My research combines the tools of nutrition, physiology, microbial ecology, and anthropology to answer critical questions in organismal biology. Specifically, I study the gut microbiota and how its responses to shifts in host diet or physiology affect host nutrition and health. Such interactions are likely to affect host fitness and have important  implications for host ecology and evolution. My work addresses these topics in both non-human primates and humans.


IGB-BGI Workshop

I've recently returned from a workshop in Shenzhen, China hosted by the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI). I traveled with a group of seventeen postdocs and faculty members (and one other graduate student) from the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The trip was extremely long, but it was very interesting to see all of the research that goes on at BGI. The amount of sequencing capacity that they have is incredible, and their engineering and programming resources are amazing. The visions they have for advancing research and technology are certainly far-reaching. I especially enjoyed talking with some of their microbiome specialists.

I should also mention that the group from the University of Illinois was fantastic. Everyone was enthusiastic both about the workshop and about exploring our surroundings. I learned quite a bit from our discussion sessions after the BGI presentations and look forward to more discussions in the future.

The Institute for Genomic Biology has posted a brief summary of some of our activities at BGI:


Lab Update

Research is on-schedule! I have completed almost all laboratory work for this project. Once I have all the data back I can start analyzing and writing. Of course, I have been analyzing some of the data over the past few months already, and there have been several writing projects on my plate as well. I currently have two manuscripts and one book chapter in review.

With regard to the lab work, it's amazing how many samples we collected while in Palenque. This dataset is truly enormous. I've included a picture from one step of one analysis to provide an idea of how much processing all of these samples required. It would be interesting to know if I've clocked as many hours in the laboratory as I did in the field in Palenque. Probably not, but I have spent enough hours bent over a lab bench that it's nice to be approaching a temporary stopping point (as I finish my dissertation and move on to the next project). Needless to say, there should be some interesting papers as a result of all of this work.


Lab Update

To date, I have extracted DNA from all of the samples I collected in the field in Palenque National Park and surrounding areas. Thanks to the help of two assistants, Jill and Andrew, this part of the lab work went very quickly. Now, I am continuing analyses using the DNA and hope to have preliminary results soon! (I presented some preliminary data comparing the gut bacteria of howler groups living in forest fragments to those living in the continuous forest of Palenque National Park at the American Society of Primatologists annual meetings in Austin, TX in September.) Stay tuned for publications!


Updates - Round 3 Weeks 9 & 10

Field data collection is complete! Our last day of field work was June 25, and now we are in the final stages of organizing samples for shipment and packing everything up in our cabana. Last weekend I was unable to write an update because we were traveling in San Cristobal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutierrez. I went to Tuxtla to get my export permit for the last batch of fecal samples. All went smoothly except that the system wouldn't print the permit so I had to go back a second day to pick it up. I was also able to verify my plant identifications at the herbarium at EcoSur, a university in San Cristobal. It was a busy couple of days, but I left feeling like I got a lot done.

The last two weeks in the field were pretty routine. We got our samples without a problem...although there were a few days when the monkeys made themselves difficult to observe. Leaving the Balam group for the last time and then the Motiepa group was a little hard. We are both tired from all the hard work we have been doing, but the forest is so beautiful here, and of course, we enjoy being around the monkeys. We'll be so busy with last-minute errands here that I don't think the reality of the situation will hit me until I'm already gone. Even so, I'm trying to enjoy my last few days in Palenque and plan on taking one more walk through the forest before I leave.

Updates will probably be less regular once I start the labwork in Champaign. Labwork doesn't have exciting surprises like snakes. However, I'm confident that I will find some interesting patterns in my data. I will be sure to update as much as I can and to notify when anything gets published.


Updates - Round 3 Week 8

Week 9 flew by. The nightly rains have continued so the heat remains tolerable. However, the behavior of the Motiepa group this week matched that of the Balam group last week. There were not as many intergroup encounters, but the Motiepa group traveled almost the entire length of its territory almost every day. The Motiepa group has a much larger territory than the Balam group and is located on a long incline. Although the distances we traveled each time they moved were still less than a kilometer, the hill made the journey seem hotter and longer. In addition to that, most of the traveling the monkeys did was along the small river that runs through their territory. The river is beautiful and full of cascading waterfalls (due to the inclined terrain), but following the monkeys back and forth across it as they moved along made for some wet afternoons.

Other than the monkeys, we ran into several agoutis and a coral snake this week. The monkeys also spent a couple days in a fruiting fig tree overhanging the largest waterfall in their territory, and we were able to spot a huge variety of birds, including mot-mots and toucans.