People

Sima Afsharnezhad

Sima Afsharnezhad - Postdoctoral Researcher

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 characteriz 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.

Mabel Fuentes Vergara

Mabel Fuentes Vergara - MSc Student

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).

Maria Jose Gomez Quijano

Maria Jose Gomez Quijano - PhD Student

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.

Damian Bourne

Damian Bourne - MSc/PhD Student

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/PhD Student

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.

Shrey Anand

Shrey Anand - MSc (Computer Science)

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.

Abby Mathews

Abby Mathews - BSc HS student

As a Biology major, I am ecstatic to be completing a 4th year thesis in the Colautti lab as my undergraduate degree comes to an end. My career goals include research in infectious and emerging diseases as they are a growing threat to global health and welfare. Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are expected to surge due to effects of climate change which makes it an extremely interesting research opportunity as we further learn how to categorize and classify different pathogens carried by ticks. I am very excited to further develop my research skills and my passion for field research with the Colautti lab.

Logan Wisteard

Logan Wisteard - BSc HS student

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.

Sherise Vialva - MSc student

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°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.

Rob Colautti

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)
Loren Rieseberg (University of British Columbia)
Prameet Sheth (Queen's University / Kingston Health Sciences Centre
Calvin Sjaarda Queen's University

Alumni

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

Graduate Students

Name Degree Project Year Post-lab experience
Katherine Duchesneau MSc (Co-) GM Soil microbiome 2019 Kostka Lab at Georgia Tech
Richard Honor MSc GM eco-evo 2019 Looking for a job in Newfoundland
Eugene Sit MSc Lythrum + Alliaria genomics 2021
Yihan Wu MSc Lythrum + Alliaria genomics 2019 PhD with Keith Adams, 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 Job: 2018 Scotiabank – Operating Systems Team Member
Stephanie Barre SLC (Co-op) Lab Technician 2015-16
Weihang (Kathleen) Chen BSc (Co-mentorship) Ticks + GM 2016-17 Bioinformatics Statup Company, Shanghai
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
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
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?
Evelyn Newman BSc (thesis) Purple loosestrife 2019-2020 MSc at Simon Fraser
Jessie Obeng BSc (work study) Lab servers 2017-18 Job: 2018 eSight – Data Analyst
Haley Richardson (Yakimowski Lab) 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 MSc at Queen's
Joanna Strozak BSc (mentorship) Amaranthus 2018-19
Angela Wong BSc (thesis) eDNA experiment 2016-17