climate Change
Almira Siew Lab Manager various 2018-19 Octane Medical Group
Graeme McLeod Lab Manager various 2019-20 Public Health Ontario Laboratory

Graduate Students

Name Degree Project Year Post-lab experience
Katherine Duchesneau MSc GM Soil microbiome 2019 PhD in Kostka Lab at Georgia Tech
Richard Honor MSc GM eco-evo 2019 Environmental Researcher
Emilie Norris-Roozmon MSc Lyme Disease 2021 Health Quality-Research Associate, Canadian Cancer Research Trials
Eugene Sit MSc Lythrum evolution 2021 Authorization Specialist, BC Public Service
Yihan Wu MSc Lythrum + Alliaria genomics 2019 PhD in Adams Lab, University of British Columbia

Undergraduate & Co-op Students

Name Degree Project Years Post-lab experience
Rhett Andruko BSc (USRA) GM + maple @ QUBS 2017 (summer) 2018 MSc, School of Forestry, Alberta
Meagan Antunes BSc (thesis) Tick microbiome 2018-19 Bioinformatics MSc, U Bern, Switzerland
Emily Bao BSc (work study) baRcodes 2016-18 Scotiabank, Operating Systems Team Member
Stephanie Barre SLC (Co-op) Lab Technician 2015-16
Weihang (Kathleen) Chen BSc (Co-mentorship) Ticks + GM 2016-17 Junior Bioninformatician, Harvard Medical School
Scarlet Choi BSc (mentorship) Technician 2018-19 Intern: PnuVax SL Biopharmaceuticals INc.
Adrian Diaz BSc (Mitacs Intern) Tick microbiome 2019
Kate Ding BSc (mentorship) Tick microbiome 2018-19 Vet Clinic Employee
Maya Dixon BSc (thesis) Garlic Mustard genetics 2018-19 Columbia U lab technician
Kai Ellis BSc (thesis) Tick microbiome 2019-2020
Ke Fang BSc (Mitacs intern) Mitacs mentorship 2018 (summer) MSc in Molecular Biology
Leila Forsythe BSc (thesis) Lythrum herbarium 2015-16 2016 began PhD with Ben Gilbert, U Toronto St.George Campus
Erika Gibbons SLC (Co-op) Lab Technician 2015-16
Anneke Golemeic BSc (thesis) GM root colonization 2017-2018 2018 MSc with Risa Sargent, U Ottawa
Victoria Guba BSc (mentorship) Tick ID 2016 2018 Concordia, MSc in Environmental Assessment
Arnav Gupta BSc (Mitacs intern) Tick microbiome 2019 MSc in Computational Biology, Carnegie Mellon University
Pallavi Gupta BSc (mentorship + thesis) Tick microbiome + Betula genetics 2017-19 Touring Europe & India
Sierra Klueppel BSc (thesis) Lythrum flowering time + herbivory 2017-2018 Nautilus Environmental, Laboratory Biologist
Jordana de Lima BSc (Co-mentorship) Tick genome 2016-17 2018 Brasil to complete degree (Science without Borders)
Jamie MacKay BSc (thesis) Maternal effects in Lythrum salicaria 2018-19 Ecologist, Redd Fish Restoration
Mia Marcellus BSc (thesis) Garlic Mustard 2019-2020 MSc at McGill
Derek McLean BSc (thesis) Arctic birch DNA 2016-17
Ahzum Mujaddid BSc (mentorship) Soil DNA extraction 2018-19 MSc at McGill
Evelyn Newman BSc (thesis) Purple loosestrife 2019-2020 MSc at Simon Fraser
Jessie Obeng BSc (work study) Lab servers 2017-18 2018 eSight, Data Analyst
Haley Richardson BSc (thesis) Amaranthus 2018-19
Vanessa Sabourin SLC (Co-op) Lab Technician 2016-17
Megan Silverthorn BSc (mentorship) Lythrum trichome and stomata density 2018-19 Arnott Lab
Claire Smith BSc (thesis) Purple loosestrife 2019-2020 Junior Field Ecologist, eDNAtec
Joanna Strozak BSc (mentorship) Amaranthus 2018-19
Angela Wong BSc (thesis) eDNA experiment 2016-17