The Researcher Spotlight showcases the breadth and diversity of research interests and potential growth opportunities on campus. We hope that by highlighting both our researchers and their research, we can help you to learn more about and connect with your colleagues to enhance multidisciplinary research and education in microbial sciences here at Illinois.
Check out our April Newsletter Researcher Spotlight: Meet Wenyan Mei, PhD
Meet the new MSI faculty
As part of the Microbial Systems Initiative strategic hiring plan, we are pleased to introduce new faculty in the Departments of Animal Sciences, Biochemistry, Kinesiology and Community Health, Microbiology, Pathobiology, and Statistics, who will contribute and benefit from Illinois’ rich microbial systems research environment.
Adrienne Antonson, PhD
Dr. Adrienne Antonson is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. Her research program is anchored within the fields of immunology, microbiology, and developmental and behavioral neuroscience. Using translational animal models, the Antonson Developmental Neuroimmunology Lab investigates the inflammatory pathways underlying perturbations in offspring neurodevelopment, glial cell function, and behavior elicited during maternal gestational insults. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Antonson discusses her research journey and how she works to address societal health challenges at Illinois.
Alicia Kraay, PhD
Dr. Alicia Kraay is an assistant professor in the College of Applied Health Sciences, and an infectious disease epidemiologist. Dr. Kraay’s research is focused on enteric pathogens and COVID-19, including the environmental transmission of infectious disease pathogens and the impact of public health interventions. Dr. Kraay is also interested in how infectious dynamics change over time in response to ongoing pathogen evolution. To study these questions, her work combines dynamic transmission modeling with conventional statistical techniques. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Kraay discusses the impact of her research, especially related to the pandemic, and her aim to improve her community by addressing specific societal health challenges
Asma Hatoum-Aslan, PhD
Dr. Asma Hatoum-Aslan is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology. Her research program aims to advance the basic mechanistic knowledge of how bacteria and their viruses (known as phages) interact and explore new paradigms that question fundamental assumptions regarding bacterial immunity. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Hatoum-Aslan discusses the rewarding aspects of being a part of the Illinois research community and how her lab is working to improve society.
Chris Brooke, PhD
Christopher Brooke, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of microbiology in the School of Molecular & Cellular Biology. He also has an affiliate appointment with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Research in the Brooke Lab is primarily focused on understanding how heterogeneity and collective interactions within influenza virus populations influence broader patterns of viral evolution and infection outcome. They are also interested in understanding the genetics of influenza virus immune escape and transmission, with the overall goal of improving strategies for universal vaccination. Learn more.
Christopher Gaulke, PhD
Dr. Christopher Gaulke is an assistant professor in the Department of Pathobiology. Dr. Gaulke’s lab uses diverse molecular, bioinformatic, and statistical tools to define the biochemical mechanisms through which gut microbiota modulate the effects of nutritional, infectious, and chemical exposures on vertebrate physiology. The Gaulke lab leverages this knowledge to develop methods to mitigate the impact of these exposures on human and animal health by manipulating the microbiome and characterizing microbial natural products. In his researcher spotlight, Dr. Gaulke discusses how Illinois supports his research and how scientists can work to address current societal challenges.
Collin Kieffer, PhD
Collin Kieffer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of microbiology in the School of Molecular & Cellular Biology and has an affiliate appointment in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Research in the Kieffer Lab is focused on mechanisms of HIV pathogenesis in animal models and human patient samples, and the development and application of multiscale tissue imaging methods. Learn more.
Danielle Campbell, PhD
Danielle Campbell is a recent PhD graduate from the Department of Microbiology, in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and was co-advised by Dr. Rachel Whitaker and Dr. Patrick Degnan. In her PhD work, Danielle combined molecular and computational biology to study phages and other mobile genetic elements carried by the prominent human gut symbiont Bacteroides. A paper on this research was recently published in Cell Reports. Danielle is interested in understanding how mobile genetic elements can have cascading effects on bacterial hosts, the gut microbiome, and human-microbiome interactions. She is currently in the process of transitioning to a postdoctoral research position in the lab of Dr. Megan Baldridge in the Division of Infectious Disease at Washington University in St. Louis’s School of Medicine. Learn more.
Hannah Holscher, PhD
Learn more about Hannah Holscher, PhD, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Division of Nutritional Sciences. Her research focuses on the clinical application of nutritional sciences with an overarching goal of improving human health through dietary modulation of the gastrointestinal microbiome.
Holly Tuten, PhD
Dr. Holly Tuten is an associate scientist and vector ecologist at the Prairie Research Institute. At the Illinois Natural History Survey, she leads the statewide tick & tick-borne pathogen surveillance program in collaboration and supported by the Illinois Department of Public Health and CDC. Other research interests include regulatory issues regarding genetically-modified vectors, development of taxonomic resources for vectors, developing control measures for vector-borne diseases, and developing training and outreach materials related to tick-borne disease prevention. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Tuten discusses her research journey and how the work she is involved in is improving health.
Jacob Allen, PhD
Dr. Jacob Allen is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health. His research program at Illinois concentrates on specific environmental interventions and conditions — 1. Exercise 2. Psychological Stress and 3. Diet — that influence gut microbial communities and metabolite production during both homeostatic and pathological disease states. In his researcher spotlight, Dr. Allen discusses how Illinois’ collaborative atmosphere has allowed his research to flourish and the importance of improving science communications and outreach.
Jason Ridlon, PhD
Jason Ridlon, PhD, is an assistant professor of gut microbiology with appointments in the Department of Animal Sciences, the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Prof. Ridlon is helping to find treatment strategies to improve human health and animal well-being. He studies gut microbiology, specifically the biochemistry and molecular biology of steroid and bile acid biotransformations by the gut microbiota. Learn more.
Jeff Woods, PhD
Jeff Woods, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, Director of the Center on Health, Aging, and Disability, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Applied Health Sciences, and was recently named the first Mottier Family Professor of Applied Health Sciences. His research focuses on the effects of exercise on the immune system, the gut microbiome, and aging. Learn more.
Jen Reinhart, PhD
Jennifer M. Reinhart, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (SAIM), DACVCP is an assistant professor of small animal internal medicine in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine. She received her D.V.M. from the University of Illinois in 2010 and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2017. She is double boarded in veterinary internal medicine and veterinary clinical pharmacology. Dr. Reinhart’s research focuses on endocrine diseases of dogs and cats and improved use of therapeutics across veterinary species. Learn more.
Katy Heath, PhD
Katy Heath, PhD, is an associate professor of Plant Biology in the School of Integrative Biology and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Research in the Heath Lab for Coevolutionary Genomics focuses on the evolution of mutualisms, which are most generally defined as species interactions that increase the fitness of both (or all) partners. Learn more.
Kristin Farley, PhD
Kristin Farley, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the Vanderpool Lab in the Department of Microbiology. Farley is credited with establishing the Microbial Early-Career Researchers Association (MicroERA) in 2019 alongside other graduate students and postdocs from the department of Microbiology and with the help of Cari Vanderpool, director of the Microbial Systems Initiative. She now serves as one of two postdoctoral advisors for MicroERA. Learn more.
Leila Shinn, PhD
Learn more about Leila Shinn, MS, RDN, FAND, third-year PhD candidate in Dr. Hannah Holscher’s Nutrition and Human Microbiome Laboratory in the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Enivronmental Sciences. Her dissertation research focuses on the impact of diet on the gastrointestinal microbiota, metagenome, and metabolome, with a goal of creating personalized microbiota-tailored dietary recommendations.
Matthew Stasiewicz, PhD
Matthew Stasiewicz, Ph.D, is a professor of Applied Food Safety in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. His research in the Stasiewicz Food Safety Laboratory is primarily focused on applying engineering and data analytic approaches to modern microbiology problems to advance food safety microbiology. Some current projects include conducting simulation analyses of food systems, modeling the risk of pathogens in leafy greens and poultry products, and developing new tools to improve food safety. In his researcher spotlight, Dr Stasiewicz discusses his research journey and other projects that further his mission to leverage food safety innovation and achieve food security.
Nicholas Wu, PhD
Dr. Nicholas Wu is an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry. His long-term research interests focus on the driving forces and functional constraints of virus evolution, using multidisciplinary approaches involving molecular virology, evolutionary biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and structural biology. In his researcher spotlight, Dr. Wu discusses his research journey and his current research projects related to COVID-19.
Pamela Martinez, PhD
Dr. Pamela Martinez is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and the Department of Statistics. Her research lies at the intersection of ecology and the evolution of microorganisms to better understand how immunological and evolutionary processes influence the emergence and maintenance of pathogen diversity. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Martinez discusses her research journey and how she has aided in efforts to address the effects of COVID-19.
Paola Mera, PhD
Dr. Paola Mera is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology. Her lab’s research aims at filling the gaps in knowledge to control the life cycle of bacteria so that they can design better ways to enhance the growth of the “good” bacteria and inhibit the growth of the ones that cause disease. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Mera discusses her journey to discover her passion for research and the impact of becoming a part of the Illinois microbial community.
Pooja Agashe, PhD Candidate
Pooja Agashe is a fifth-year graduate student in the Kuzminov Lab in the Department of Microbiology. Pooja’s graduate work at Illinois is focused on mechanisms of DNA damage and repair in E. coli and investigating the synergistic lethality of nitric oxide with hydrogen peroxide. She is also an intern at the Office of Technology Management. Learn more.
Rachel J Whitaker, PhD
Rachel J Whitaker, PhD, is a Professor of Microbiology in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Dr. Whitaker also leads the Infection Genomics for One Health research theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). Her large research group investigates the dynamics of microbes and their viruses using a combination of genomics, experimental evolution, modeling, and molecular biology. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Whitaker discusses her research journey and her current work on campus.
Rebecca Batstone, MSc, PhD
Rebecca Batstone, MSc, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow for the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Her work in the lab has specifically focused on analyzing data from a large-scale genome-wide association study, as well as conducting her own experimental evolution study to uncover the genetic underpinnings of how nitrogen (N)-fixing bacteria, also known as rhizobia, adapt to long term N-fertilized conditions. Learn more.
Sara Ressing, M.S., M.S.Ed
Sara Ressing is the assistant director of the Microbial Systems Initiative. She began this role in September 2021 to implement the mission and educational plans of MSI and lead the development and delivery of the forthcoming Microbial Systems Analytics MS program within the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Meet Sara.
Seppe Kuehn, PhD
Seppe Kuehn, PhD, is an assistant professor of physics and member of the Center for the Physics Living Cells. His current research is directed towards understanding the fundamental principles governing dynamics in complex biological systems at two levels of organization. Learn more.
Shannon Sirk, PhD
Learn more about Shannon Sirk, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering, the Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Her research focuses on engineering beneficial traits into commensal microorganisms for therapeutic applications.
Sharon Donovan, PhD
Sharon Donovan, PhD, RD, professor and Melissa M. Noel Endowed Chair in Nutrition and Health, conducts basic and translational research in pediatric nutrition. On-going work in the lab focuses on optimizing intestinal and cognitive development of neonates, development of the gut microbiome, prevention of childhood obesity, and picky eating in children. Learn more.
Shulei Wang, PhD
Dr. Shulei Wang is an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics. His research interest is to develop novel statistical methodology and scalable computational tools to analyze large-scale and complex biomedical data, with a goal of providing insight into complex biological systems. Dr. Wang’s past research primarily strived to apply rigorous statistical thinking to developing methods in order to solve problems arising from the analysis of the human microbiome and microscopic imaging data. In his researcher spotlight, Dr. Wang discusses his research journey and how Illinois’ collaborative environment supports his research.
Stephen Boppart, PhD
Learn more about Stephen Boppart, MD, PhD, an Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Bioengineering. His research focuses on developing novel optical imaging technologies and translating these into clinical use.
Sumiti Vinayak Alam, PhD
Dr. Sumiti Vinayak Alam is an associate professor of parasitology in the Department of Pathobiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine. At the Vinayak Lab, she leads research focused on the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium parvum, a leading cause of diarrheal disease and mortality in young children and ruminant livestock. In her researcher spotlight, Dr. Vinayak discusses her research journey and how the work she is involved in is improving health and decreasing mortality in infants.
Ting Lu, PhD
Ting Lu, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering. He also has affiliate appointments with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Before joining the faculty at Illinois, he completed a doctorate in biophysics at the University of California at San Diego. Research in the Lu Research Lab is primarily focused on the analysis, modeling, and construction of bacterial gene circuits for uncovering biological design principles and advancing biotechnological applications. Learn more.
Thomas Kehl-FIe, PhD
Dr. Thomas Kehl-Fie is an associate professor of microbiology in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Dr. Kehl-Fie’s research is focused on exploring bacterial and antibiotic resistant infections and gaining a more complete understanding of what is important for pathogens to cause infection and disease. The Kehl-Fie lab is also focused on microbiological approaches, biochemical studies, and advanced elemental analysis in order to understand how nutrient starvation impacts bacterial pathogens during infection and identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention. In his researcher spotlight, Dr. Kehl-Fie discusses how his research aims to make a positive impact on human health and its ties to the collaborative environment of the Illinois community.
Yumi Iwadate, PhD
Dr. Yumi Iwadate is a postdoctoral fellow in the Slauch Lab in the Department of Microbiology and serves as one of two postdoctoral advisors for the Microbial Early-Career Researchers Association (MicroERA). Dr. Iwadate’s work focuses on the relationship between polyamines and magnesium to understand how polyamine efflux increases virulence, which is one of most important metals for virulence of Salmonella. Learn more.