MSE seminar this Wednesday: Dr. Katie Amato, “The Human Microbiome and Health Inequities”

This Wednesday there is another installment in the spring 2022 Microbes and Social Equity speaker series! Each week, we’ll hear from a researcher who will share their work and perspective on how microbes are involved in all aspects of our lives, and how those microbes can affect individuals, communities, and ecosystems.

This series will run from Jan 19 – Apr 27, Wednesdays at 12:00 – 13:00 EST. These are presented over Zoom, and open to researchers, practitioners, students, and the public. Registration is free, and required for each individual seminar you would like to attend. You can find the full speaker list, details, and registration links for each seminar in the series here.

“The Human Microbiome and Health Inequities”

Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato, PhD

January 26, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Katie Amato. Photo borrowed from Northwestern University.

About the speaker: Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. From her faculty profile page: “Katie Amato is a biological anthropologist studying the gut microbiota in the broad context of host ecology and evolution. She is particularly interested in understanding how changes in the gut microbiota impact human nutrition and health in populations around the world, especially those with limited access to nutritional resources.”

Faculty profile page.

Talk summary: The talk explores how the microbiome is likely to be a mediating pathway that translates disparities in people’s environments to disparities in health outcomes. It outlines the current state of the literature in this area and broadly suggests ways to move forward. Dr. Amato’s recent publication on this topic can be found here.

MSE seminar today: Dr. Sue Ishaq, “Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

Today kicks off the spring 2022 Microbes and Social Equity speaker series! Each week, we’ll hear from a researcher who will share their work and perspective on how microbes are involved in all aspects of our lives, and how those microbes can affect individuals, communities, and ecosystems.

This series will run from Jan 19 – Apr 27, Wednesdays at 12:00 – 13:00 EST. These are presented over Zoom, and open to researchers, practitioners, students, and the public. Registration is free, and required for each individual seminar you would like to attend. You can find the full speaker list, details, and registration links for each seminar in the series here.


“Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

Dr. Sue Ishaq, PhD

January 19, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk

About the speaker: Dr. Sue Ishaq is an Assistant Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine, in the School of Food and Agriculture. She received her doctorate in Animal, Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Vermont in 2015 where her graduate study focused on the rumen microbiology of the moose.  She held post-doctoral positions at Montana State University, and a research faculty position at the University of Oregon.  Since 2019, her lab in Maine focuses on host-associated microbial communities in animals and humans, and in particular, how host and microbes interact in the gut. In addition to her research on gut microbes, Dr. Ishaq is the founder of the Microbes and Social Equity working group.  This group formed to examine, publicize and promote a research program on the reciprocal impact of social inequality and microbiomes, both human and environmental.

MSE seminar this Wednesday: Dr. Sue Ishaq, “Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

This Wednesday kicks off the spring 2022 Microbes and Social Equity speaker series! Each week, we’ll hear from a researcher who will share their work and perspective on how microbes are involved in all aspects of our lives, and how those microbes can affect individuals, communities, and ecosystems.

This series will run from Jan 19 – Apr 27, Wednesdays at 12:00 – 13:00 EST. These are presented over Zoom, and open to researchers, practitioners, students, and the public. Registration is free, and required for each individual seminar you would like to attend. You can find the full speaker list, details, and registration links for each seminar in the series here.


“Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

Dr. Sue Ishaq, PhD

January 19, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk

About the speaker: Dr. Sue Ishaq is an Assistant Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine, in the School of Food and Agriculture. She received her doctorate in Animal, Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Vermont in 2015 where her graduate study focused on the rumen microbiology of the moose.  She held post-doctoral positions at Montana State University, and a research faculty position at the University of Oregon.  Since 2019, her lab in Maine focuses on host-associated microbial communities in animals and humans, and in particular, how host and microbes interact in the gut. In addition to her research on gut microbes, Dr. Ishaq is the founder of the Microbes and Social Equity working group.  This group formed to examine, publicize and promote a research program on the reciprocal impact of social inequality and microbiomes, both human and environmental.

Registration open for Microbes and Social Equity speaker series, Jan 19 – April 27

Registration is now open for the Microbes and Social Equity speaker series, which is in its second year this spring. Hurry, the first seminar is on Wednesday, Jan 19th!

The seminars are free and open for anyone to attend, but require registration to Zoom for each of the talks. You can find the full speaker list and registration links to all the talks on the 2022 series page, which will update as we confirm additional speakers.

Microorganisms are critical to many aspects of biological life, including human health.  The human body is a veritable universe for microorganisms: some pass through but once, some are frequent tourists, and some spend their entire existence in the confines of our body tissues.  The collective microbial community, our microbiome, can be impacted by the details of our lifestyle, including diet, hygiene, health status, and more, but many are driven by social, economic, medical, or political constraints that restrict available choices that may impact our health.   

Access to resources is the basis for creating and resolving social equity—access to healthcare, healthy foods, a suitable living environment, and to beneficial microorganisms, but also access to personal and occupational protection to avoid exposure to infectious disease. This speaker series explores the way that microbes connect public policy, social disparities, and human health, as well as the ongoing research, education, policy, and innovation in this field. 

“The Microbes and Social Equity Speaker Series 2022”

Spring 2022; Jan 19 – Apr 27, Wednesdays at 12:00 – 13:00 EST

Presented over Zoom. Registration is free, and required for each seminar.

Hosting Organization: MSE and the University of Maine Institute of Medicine


“Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

Dr. Sue Ishaq, PhD

January 19, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk

Sue Ishaq, photo courtesy of Patrick Wine, 2021.

About the speaker: Dr. Sue Ishaq is an Assistant Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine, in the School of Food and Agriculture. She received her doctorate in Animal, Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Vermont in 2015 where her graduate study focused on the rumen microbiology of the moose.  She held post-doctoral positions at Montana State University, and a research faculty position at the University of Oregon.  Since 2019, her lab in Maine focuses on host-associated microbial communities in animals and humans, and in particular, how host and microbes interact in the gut. In addition to her research on gut microbes, Dr. Ishaq is the founder of the Microbes and Social Equity working group.  This group formed to examine, publicize and promote a research program on the reciprocal impact of social inequality and microbiomes, both human and environmental.


“The Human Microbiome and Health Inequities”

Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato, PhD

January 26, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Katie Amato. Photo borrowed from Northwestern University.
Dr. Katie Amato. Photo borrowed from Northwestern University

About the speaker: Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. From her faculty profile page: “Katie Amato is a biological anthropologist studying the gut microbiota in the broad context of host ecology and evolution. She is particularly interested in understanding how changes in the gut microbiota impact human nutrition and health in populations around the world, especially those with limited access to nutritional resources.”

Faculty profile page.

Talk summary: The talk explores how the microbiome is likely to be a mediating pathway that translates disparities in people’s environments to disparities in health outcomes. It outlines the current state of the literature in this area and broadly suggests ways to move forward. Dr. Amato’s recent publication on this topic can be found here.


Title TBD

Dr. Liat Shenhav, PhD

February 16, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Liat Shenhav. Photo borrowed from Twitter page.
Dr. Liat Shenhav. Photo borrowed from Twitter page.

About the speaker: Dr. Liat Shenhav is an Independent Research Fellow at The Rockefeller University

Institutional profile page.


“20 important questions in microbial exposure and social equity + recent work on urban greenspace microbiomes”

Dr. Jake Robinson, PhD

Feb 23rd, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

A black and white portrait of Dr. Jake Robinson, who is wearing a black shirt and light sportscoat over it. Jake is outside in front of some bushes.
Dr. Jake Robinson

About the speaker: Dr. Jake Robinson is an ecologist and researcher. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK. His academic interests lie at the intersection of microbial ecology, ecosystem restoration and social research. He will soon be publishing a book called Invisible Friends, which is all about our extraordinary relationship with microbes, and how they shape our lives and the world around us. 

Professional page.


Title TBD

Dr. Douglas Call, PhD

March 30, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

About the speaker: Dr. Douglas Call is a Regents Professor at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, in Molecular Epidemiology, and the Associate Director for Research and Graduate Education, at Washington State University.

Faculty profile page.


“Decomposition as Life Politics” 

Dr. Kristina Lyons, PhD

April 6, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Kristina Lyons. Photo reused from the University of Pennsylvania faculty page.
Dr. Kristina Lyons. Photo reused from the University of Pennsylvania faculty page.

About the speaker: Dr. Kristina Lyons is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds affiliations with the Center for Experimental Ethnography and the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies. Kristina’s current research is situated at the interfaces of socio-ecological conflicts, science, and legal studies in Colombia and Latin America. Her manuscript, Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics (Duke 2020), was awarded honorable mention by the Bryce Wood Book Award committee from the Latin American Studies Association. She has also collaborated on the creation of soundscapes, street performances, photographic essays, graphic novels, popular education audiovisual projects, community radio programs, digital storytelling platforms, and various forms of literary writing.

Professional page.

Talk summary: How does attention to and stewardship of soils point to alternative frameworks for living and dying? Dr. Lyons explores the way life strives to flourish in the face of violence, criminalization, and poisoning produced by militarized, growth-oriented development in the midst of the U.S.-Colombia war on drugs.


Title TBD

Dr. Travis J. De Wolfe, PhD

Date TBD, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST.

About the speaker: Dr. Travis J. De Wolfe, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

Institutional profile page.


Title TBD

Dr. Maya Hey, PhD

Date TBD, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST.

About the speaker: Dr. Maya Hey is a postdoctoral researcher with the Future Organisms project as part of an international trans-disciplinary team investigating Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). She brings a humanities and social science perspective to the life sciences, calling upon feminist, intersectional, and multispecies approaches to map out human response-ability in a more-than-human world. She is vested in questions related to fermentation, particularly as they relate to discourses of health, the rhetoric of microbiomes, and how we come to know microbial life.”

Professional page.



Logo designed by Alex Guillen

UMaine has an open position for an Assistant Professor of Integrative Avian Biology

Position Title: Assistant Professor of Integrative Avian Biology (id:73435)

Campus: Orono, Maine

Department:School of Biology & Ecology – OSBE

Bargaining Unit: AFUM

Salary Band/Wage Band: N/A

Details and Application: https://umaine.hiretouch.com/job-details?jobid=73435

Search Timeline is as follows:
Review of applications to begin: February 4, 2022
Screening interviews to begin no earlier than: March 1, 2022
On-site interviews to begin no earlier than: April 1, 2022
Tentative start date: August 29, 2022

For questions about the search, please contact search committee chair Dr. Danielle Levesque at danielle.l.levesque@maine.edu or 207-581-2511.

Statement of the Job:

The School of Biology and Ecology seeks integrative avian biologist for a 9-month academic year, full-time, tenure track position at the Assistant Professor level. We are interested in a broadly trained scientist who addresses physiological, neurobiological, immunological or endocrinological questions using birds as a study system. This position will contribute to growing departmental strengths in organismal physiology, global change biology, one health, biomedical sciences, ecology, biogeography, and evolution. 

Essential Duties & Responsibilities: This position is 50% teaching and 50% research. The successful candidate is expected to establish an externally funded research program that complements current research in organismal biology in the School of Biology and Ecology and other units in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture (NSFA). We seek avian biologists who will build on existing strengths in integrative organismal biology and ecology on campus. Areas of particular interest include endocrinology, eco-immunology, and neurobiology using either field or lab-based studies. The ability to develop research relevant to Maine’s natural resource conservation, forestry, or agricultural industries is also desirable, as well as the capacity to provide assistance to stakeholders and other researchers as part of Maine’s Land Grant mission.

The successful candidate will be responsible for teaching upper-level undergraduate courses such as avian biology, animal behavior, and endocrinology. The faculty member will also be expected to contribute to the enhancement of the breadth of research areas for the growing demands of undergraduate capstone experience and honors thesis research at SBE and other departments.

iScience Backstory on our collaborative work on ants, nematodes, and bacterial transfer

Over the summer, an article was published which featured a handful of researchers from across the US and research spanning a decade on the bacterial communities associated with invasive ants and nematodes in Maine. At the time, we were invited to also contribute a “Backstory” article to the scientific journal iScience which described the journey and the ideas.

That story authored by myself and Ellie Groden (senior researcher on the journal article) has just been published, and can be found here. I’d like to thank Dr. Sheba Agarwal, who was the editor on the paper, helped us develop our Backstory, and also spoke to me about this and other work as a guest on the WeTalkScience podcast.

First first-authorship paper accepted for Olivia Choi from the Kamath Lab!

Olivia Choi, a doctoral candidate in the Kamath lab at the University of Maine, has had her first scientific paper accepted for which she is the first author – a position indicative of the amount of work and organization that she put into developing this work and wrangling the large research team involved. Olivia’s graduate work is winding down as she concentrates on writing up papers and her dissertation, and she is planning on defending her PhD and looking for a postdoc in 2022 in wild animal microbiomes and ecology.

Olivia brought this 16S rRNA dataset to use in my AVS590 data analysis class back in spring 2020, of bacterial communities in different locations on birds of different species, which had been sampled as part of her dissertation work on bird migration and range changes, microbial carriage, and risk of transmission of microbes to other animals. I mentored her through analysis and preliminary manuscript writing as part of that course. The research team generously invited me to join the author team, and I continued to provide mentorship as Olivia worked through the complex task of melding various types of microbiology data.


Choi, O., Corl, A., Lublin, A., Ishaq, S.L., Charter, M., Pekarsky, S., Thie, N., Tsalyuk, M., Turmejan, S., Wolfenden, A., Bowie, R.C.K., Nathan, R., Getz, W.M., Kamath, P.L. 2021. High-throughput sequencing for examining Salmonella prevalence and pathogen – microbiota relationships in barn swallows. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 9:681.

Abstract:

Studies in both humans and model organisms suggest that the microbiome may play a significant role in host health, including digestion and immune function. Microbiota can offer protection from exogenous pathogens through colonization resistance, but microbial dysbiosis in the gastrointestinal tract can decrease resistance and is associated with pathogenesis. Little is known about the effects of potential pathogens, such as Salmonella, on the microbiome in wildlife, which are known to play an important role in disease transmission. Recent studies have expanded the traditional use of 16S rRNA gene amplicon data from high-level characterization of host-associated microbial communities (i.e., the microbiome) to detection of specific bacteria. Few studies, however, have evaluated the ability of high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing data to detect potential bacterial pathogens in comparison with laboratory culture-based methods. To address this knowledge gap, we evaluated the utility of 16S rRNA gene sequencing for potential pathogen detection and explored the relationship between potential pathogens and microbiota. First, we compared the detection of Salmonella spp. in barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) using 16S rRNA data with standard culture techniques. Second, we examined the prevalence of Salmonella using 16S rRNA data and examined the relationship between Salmonella presence or absence and individual host factors. Lastly, we evaluated host-associated bacterial diversity and community composition in Salmonella present versus absent birds. Out of 108 samples, we detected Salmonella in 6 (5.6%), 25 (23.1%), and 3 (2.8%) samples based on culture, unrarefied 16S rRNA gene sequencing data, and both techniques, respectively. In addition, we found that Salmonella presence and absence differed between birds based on migratory status and weight and that bacterial community composition and diversity differed between Salmonella present versus absent birds, with eleven bacterial taxa differentially abundant between the two groups. The results of this study highlight the value of high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing data for bacterial pathogen detection and for examining relationships between potential pathogens and host-associated microbial communities. Further, this study emphasizes an approach using 16S rRNA gene sequencing data for simultaneously monitoring multiple pathogens in wild avian reservoirs, which is important for prediction and mitigation of disease spillover into livestock and humans. 

This work was presented at a recent scientific conference:

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.

Welcome new Ishaq Lab members!

It’s a new school year, and that means new members have joined the Ishaq Lab team – primarily undergraduates in Animal and Veterinary Sciences who are participating in research in fulfillment of their Capstone Experience senior projects. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing more details about our new team members and their projects.

While UMaine is back on campus, not all of our students are local, so we had a hybrid meeting of in-person and Zoom attendees. We have members at Husson University in Bangor, Maine; Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts; and Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York!

We use collaborative file sharing such as Google Drive, virtual meeting spaces like Zoom, and messaging platforms such as Slack for a few projects to facilitate our research and keep track of information. To help us connect more easily, and especially to help get everyone in my office on screen together, we’ll be adding more virtual conferencing equipment, too.

Most of the Ishaq Lab Fall 2021 team were able to make it to a Welcome Meeting recently.

Student point of view on researching microbes, flying squirrels, and mice around farms in Maine

Five women taking a photo together at a farm.  They are standing a few feet apart from each other, and standing in front of a cow feedlot with two cows eating.

This summer, a collaborative project was launched by the Ishaq Lab, Danielle Levesque, and Pauline Kamath at UMaine Orono and Jason Johnston at UMaine Presque Isle; “Climate Change Effects on Wild Mammal Ranges and Infectious Disease Exposure Risk at Maine Farms.”

Funded by the University of Maine Rural Health and Wellbeing Grand Challenge Grant Program, this project assesses pathogen carriage by mice and flying squirrels on or near farms in several locations in Maine. We live-capture mice and flying squirrels in traps, collect the poop they’ve left in the trap, and conduct a few other health screening tests in the field before releasing them. To maximize the information we collect while minimizing stress and interference to the animals, information is being collected for other projects in the Levesque Lab at the same time. We will be collecting samples for another few weeks, and then working on the samples we collected in the lab over the fall and winter.

One of the major goals of the funding program, and this project, is to engage students in research. After a few months on the project, some of our students describe their role and their experiences so far…


A close-up of a deer mouse sitting in a live capture trap in the forest.  In the background is one of the researchers kneeling on the ground.

Marissa Edwards

Undergraduate in Biology

Levesque Lab

Hi! My name is Marissa Edwards and I am an undergraduate research assistant with Danielle Levesque. This summer, my role has been to set traps, handle small mammals, and collect fecal and tissue samples from deer mice.

A pine marten sitting in a live capture trap in a forest.

One of the skills I’ve learned this summer is how to properly ear tag a mouse. To catch mice, we set traps across UMaine’s campus as well as other parts of Maine, including Moosehead Lake, Flagstaff Lake, and Presque Isle.

During our trip to Moosehead Lake, I saw a marten for the first time (it was in one of our traps). I did not know martens existed and initially thought it was a fisher cat. It was both a cool and terrifying experience!


Northern flying squirrel sitting on a net with a forest in the background.

Elise Gudde

Master’s Student of Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Levesque Lab

Hello, my name is Elise Gudde, and I am currently a master’s student at the University of Maine in the Ecology and Environmental Sciences program. I work in Dr. Danielle Levesque’s lab studying small mammal physiology in Maine.

Northern flying squirrel sitting on a net with a forest in the background.

This summer, as a part of the squirrel project, I work to trap small mammal species in Maine, such as white footed mice, deer mice, and flying squirrels in order to determine which species have shifted their range distributions as a result of climate change. Being a part of the research team, this summer has brought me all over Maine! I have been able to travel to Orono, Greenville, New Portland, and Aroostook County to study many interesting mammals. I even got to handle an Eastern chipmunk for the first time! As a member of the animal-handling side of the research team, I also collect fecal and tissue samples from the animals. These samples are then handed off for other members of the team to research in the lab!


Rebecca French wearing a white laboratory coat, a fabric face mask, and beige latex gloves while using a yellow plastic loop tool to spread bactrial cultures on fresh agar media plates to look for growth.  Rebecca is sitting at a biosafety cabinet with the glass window slide down between her and what she is working on.  Assorted scientific materials can be seen in the background.

Rebecca French

Undergraduate in Animal and Veterinary Sciences

Ishaq Lab

In the beginning of this project, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I began researching flying squirrels and mice. I came into it with almost no in-person lab experience, so I had a lot to learn.

So far, I have been focusing on making media on petri dishes for culturing bacterial growth and after plating fecal bacteria on said plates; discerning what that growth can be identified as.

We are using media with specific nutrients, and colored dyes, and certain bacteria we are interested in will be able to survive or produce a color change. I have also been performing fecal flotations and viewing possible eggs and parasites under a microscope. What I’ve found most fun about this project is putting into practice what I have learned only in a classroom setting thus far. It is also very satisfying to be a part of every step of the project; from catching mice, to making media, to using that media to yield results and then to be able to have a large cache of information to turn it all into a full fledged project.


Joe Beale, posing for a photo in an open office space.

Joe Beale

Undergraduate in Animal and Veterinary Sciences

Kamath Lab

Hello! My name is Joseph Beale, and I am an undergraduate at the University of Maine working on the squirrel project as a part of my capstone requirement for graduation. My primary responsibility in this project is the molecular testing of samples obtained from the field. Primarily I will be working with ear punch samples taken from flying squirrels and field mice. DNA extracts from these field samples will be run via qPCR. The results of this qPCR will tell us if these squirrels are carrying any pathogens. 

The pathogens we will be testing for are those found in Ixodes ticks. The qPCR panel which we will be running the extracted DNA from the ear punches on tests for Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the causative agent of anaplasmosis, and Babesia microti, the causative agent of Babesiosis. These pathogens and respective diseases discussed are all transmitted through Ixodes ticks. Deer ticks are the most common and famous of the Ixodes genus. The Ixodes genus encapsulates hard-bodied ticks. Along with deer ticks, Ixodes ticks found in Maine include: woodchuck ticks, squirrel ticks, mouse ticks, seabird ticks, and more. Mice and squirrel are ideal hosts for these Ixodes ticks, therefore becoming prime reservoirs for these diseases. In our research, we are interested in determining the prevalence of these diseases in squirrels and mice as these hosts can spread these diseases to humans and other animals in high tick areas. 

qPCR, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, allows for the quantification of amplified DNA in samples.  This will help tell us if these pathogens are present in samples and in what capacity. In qPCR provided DNA strands are added to the reaction. These strands match with the genome of the intended pathogens. If the pathogens are present in our samples, the provided DNA strands will bind to the present pathogen DNA. PCR will then work to manufacture billions of copies of this present pathogen DNA. 

When not working on this project, I also work in the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic Research Laboratory as a part of the Tick Lab. In this position I have honed the molecular biology skills that I will in turn use for the squirrel project. 


Yvonne Booker

Undergraduate, Tuskeegee University

Levesque Lab

Microbes and the Mammalian Mystery“, reblogged from the University of Maine REU program.

Hello everyone! My name is Yvonne Booker and I am a rising senior, animal and poultry science major at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. I am interested in animal health research, with a particular focus in veterinary medicine. I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian, but as I progressed throughout  college, I became interested in learning more about animal health and how I might help animals on a much larger and impactful scale–which led me to the REU ANEW program. Currently climate change is causing an increase in global temperatures, putting pressure on animals’ ability to interact and survive within their environment. Consequently, scientists are now attempting to understand not just how to prevent climate change, but how these creatures are adapting to this emerging challenge.

My research experience this summer is geared toward addressing this global issue. I am currently working in Dr. Danielle Levesque’s Lab, which aims to study the evolutionary and ecological physiology of mammals in relation to climate. My project involves conducting a literature review of the microbiome of mammals, to learn more about how their microbial community plays a role in how they adapt in a heat-stressed environment.

Our knowledge of vertebrate-microbe interactions derives partly from research on ectotherms. While this research paves the path for a better understanding of how organisms react to temperature changes, fewer studies have focused on how mammals deal with these extreme temperature shifts—specifically, the abrupt surge in climate change. The ability of endotherms to  thermoregulate alters our knowledge of (1) how mammals create heat tolerance against these environmental challenges and (2) how this internal process alters mammals’ adaptability and physiology over time. We suggest that the microbiome plays an essential part in understanding mammals’ heat tolerance and that this microbial community can help researchers further understand the various processes that allow mammals to survive extreme temperatures.

As a student of the REU ANEW program my goal was to go out of my comfort zone and study animals in an applied fashion that would impact animal health on an environmental and ecological scale; and this program was just that! My mentor, Dr. Levesque was wonderful in guiding me through conducting this research, while giving me the independence to create my own voice. The program directors, Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner and Dr. Kristina Cammen, have also  been extremely supportive throughout this entire program equipping students with the tools they need to succeed as researchers. Although research was my primary focus this summer, some of my favorite memories involved building community with the students and the staff. From weekly check-ins on zoom to virtual game nights of complete smiles and laughter, this program has been one for the books! The One Health and the Environment approach to this Research Experience for Undergraduate students has encouraged me to build on my curiosity within the field of science, and I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned to my career in the future.

Rumening through camel microbes, by Myra Arshad

Written by Myra Arshad

Myra Arshad

Did you know that camels have three stomach chambers or that they have to throw up their own food in order to digest their food properly? Have you felt excluded from science spaces before? Then this blog post is for you!

Allow me to introduce myself. 

My name is Myra, and I am a rising senior at SUNY Stony Brook University, where my major is Ecosystems and Human Impact, with a biology minor. In a nutshell, my major is interdisciplinary with a focus on conservation and ecology within human societies. 

If I were to describe my college experience in one word I’d pick “surprises”. I never actually saw myself being a scientist in my middle and high school years. I found it hard to care about abstract concepts or theories that felt so far removed from humanity, particularly minority communities. But, during college I found myself falling in love with environmental studies, and along with it, the beautiful complexities that come with being human in our increasingly anthropogenic world. 

At UMaine, we focus on the One Health Initiative, which views the health of humans, animals, and the environment as interconnected. When COVID-19 caused everyone to go into lockdown, I was fortunate to find this farm was looking for crew members, with a focus on food security. While certainly not how I planned to spend the summer of 2020, farming for underserved communities is where I saw how impactful One Health was. Organic farmers commonly use plastic mulch as a popular alternative to pesticides for weed suppression. At my home institution, I lead a project on the impacts of microplastics on earthworm health, an Ecotoxicology lab (students of the lab affectionately gave it the nickname “the Worm lab”).  We use earthworm health as an indicator of soil health, which in turn is crucial for crop flourishment. The Worm Lab and farming emboldened me to pursue science and, ergo, look for this REU! 

At UMaine, I am a member of the Ishaq Lab where I work on the camel metagenome project. Basically, scientists in Egypt raised camels on different diets, then used samples from their feces to sequence their microbial genome. These microbes live in the camel rumen (part of the camel stomach), and help the camel digest their food. What I do with Dr. Ishaq’s lab is, I perform data analysis on these sequences to see how the microbial gene profile changes with different diets. Camels are essential for transportation and food for the communities that rely on them, so finding the most efficient feed for them is important. Camels also release methane depending on their diet so it’s possible humans could control methane production of camels through their diet. 

Being a part of the REU ANEW program for 2021 definitely has been an interesting experience, since it is the first time this program has been conducted virtually. Even though I would have loved to have seen everyone in person and spent time in lovely Orono, Maine, I’m glad for the research opportunity as it has further solidified my love of research and the One Health initiative.

Myra’s poster for the REU Research Symposium, virtual, Aug 13, 2021.