Ales Bucek, postdoc

I have a long-term scientific interest and fascination for the molecular basis of evolution of novelties in insects. During my Ph.D. research (Institute of organic chemistry and biochemistry, Prague, Czech republic) I studied how the enzymatic properties of pheromone biosynthetic enzymes influence the evolution of sex pheromone communication in moths (Tobacco hornworm moth - Manduca sexta) and in Hymenoptera (bumblebees  - ApidaeBombus). 

For my postdoc I devoted to another extraordinarily evolutionary successful, yet understudied, insect group: termites. I intend to answer how termites evolved their sophisticated chemical defense arsenal, how do they interact with, and adapt to, a range of parasites. More generally, I aim to uncover the genomic and transcriptomic underpinnings their diverse life strategies.



Lucia Zifcakova, postdoc

I am a microbiologist with strong background in molecular biology. During my Ph.D. in the Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology, Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague, Czech Republic), I worked on the ecology of microbial communities in temperate forest ecosystems. My research have combined multi-omics approaches, with measurement of enzyme activities in situ, and with chemical analyzes of soil content. This multidimensional approach allows a precise measurement of microbial activity, including the activities that have strong influence on the environment, such as carbon cycling in the soil.


During my postdoctoral fellowship in the Evolutionary genomics unit, I intent to characterize fungal, bacterial and archaeal communities in the guts of termites. I will also determine the role of microbes in the processing of lignocellulose and soil, the food source of most termites. Another goal is to determine how closely fungal symbionts coevolve with their termite hosts, and how termite feeding habits selects for specific fungal symbionts.


In my free time, I am enjoying calligraphy, snorkeling, as well as any activity that keeps me away from computer.


Taisuke Kanao, postdoc

I got my doctor degree from Kyushu University in 2015, and then spent three years in Kyoto University as a JSPS postdoctoral fellow. I joined the Evolutionary Genomics Unit at OIST in April 2018. I miss the excellent craft beer bar of Kyoto! 
I am interested in diversity and natural history of termite-guest insects: termitophiles. Termitophilous species are known from a broad range of insect groups, and their unusual morphology and behavior has always attracted me. I study species diversity, evolutionary history, and ecology of termitophilous rove beetles of the subfamily Aleocharinae, which includes many termitophilous species. I performed field surveys to collect fresh specimens of termitophiles. The insect collections have been used for descriptions of new species and estimation of phylogenetic relationships. I am also working on behavioral and chemical ecology of termitophilous rove beetles. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, my work focus on the reconstruction of the phylogenetic tree of termitophylous rove beetles, scuttle flies and silver fishes.


Crystal Clitheroe, technician


I'm Crystal, technician in the Evolutionary Genomics Unit. I've been at OIST since August 2015 and I am originally from South Africa. I come from a multidisciplinary background studying Microbiology, Biochemistry, Invertebrates and Bioinformatics. I am curious about all things, especially evolution and how computers can help us to do better biological research. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I am processing samples for sequencing, and time to time write a piece of code for data analyses. My hobbies are reading, coding and dancing. I am very excited to be involved in research studying the fascinating existence of termites! 


Yukihiro Kinjo, technician


Symbiosis is ubiquitous in nature and is one of the most important driving force of organism evolution. To get a better understanding of the diversity of life, we need to elucidate how organisms evolved in symbiotic systems. The most extreme case of such system is obligate symbiosis, in which both parties cannot survive alone. During my PhD, I worked on comparative genomics and studied the genome evolution of Blattabacterium, the intracellular bacterium (endosymbiont) of cockroaches. I intended to determine how host ecological changes affect the evolution of their endosymbiont genome. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I will continue working on this question and try to determine how environmental factors drive the genome evolution of endosymbionts. 



Jigyasa Arora, PhD student


I am Jigyasa, from New Delhi, the capital city of India. Born and raised in one of the most metropolitan city of the country, I love trying new cuisines and meeting new people. After finishing my undergraduation from University of Delhi, I travelled to U.K for masters in University of Essex. To learn and travel more, I moved to Okinawa, Japan, for an internship and fell in love with the tropical climate, scientific environment of OIST, and the Japanese culture. I am currently working as graduate student in Evolutionary Genomics lab at OIST and exploring the termite gut environment, especially the role of bacterial symbionts in lignocellulosic degradation. During my free time, I like to travel and learn different dance forms.



Menglin Wang, PhD student


My name is Menglin, and I am a PhD student in the Evolutionary Genomic Unit. I am Chinese and I got a master degree in Botany in 2015 from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Science. During my master I studied the reproductive biology and pollination strategy of Bauhinia. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I am using high throughput sequencing-generated data to study the historical biogeography of termites. I am also interested by the coevolution between termites and termitophilous insects. 



Lazzat Aibekova, rotation student (September-December 2018)


During my undergraduate studies, I had been investigating the molecular epidemiology of HIV in central Asia and former Soviet Union countries (FSU). The projects were dedicated to understanding the development and recent trends in the transmission of HIV epidemic in the FSU region. My projects were closely related to Evolutionary genomics, and I feel I need to expand the horizons, and venture into new areas of research. So, now I am really enthusiastic to go on and do some research in this field as a rotation student in the Evolutionary Genomics Unit.



Julian Katzke, rotation student (Mai-August 2018)


Coming from a paleontological background, molecular evolution has been the topic everyone talks about, but which doesn’t really show up. Coming to OIST, this is the right time and place and I want to expand my knowledge to more G, C, A, and T (maybe even U). Here in the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I am focusing on learning how to build molecular phylogenetic trees. I am glad to help unit members analyzing the vast Termite metagenomics dataset by reconstructing evolutionary relationships across one of the most intimate and co-dependent organismal lifestyles, i.e. that of a host and its gut symbionts.



Stefano Pascarelli, rotation student (Mai-August 2018)


Mensore! My background is Bioinformatics but I’ve always been attracted by the lab world. In my previous experiences, I did research in Padova, Bologna and Heidelberg. The main focus of study for my PhD is evolution. Evolution is the ground work of organisms complexity, and it takes place from the molecular level to the larger scale of populations. Specifically, in this lab I plan to understand the underlying mechanism of co-evolution between symbiont and host, and how it can help in phylogenetic studies.



Jekaterina Stemmere, rotation student (January-April 2018)


I was born in Riga, Latvia, a place with a long and interesting history. Then, soon after graduation from secondary school, I moved to the Netherlands to study chemistry and biology. I studied in various universities in different parts of the Netherlands – Hogeshool Zeeland, Wageningen University and Leiden University, where I participated in a project of a local natural history museum – Naturalis, during which I fell in love with museomics, the genetic study of museum specimens. Here at OIST, I am working hard on my PhD, and I am building the solid foundations I need for my future career in museomics!




Tracy Audisio rotation student (January-April 2018)


My past research experience focused on the taxonomy, phylogenetic relationships, and biogeography of cave obligate spiders. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I am applying my background in systematic biology to describe a new species of termitophilous spider. These spiders are obligate to termite nests and have special morphological and physiological adaptations that enable them to live undetected among termites. I am collecting morphological data using micro-CT and performing gut content analyses to understand the ecology and evolution of this unique species.

In my spare time, I enjoy going on adventures both above and below ground.