Members

Ales Bucek, Postdoctoral Researcher

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 am devoting 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.

 

Yukihiro Kinjo, Postdoctoral Researcher

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 intend 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. 

 

Simon Hellemans, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow

In 2015, I undertook my PhD in the Evolutionary Biology & Ecology lab at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB; Brussels, Belgium), during which I investigated the ecology and the evolution of the conditional use of sex in a group of phylogenetically related neotropical termites. Notably, we described the first nutritional symbiosis between termites and the endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia —most notorious for being a master manipulator of arthropods’ reproductive biology.

During my JSPS postdoctoral fellowship in the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I will keep on investigating the epidemiology of such peculiar endosymbiotic bacteria through a near-complete time-calibrated mitogenomic tree of South American termites. Using a cophylogenetic framework, I will trace the evolutionary history of these bacterial lineages along the termite phylogeny to determine their rates of infection/extinction and influence on termite speciation and mitochondrial diversity. Last but not least, I will undertake comparative genomics in order to underpin the true nature of these symbioses, either mutualistic (e.g. nutritional mutualism) or parasitic, and identify their underlying molecular mechanisms.

 

Nobuaki Mizumoto, JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow (SPD)

I am a behavioral ecologist interested in the evolution of collective behavior and movement patterns of animals. My approach is a combination of mathematical modeling and empirical experiments, especially using termites. I completed my Ph.D. in 2018 at Kyoto University, studying the mate search and collective building in termites. Then, I spent two years at Arizona State University as a JSPS overseas fellow, where I focused on the tunneling behaviors of termites and untangled the complex relationship between individual behaviors and tunnel structures. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I will perform a wide range of comparative study of termite nest building as a project of JSPS Postdoctoral fellowship SPD. Comparing both individual- and group-level phenotypes along with molecular phylogeny, I will unveil the evolutionary history of impressive collective behaviors in termites. Personal website: https://sites.google.com/site/nobuakimizumoto/ 

 

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! 

 

 

Jigyasa Arora, PhD student

 

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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 undergraduate degree from the 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 degree, 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.

Tracy Audisio, PhD student

 

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. 

 
Alumni

 

Lucia Zifcakova, Postdoctoral Researcher (June 2017 - May 2020)

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 intend 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 enjoy calligraphy, snorkeling, as well as any activity that keeps me away from computer.

 

Taisuke Kanao, Postdoctoral Researcher (April 2018 - March 2020), Now Assistant Professor at Yamagata University

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.

 

Alina Mikhailova, Research Intern (September 2019 - February 2020)

 

I am an undergraduate student from Kaliningrad, Russia. My main research topic is mitochondria: I study the evolution of the mitochondrial genome structure in different species. During my internship in the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I want to learn more about the mutagenesis and evolution of termite mitochondrial DNA.

 

Dan Kozome, Rotation Student (September-December 2019)

 

I obtained a master degree in agriculture at the University of the Ryukyus, where I was engaged in engineering proteins in order to make them thermostable or to enhance their activities.

My main research interest is on the relationship between structure and function of proteins, especially how proteins acquire their functions.

In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I would like to learn about the evolutional trajectory of proteins in the termite gut.

Rio Kashimoto, Research Intern​ (February-June 2019)

 

I’m Rio, which means river in Spanish, an internship student at the Evolutionary Genomics Unit. I love hiking and eating food from around the world.

 

During my master at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, I studied lignin, one of the composite of wood. At the Evolutionary Genomics Unit, I am studying the evolution of a bacterium, named Blattabacterium, which lives in close association with cockroaches. Blattabacterium grow in specialized cockroach cells, called bacteriocytes, and participate to the metabolism of their hosts. My project aims to calculate the mutation rate of Blattabacterium in the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. Precise estimations of mutation rates are critical to understand how Blattabacterium genomes evolve.

 

 

Gaurav Agavekar, Rotation Student (January-April 2019)

 

I have broad interests in documenting biodiversity patterns, especially of insects, and elucidating the ecological and evolutionary processes shaping them. Before beginning my PhD at OIST in fall 2018, I completed a master degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore, India. For my master’s thesis I studied the diversity and community assembly of ants on the Andaman Islands in India. Since most of my previous work has been ecological, I am excited to be working in the Evolutionary Genomics for my rotation project, which broadly involves studying the evolution of symbiotic microbes associated with termites. 

 

Shubham Gautam, Rotation Student (January-April 2019)

 

Born and raised in close vicinity to nature in a rural setting of a Himalayan state of India, I have always been in love with nature and mountains. I have a master's in wildlife biology and conservation from the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, India.

Broadly, my current research interests lie in the field of evolutionary ecology; of particular interests are ecological and evolutionary causes, and consequences of developmental/phenotypic plasticity, role of evolutionary processes in ecological communities, and local adaptations across space and time. My approach to research is question-oriented and I am most interested in answering fundamental questions in ecology and evolution. In the Evolutionary Genomics Unit I am working on the evolution of Misotermes, a genus of parasitoid phorid fly developing in the head of Macrotermes soldiers.

 

 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)

 

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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!