Mixed Metaphor of Insect Research

Postdoc Scott Villa shows off his new mask. Postdoc Scott Villa tried to blend in amongst the insects in his incubator today, wearing a monarch inspired mask. Unfortunately, the squash bugs were not fooled. 

Scott works both in the de Roode lab, studying sexual selection in monarch butterflies and in the Gerardo lab, studying hybridization and speciation in squash bugs. Sometimes, he gets confused and mixes the two together. 

Summer Research Thrives Despite the Distance

Synéja and Whitney are both rising seniors at Spelman College. During the summer, with support from the LGS-SOAR program and under the guidance of postdoc Scott Villa, they spearheaded projects aimed at understanding the traits used in monarch butterfly mate choice. Synéja’s project looked at the role of male body size on mating success. Whitney’s project involved the role of male wing color and mating success. Despite being isolated at home, both did an amazing job analyzing videos of monarch behavior while coordinating experiments and data analysis with me via zoom.
Scott, their mentor, write, “without students like Synéja and Whitney, my research would have ground to a halt this summer.”
We look forward to bringing undergraduates back to the lab in the full once the pandemic is over, but, for now, we cherish the opportunities that we still have to work with such amazing students.

Zoom Science. Undergrads Syneja and Whitney meet with Scott, their summer research mentor.

Dr. Erica Harris receives a PhD and mentoring recognition

After an unprecedented COVID-quarantine finish, Erica Harris, through the power of ZOOM, successfully defended her PhD thesis on the influence of gut microbes on monarch butterfly parasite resistance. Throughout her graduate career, Erica mentored numerous undergraduates in our lab and in the lab of her co-advisor, Jaap de Roode. She has also mentored students through such programs as ESA-SEEDs, which supports the mentoring of students from diverse backgrounds who are interested in ecology. In recognition of her commitment to mentoring, Erica received the Laney Graduate School Eleanore Main Student Mentor Award. Erica will continue her science career through a combined research-teaching postdoc at Spelman University. 

Note from former graduate student Kim Hoang to Erica upon her successful defense.

A celebration of Nicole

The Population Biology, Ecology, and Evolution (PBEE) graduate program recently held a retreat for students, postdocs, and faculty to get together. We ended the event with a surprise celebration for Nicole in honor of her 7 years as a leader in the program. The graduate students and the Gerardo lab got together and discussed ways in which we can show how much we appreciate everything Nicole has done for the students. We decided on three items:

  1.  A “graduation cap” for Nicole, where we make a hat decorated with tokens
    representing labs in PBEE (right: top view of hat). We presented her with the hat at the retreat (top). The hat-making crew got to put our problem-solving skills to use several times during the process of making the hat (bottom), but we made it work in the end!
  2. A video montage composed of clips from Gerardo lab alumni and current PBEE students expressing their gratitude. The touching and kind words in this video are a reflection of how much of an impact Nicole has made as a mentor and program leader. I’m grateful to the many people who submitted a clip.
  3. A baking contest to celebrate Nicole’s love of and skill in baking. Nicole served as one of the judges, and there were a ton of delicious treats to start off dinner!  


Semester successes

In addition to passing their quals, Kayla and Sandra also managed other accomplishments this semester. The Society for the Study of Evolution awarded Kayla an R.C. Lewontin Early Award grant to collect field samples for her dissertation research. Only 24 out of over 150 applicants received the award!

Sandra joined the biology department’s volleyball team (in the midst of quals), and they placed second in this year’s Staff Fest tournament! Below is Sandra in action (left) and showcasing her medal (right).

Congratulations, Wen-Hao!

Wen-Hao recently successfully defended his PhD dissertation! The lab made him a graduation cap decorated with various aspects of his research, from hungry monarch caterpillars, to structures of cardenolide and DNA, to fungus-infected aphids. Jaap and Nicole bestowed the cap to Wen-Hao at the defense party, much to his surprise. We hope to keep the tradition going with all future graduates!

We contain multitudes

A couple of years ago, our lab read Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes. This year during the Atlanta Science Festival, we got a chance to hear him give a talk on microbes and participate in a panel discussion on the intersection between science and theater. We also got our books signed afterwards!