Spring 2021 in review

The spring semester has brought quite a few changes to the Ishaq lab, including new members and graduating several seniors, new projects, new papers, and a multitude of events for the Microbes and Social Equity Working group!

Research Team

We welcomed several new lab members to the Team, including Dorien Baudewyns (Husson, B.S. 2021), Louisa Colucci (Husson, expected graduation 2022), and Omar Tavio (freelance), who are all helping with master’s student Johanna Holman’s project on the gut microbiome in response to broccoli. In January, we were joined by Joe Balkan (Tufts University undergraduate student), who learned anaerobic culturing and assisted with the massive sample collection and processing initiative that followed the mouse experiment over the winter. Joe will be joining us again this summer as we continue that work with more anaerobic culturing and biochemical testing.

We welcomed Rebecca French, who is joining a collaborative team of undergraduate and faculty researchers at UMaine in the Orono and Presque Isle campuses. This pilot study will examine zoonotic diseases in some rodent species in Maine, and how climate change might be affecting their geographic locations and pushing them further north, thereby bringing certain pathogenic microbes to new locations or putting them in closer contact with people or livestock. Rebecca was awarded a 2021 J. Franklin Witter Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund award to support her research, which she will complete for her senior Capstone Experience in animal and veterinary studies. She’ll be joined by undergraduates in the Kamath and Levesque labs at UMaine, and eventually by an undergraduate in the Johnston Lab at UMPI.

Johanna won a 2020-2021 University of Maine Graduate Student Employee of the Year! Over the 20/21 academic year, Johanna was a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Chemistry department, in addition to taking classes and managing a large research project.

Undergraduate researcher Nick Hershbine: 2020-2021 University of Maine Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year! Nick has been working on soil from blueberry fields in Maine.

We are also saying goodbye to some of our seniors, including Emily Pierce, the very first undergrad in the Ishaq Lab, who is headed for Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. Emily was awarded a 2021 CUGR Fellowship for her Capstone Experience research on Cryptosporidium parvum infection, for which she presented at the UMaine Student Symposium in April.

Jade Chin, also an undergraduate researcher, is heading to Glasgow University for her senior year after which she will attend as a veterinary student there. Jade completed a literature review of leaf silage as livestock feed for her UMaine Undergraduate Honor’s Thesis, which was successfully defended in May and awarded High Honors!

A collaborative paper on bacterial transfer in insects and the possible ecological impacts of that in the wild has been accepted for publication in iScience! This work began a decade ago in the labs of Dr. Ellie Groden, recently retired Professor of Entomology at the University of Maine, and later Dr. Patricia Stock, Professor of Entomology at the University of Arizona, who were investigating colony collapse of European fire ants (Myrmica rubra) which are invasive to Maine. The ants have a nasty bite, and can dramatically disturb the local plant and insect wildlife in coastal Maine. Most of the work for this project was completed several years ago, with the exception of DNA sequencing data from an bacterial transfer experiment. I was added to the project by my collaborator at UMaine, Dr. Jean MacRae, who introduced me to the research team and shared the16S rRNA dataset to use in my AVS 590 data analysis class in spring 2020. That semester was when the pandemic hit, and forced the course to move to remote-only instruction in March. UMaine graduate students Alice Hotopp and Sam Silverbrand were taking the class and learning 16S analysis on this dataset, and I mentored them through the analysis all the way to manuscript writing despite the incredible challenges that spring threw our way.

Another paper was accepted for publication, in Animal, using data analysis from the spring 2020 AVS 590 class, on the effect of a dietary additive on the rumen and fecal bacterial communities in dairy cattle! Similarly, the original experiment for this work took place several years ago, and involved an animal feeding trial which added reduced-fat distillers’ grains with solubles into dairy cattle feed. The research team found no negatives effect on milk production or animal health, and that work was previously published. To add to that project, the original research team wanted to know if the diet would drastically change the bacterial community living in the rumen, which would have implications for feed digestion and animal health. A collaborator of mine donated the cow microbial community DNA data to my AVS 590 special topics in DNA Sequencing Data Analysis course in spring 2020 (now formally registered as AVS 454/554). I worked with UMaine graduate students Adwoa Dankwa and Usha Humagain over the semester to train them in coding and develop the manuscript. The diet only had minimal effects on the bacterial community profiles, which in this case is a good finding – we want to be able to feed a cheap, nutritional source like distillers’ grains without harming the cow or its microbes.

Microbes and Social Equity

The Microbes and Social Equity Working Group had an extremely productive spring, including growing to more than 80 members internationally, hosting a 12-session speaker series which can be viewed here, organizing a virtual symposium for June, and organizing a journal special collection in partnership with a scientific journal. The special collection will highlight recent work, and review previous efforts in this field from a set of invited international authors, and which includes an Introduction to the ‘Microbes and Social Equity Working Group’ perspective piece featuring 35 members as authors.

Summer Outlook

This summer, in addition to the ongoing work mentioned above, I’ll be mentoring a student through the UMaine Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Myra Arshad is an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, in New York, and will be joining the lab remotely over the summer to participate in research and related professional development. Myra will be learning some data analysis to work on camel rumen samples as part of an ongoing collaboration with a researcher in Egypt, Dr. Alaa Rabee, as well as helping with the Microbes and Social Equity Working Group initiatives. Patrick Fludgate, a rising senior in Animal and Veterinary Sciences at UMaine, will be joining the project, as well, as he completes his senior project for the Capstone Research Experience.

The Microbes and Social Equity Working Group will be hosting a virtual symposium June 14 – 18, along with the UMaine Institute of Medicine. Over 5 sessions, we will explore how microbial exposure can affect human and ecosystem health, and discuss research, education, and policy which can promote equitable access to beneficial microbes. Registration is free.

Finally, the Ishaq Lab and affiliates will be presenting some research at conferences this summer:

  1. Ishaq*, S.L., Lee, G., MacRae, J., Hamlin, H., Bouchard, D. The Effect Of Simulated Warming Ocean Temperatures On The Bacterial Communities On The Shells Of Healthy And Epizootic Shell Diseased American Lobster (Homarus americanus). ASM Microbe/ISME World Microbe Forum 2021 (virtual). June 20-24, 2021.
  2. Hotopp*, A., Silverbrand, S., Ishaq, S.L., Dumont, J., Michaud, A.,  MacRae, J.,  Stock, S.P.,  Groden, E. “Can a necromenic nematode serve as a biological Trojan horse for an invasive ant?” Ecological Society of America 2021. (virtual). Aug 2-6, 2021. (poster)
  3. Ishaq*, S.L., Lee, G., MacRae, J., Hamlin, H., Bouchard, D. “The effect of simulated warming ocean temperatures on the bacterial communities on the shells of healthy and epizootic shell diseased American Lobster (Homarus americanus).” Ecological Society of America 2021. (virtual). Aug 2-6, 2021. (accepted talk)
  4. The Microbes and Social Equity Working group, “Special Session 17: “Microbiomes and Social Equity” (19205).”, Ecological Society of America 2021. (virtual). Aug 5, 2021.
  5. Choi*, O.N., Corl, A., Wolfenden, A., Lublin, A., Ishaq, S.L., Turjeman, S., Getz, W.M., Nathan, R., Bowie, R.C.K., Kamath, P.L. “High-throughput sequencing for examining Salmonella prevalence and pathogen -microbiota relationships in barn swallows.”  69th Annual – 14th Biennial Joint Conference of the Wildlife Disease Association & European Wildlife Disease Association (virtual) Aug 31 – Sept 2, 2021. 

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