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  • Writer's pictureAlison Ravenscraft

Spring 2023 update

Spring 2023 was a semester full of achievements and milestones for the lab!

Graduate students Aly, Bibek and Rachel all passed their qualifying exams! They all worked long and hard on their proposals and presentations and did great jobs. CONGRATULATIONS! Their proposal titles were:

  • Bibek Parajuli: The implications of environmental acquisition of microbial symbionts: cost-benefit tradeoffs, evolutionary, ecological, and molecular dynamics

  • Aly Blanton: Insecticide degradation by Caballeronia symbionts within the gut of Leptoglossus zonatus

  • Rachel Vargas: Characterizing gut microbial communities and symbiont-mediated detoxification in grasshoppers

Graduate student Patrick Stillson was awarded UTA's Chad Watkins Memorial Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentorship of Undergraduate Research in Biology. This award recognizes Patrick's outstanding mentoring of Kaisy Martinez, who joined our lab in Summer 2021 as an LSAMP student. Under Patrick's guidance, Kaisy investigated whether the reason Caballeronia aren’t transmitted to the offspring is that they are harmful to eggs or newly hatched nymphs; assisted with a large and ambitious experiment that tested the hypothesis that the temperature tolerance of symbiotic Caballeronia bacteria constrains the fitness of host bugs; and, finally, led a project testing for correlation between presence of symbiosis-associated genes in a Caballeronia genome and differences in symbiont-conferred benefits to bug hosts. They are currently writing up a manuscript for publication.

Undergraduate Lillian Stormhawk presented her Senior Capstone Project. Lillian joined the lab in Fall 2021, when she began assisting with Aly's dissertation research. As she gained experience, Lillian had questions about the best method for inoculating our insects (Leptoglossus) with the symbiotic bacteria (Caballeronia) they require for survival. With Aly's guidance, Lillian developed proposal to test different methods. She performed an insect rearing experiment followed by DNA extraction and PCR to verify infection status. She found that cultured cells were more effective than natural soil - which is surprising, given that wild insects acquire the symbiont from soil. Lillian's capstone presentation was titled "A comparison of laboratory methods to infect Leptoglossus bugs with Caballeronia bacteria." Lillian is currently writing up her manuscript for publication.

Undergraduate Adriana Juanita Bailey presented her research at UTA's 2023 DISCOVER Student Research Symposium and earned first prize in the undergraduate division. Adriana joined the lab in Spring 2021 and assisted Aly with her research on symbiotic pesticide detoxification. They found several Caballeronia strains that weakly degrade pesticides. Adriana's DISCOVER presentation was titled “Pesticide degradation through the free-living bacteria Burkholderia.” Read more about it here! Adriana has also been awarded a scholarship to present her research at the 2023 SACNAS conference in Portland, OR.

Congratulations to everyone on a fantastic semester!

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