Current Students

Natalie Sawaya

Natalie Sawaya is a PhD candidate in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s Marine Genomics Lab at the College of Marine Science in the University of South Florida. Natalie’s research focuses on using molecular techniques to study the diversity marine organisms.

Natalie’s current project focuses on studying gokushoviruses in the Red Sea and the Florida Keys. Gokushoviruses are single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) viruses that infect bacteria and are ubiquitous in marine environments, but little is known about their diversity and abundance. This knowledge gap is partly due to the methodological limitations associated with studying ssDNA phages. In order to elucidate Gokishoviruses ecological role Natalie will be looking at their diversity using next generation sequencing and will be quantifying their abundance using a new molecular technique known as the polony method in collaboration with the Lindell Lab.

Natalie has also worked as a part of the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) project which aims to assess the diversity of marine organisms at various marine sanctuaries through metabarcoding environmental DNA (eDNA). Environmental DNA is the DNA left behind by organisms in the water through shedding of cells, scales, mucus and fecal matter. Analyzing eDNA enables a water sample to provide the composition of an entire ecosystem at a higher resolution than visual surveys alone, which will be very useful to determining the health and understanding the dynamics of that ecosystem. Get to know Natalie Sawaya.

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Caitlyn Parente

Caitlyn is a M.S. student working with Dr. Kristen Buck and Dr. Mya Breitbart. Her research will explore the potential interaction between iron and marine viruses. Iron, a trace metal, is essential to life and plays a vital role in primary production, yet it is found in very small quantities in the open ocean. While a variety of factors, such as organic complexation, can lead to a decrease in bioavailable iron, Caitlyn’s research will investigate how marine viruses may be capturing iron, using it as a mechanism to invade host organisms (the Ferrojan Horse hypothesis), and effectively decreasing iron’s bioavailability in the open ocean. Get to know Caitlyn Parente.

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Keith Keel

Keith is a M.S. student in Dr. Breitbart’s marine genomics lab. His research involves investigating the spawning patterns of fishes in the Gulf of Mexico by DNA barcoding fish eggs collected from the West Florida Shelf.

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Bella Ritchie

Bella is a PhD student in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s lab.  Before joining the lab, Bella spent a field season working for the North Dakota State University Pollinator Survey, and at Vanderbilt University for two years as a research assistant in Dr. Seth Bordenstein’s lab. While her background has mostly involved terrestrial arthropod research, Bella is now working on viral discovery in seagrasses and aquatic plants.

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Alicia Hoeglund

Ever go to the beach and experience respiratory irritation and/or see dead marine life? If so, you’ve likely interacted with my study organism, Karenia brevis, aka Florida Red Tide. I have spent the last 6 years studying this species and closely related species of the same genus while working at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWC-FWRI) right next door to CMS. My work has focused primarily on new technologies that are being developed to detect and quantify K. brevis, including field-based genetic detection and field-based microscopic detection. For my graduate work I am hoping to continue these studies while also diving deeper into genetic techniques while working with Dr. Mya Breitbart and Dr. Kate Hubbard (FWRI).

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Alexis Mitchem

Alexis is a first-year PhD student in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s lab. Her research involves applying molecular tools, such as DNA barcoding, to fish eggs collected seasonally from the West Florida Shelf to identify crucial areas that are being utilized by economically important fish species. She intends to further identify how physical parameters such as surface currents affect the distribution and transport range of these fish eggs and to what extent.

Her current project focuses on identifying sites on the West Florida Shelf that are spawning hotspots for yellowedge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus), a deep-water species that is of commercial and recreational importance but is largely data deficient compared to shallow-water groupers.

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