Sue talking a selfie in the UMaine parking lot in full regalia.

2022 graduating students

UMaine and many other universities are having in-person graduation ceremonies, and welcoming students who are graduating this year, as well as those who finished in 2021 and 2020 who were not able to walk in a regular ceremony. I made it to the ceremony for the graduates, so I could cheer on Sarah, where over 400 of the more 600 total graduate students matriculating got hooded and recognized for their achievement.

This year, many Ishaq Lab members walked across the stage and off into the next step in their life.

A graduate student and a faculty member, both in full graduation regalia, posing for a photo in a gymnasium.

Sarah Hosler, Animal and Veterinary Science Master’s of Science student, who will be defending her thesis this summer and is considering her next career step.

Person in a research facility holding up their arm with a mouse on it. Person is wearing a hairnet, nitrile gloves, surgical mask, and a surgical gown. They are holding their left arm up to the camera to show off a mouse with dark brown fur sitting on their arm. In the background is a metal shelf with containers of research materials.

Johanna Holman, Food Science and Nutrition Master’s of Science student, who will be defending her thesis this summer and returning this fall for a PhD!

A woman in a lab coat wearing a face mask and latex gloves is using a thin yellow swab to spread bacteria on a culture media plate. She is sitting at a biosafety cabinet with the glass door pulled down.

Rebecca French, AVS undergrad who did her Capstone project as part of the squirrel pilot project I ran this past year. Rebecca won a research grant for this work. She is heading to vet school in Long Island!

Morgan Rocks, AVS undergrad who did her Capstone project as part of the squirrel pilot project I ran this past year. She is heading to vet school in the midwest!

Natalie Sullivan, AVS undergrad who did her Capstone project as part of the Cryptosporidium pilot project we are running. She is planning to work for a year before pursuing vet school.

Woman standing on the ocean shoreline.

Jade Chin, AVS undergrad who defended her Honor’s Thesis in 2021 and was awarded High Honors for it, has been in Glasgow, Scotland, for her senior year/first year of veterinary school there.

Myra Arshad

Myra Arshad, an REU student who is graduating from Stoney Brook University. She’s taking a year to work in research before pursuing a graduate degree.

In addition, we had a handful of other undergraduate students who performed their independent research for their Capstone projects in the Ishaq Lab graduate this year.

New perspective paper published on microbial transmission and lobsters.

A cookie in the shape of a lobster with icing to make it look like a pirate.

A collaborative perspective article was just published in Frontiers in Microbiology, which discusses epizootic shell disease in American lobsters, the role of microbes, and the movement of microbes in an aquatic environment. Because this is a perspective article, it is more of a thought exercise than my other publications, which either report findings or review other published literature, but it was intriguing to think about animal health in the context of rapidly-changing environmental conditions and microbial communities.

I previously presented some of the microbial community data related to the larger project from which this perspective piece came about, and this research team will continue to work on analyzing data from several experiments to develop into a research article later this year.

A steamed lobster on a plate.

This larger, collaborative project on lobster shell disease and warming ocean waters was begun by researchers at the Aquaculture Research Institute: Debbie Bouchard, Heather Hamlin, Jean MacRae, Scarlett Tudor, and later Sarah Turner as a grad student. I was invited to participate in the data analysis aspect two years ago.

At the time, Grace Lee was a rising senior at Bowdoin College, and accepted to my lab for the UMaine REU summer 2020 session, which was canceled. Instead, I hired Grace to perform DNA sequence analysis remotely, by independently learning data analysis following the teaching materials I had generated for my sequencing class.  I invited Joelle Kilchenmann to this piece after a series of conversations about microbes and social equity, because her graduate work in Joshua Stoll’s lab focuses on lobster fishing communities in Maine and understanding the challenges they face.


Ishaq, S.L., Turner, S.M., Tudor, M.S.,  MacRae, J.D., Hamlin, H., Kilchenmann, J., Lee1, G., Bouchard, D. 2022. Many questions remain unanswered about the role of microbial transmission in epizootic shell disease in American lobsters (Homarus americanus). Frontiers in Microbiology 13: 824950.

This was an invited contribution to a special collection: The Role of Dispersal and Transmission in Structuring Microbial Communities

Abstract: Despite decades of research on lobster species’ biology, ecology, and microbiology, there are still unresolved questions about the microbial communities which associate in or on lobsters under healthy or diseased states, microbial acquisition, as well as microbial transmission between lobsters and between lobsters and their environment. There is an untapped opportunity for metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, and metabolomics to be added to the existing wealth of knowledge to more precisely track disease transmission, etiology, and host-microbe dynamics. Moreover, we need to gain this knowledge of wild lobster microbiomes before climate change alters environmental and host-microbial communities more than it likely already has, throwing a socioeconomically critical industry into disarray. As with so many animal species, the effects of climate change often manifests as changes in movement, and in this perspective piece, we consider the movement of the American lobster (Homarus americanus), Atlantic ocean currents, and the microorganisms associated with either.

MSE seminar today: Dr. Liat Shenhav, “It’s about time: ecological and eco-evolutionary dynamics across the scales”

Today is final installment in the spring 2022 Microbes and Social Equity speaker series! Each week, we have been hearing from a researcher who shared 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 ran from Jan 19 – May 4, 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 recordings from previous talks here.


“It’s about time: ecological and eco-evolutionary dynamics across the scales”

Dr. Liat Shenhav, PhD

May 4, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Liat Shenhav. Photo borrowed from LinkedIN.

About the speaker: Dr. Liat Shenhav is an independent research fellow at the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology at the Rockefeller University. Prior to that, Liat received a B.Sc. and. M.Sc. in Mathematics and Statistics from Tel-Aviv University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California, Los Angeles. Liat’s research focuses on developing computational methods for studying spatiotemporal dynamics of complex ecosystems and their contribution to human health and disease.

About the talk: Complex microbial communities play an important role across many domains of life, from the female reproductive tract, through the oceans, to the plant rhizosphere. The study of these communities offers great opportunities for biological discovery, due to the ease of their measurement, the ability to perturb them, and their rapidly evolving nature. Yet, their complex composition, dynamic nature, and intricate interactions with multiple other systems, make it difficult to extract robust and reproducible patterns from these ecosystems. To uncover their latent properties, I develop models that combine longitudinal data analysis and statistical learning, and which draw from principles of community ecology, complexity theory and evolution. 

I will briefly present methods for decomposition of microbial dynamics at an ecological scale (Shenhav et al., Nature Methods 2019; Martino & Shenhav et al., Nature Biotechnology). Using these methods we found significant differences in the trajectories of the infant microbiome in the first years of life as a function of early life exposures, namely mode of delivery and breastfeeding. I will then show how incorporating eco-evolutionary considerations allowed us to detect signals of purifying selection across ecosystems. I will demonstrate how interactions between evolution and ecology played a vital role in shaping microbial communities and the standard genetics code (Shenhav & Zeevi, Science 2020).

Inspired by these discoveries, I am currently expanding the scope beyond the microbiome, modeling multi-layered data on human milk composition. I will present results from an ongoing study in which I am building integrative models of nasal, gut and milk microbiota, combined with human milk components, to predict infant respiratory health. I found that the temporal dynamics of microbiota in the first year of life, mediated by milk composition, predict the development of chronic respiratory disease later in childhood. These models, designed to identify robust spatiotemporal patterns, would help us better understand the nature and impact of complex ecosystems like the microbiome and human milk from the time of formation and throughout life.

Institutional profile page.


MSE seminar this Wednesday: Dr. Liat Shenhav, “It’s about time: ecological and eco-evolutionary dynamics across the scales”

This Wednesday there is final installment in the spring 2022 Microbes and Social Equity speaker series! Each week, we have been hearing from a researcher who shared 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 runs from Jan 19 – May 4, 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 recordings from previous talks here.

“It’s about time: ecological and eco-evolutionary dynamics across the scales”

Dr. Liat Shenhav, PhD

May 4, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Dr. Liat Shenhav. Photo borrowed from LinkedIN.

About the speaker: Dr. Liat Shenhav is an independent research fellow at the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology at the Rockefeller University. Prior to that, Liat received a B.Sc. and. M.Sc. in Mathematics and Statistics from Tel-Aviv University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California, Los Angeles. Liat’s research focuses on developing computational methods for studying spatiotemporal dynamics of complex ecosystems and their contribution to human health and disease.

About the talk: Complex microbial communities play an important role across many domains of life, from the female reproductive tract, through the oceans, to the plant rhizosphere. The study of these communities offers great opportunities for biological discovery, due to the ease of their measurement, the ability to perturb them, and their rapidly evolving nature. Yet, their complex composition, dynamic nature, and intricate interactions with multiple other systems, make it difficult to extract robust and reproducible patterns from these ecosystems. To uncover their latent properties, I develop models that combine longitudinal data analysis and statistical learning, and which draw from principles of community ecology, complexity theory and evolution. 

I will briefly present methods for decomposition of microbial dynamics at an ecological scale (Shenhav et al., Nature Methods 2019; Martino & Shenhav et al., Nature Biotechnology). Using these methods we found significant differences in the trajectories of the infant microbiome in the first years of life as a function of early life exposures, namely mode of delivery and breastfeeding. I will then show how incorporating eco-evolutionary considerations allowed us to detect signals of purifying selection across ecosystems. I will demonstrate how interactions between evolution and ecology played a vital role in shaping microbial communities and the standard genetics code (Shenhav & Zeevi, Science 2020).

Inspired by these discoveries, I am currently expanding the scope beyond the microbiome, modeling multi-layered data on human milk composition. I will present results from an ongoing study in which I am building integrative models of nasal, gut and milk microbiota, combined with human milk components, to predict infant respiratory health. I found that the temporal dynamics of microbiota in the first year of life, mediated by milk composition, predict the development of chronic respiratory disease later in childhood. These models, designed to identify robust spatiotemporal patterns, would help us better understand the nature and impact of complex ecosystems like the microbiome and human milk from the time of formation and throughout life.

Institutional profile page.


MSE seminar today: Dr. Maya Hey, “What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes”

Today is the last 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 – May 4, 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.

“What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes”

Dr. Maya Hey, PhD

April 27, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

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.

Talk summary: What connects us across different scales of life? This talk examines three case studies—on fermentation, conversation, and innovation—to better understand how micro-organisms affect macro-cultures and vice-versa, with emphasis on working with difference instead of resolving them. 

MSE seminar this Wednesday: Dr. Maya Hey, “What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes”

This Wednesday is the last 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 – May 4, 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.

“What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes”

Dr. Maya Hey, PhD

April 27, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

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.

Talk summary: What connects us across different scales of life? This talk examines three case studies—on fermentation, conversation, and innovation—to better understand how micro-organisms affect macro-cultures and vice-versa, with emphasis on working with difference instead of resolving them. 

MSE seminar today: Dr. Catherine Girard, “Microbiomes and climate change at the intersection of human and ecosystem health in the North”

Today 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 – May 4, 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.

“Microbiomes and climate change at the intersection of human and ecosystem health in the North”

Dr. Catherine Girard, PhD

April 20, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Portrait photo of Dr. Catherine Girard. Photo courtesy of Dr. Girard.

Dr. Catherine Girard is an Associate Professor at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, where she works on the response of microbiomes to climate change in the Arctic. In the past, she has worked on the human microbiome and how it is shaped by tradition, culture and global warming. She now explores how ice-dwelling microbes are responding to change, from a conservation and ecosystem service perspective. She is involved in collaborative research with partners from the Inuit Nunangat, and views microbiomes as part of our heritage.

Professional page.

MSE seminar this Wednesday: Dr. Catherine Girard, “Microbiomes and climate change at the intersection of human and ecosystem health in the North”

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 – May 4, 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.

“Microbiomes and climate change at the intersection of human and ecosystem health in the North”

Dr. Catherine Girard, PhD

April 20, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register for this free talk.

Portrait photo of Dr. Catherine Girard. Photo courtesy of Dr. Girard.

Dr. Catherine Girard is an Associate Professor at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, where she works on the response of microbiomes to climate change in the Arctic. In the past, she has worked on the human microbiome and how it is shaped by tradition, culture and global warming. She now explores how ice-dwelling microbes are responding to change, from a conservation and ecosystem service perspective. She is involved in collaborative research with partners from the Inuit Nunangat, and views microbiomes as part of our heritage.

Professional page.

Ishaq Lab students present at the 2022 UMaine Student Research Symposium

This year, the UMaine Student Research Symposium was held in person and virtually, and undergrads and grads from the Ishaq Lab shared their research with the Maine community. You can check out the recorded presentations in the links below.

French*, R., Beale, J., Ishaq, S. Abstract 0402. Climate Change Affects Wild Mammal Ranges and Health; Will That Also Affect Infectious Disease Exposure Risk at Maine Farms? UMaine Student Symposium (virtual presentation). April 15, 2022.

Holcomb*, Coffman, J., Harrison, B., Tucker, K., Ishaq, S. Abstract 1080. An Overview of Three Biomedical Science Projects across Three Research Institutes. UMaine Student Symposium (virtual presentation). April 15, 2022.

Hosler*, S., Grey, E., Dankwa, A., Perry, J., Bowden, T., Beal, B., Ishaq, S. Abstract 0816. Initial descriptions of the microbes of farmed Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) veligers and rearing tanks. UMaine Student Symposium (virtual presentation). April 15, 2022.

Pelletier*, E., Taylor, T., Ishaq, S. Abstract 830. Assessing the Veterinary Needs of Rural Maine and Implementing an Effective Management Plan. UMaine Student Symposium (poster presentation). April 15, 2022.

MSE seminar today: Dr. Patricia Kaishian, “Deconstructing the individual: how science can materially advance using queer and feminist theory”

Today 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 – May 4, 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.

Deconstructing the individual: how science can materially advance using queer and feminist theory

Dr. Patricia Kaishian, PhD

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

Dr. Patricia Kaishian. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kaishian.
Dr. Patricia Kaishian. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kaishian.

About the speaker: Dr. Patricia Kaishian is a visiting professor of Biology at Bard College in NY. Her scientific research is focused on the taxonomy of Laboulbeniales fungi, fungal biodiversity, and exploration of the use of certain fungi as potential indicators of ecosystem health. Beyond more traditional scientific research, Patricia works in the realms of philosophy of science, feminist bioscience, ecofeminism and queer theory, exploring how mycology and other scientific disciplines are situated in and informed by our sociopolitical landscape. Her publication, The science underground: mycology as a queer discipline, appears in the journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory & Technoscience. Patricia is also a founding member of the International Congress of Armenian Mycologists (ICAM), a research organization comprised of ethnically Armenian mycologists who seek to simultaneously advance mycological science and Armenian sovereignty and liberation.

Professional site.

This talk will explore the field of mycology and the mycobiome through a theoretical framework rooted in queer and feminist theories, as well as philosophy of science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The goal is to challenge, push, and explore central tenets of institutional science, and to socially and historically situate current research dilemmas in mycology and microbiome studies. By excavating and laying bare ingrained, systemic biases in scientific institutions, we can attempt to disarm fallacious assertions of “purity” in science and better understand bodies at various scales.