Current Lab Members

Jose (Joe) Lopez, Ph.D.

Professor, Nova Southeastern University
Principle Investigator

I earned a BS at Georgia Tech, an MS at Florida State University, and my doctorate at George Mason University studying the evolution of mitochondrial DNA and its transpositions (Numt) in feline nuclear genomes under Stephen J. O’Brien. I then applied his training in postdoctoral appointments at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute with Nancy Knowlton characterizing the Orbicella annularis coral sibling species complex at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and sponge genetics at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute with Shirley Pomponi. The latter introduced me to investigate deepwater marine systems. Since 2007, our laboratory at Nova Southeastern University focuses on the genomic sequences from marine organisms and essential microbes in diverse projects. Our lab was a partner in the Porifera Tree of Life (PorToL) project to study the systematics of sponges. We are trying to better understand food webs and microbial distributions in the deep ocean through the DEEPEND project after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This includes characterizing “symbiotic” interactions (between host and beneficial microbes living together in sponges, corals, humans and fish (see bioluminescent symbionts of anglerfish. I also helped found the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance (GIGA) in 2013 which focuses on the genomes of diverse marine invertebrates comprising the Tree of Life. GIGA is now part of the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP) that aims to sequence most of the planet’s eukaryotic species. We are now focusing on inland Florida microbial communities which may be linked harmful algal blooms (HABs) that reach coral reefs and degrade water quality.


Postdoctoral Researchers

Lauren Krausfeldt, Ph.D.
I am a microbial ecologist who uses a suite of tools to study harmful algal blooms in aquatic ecosystems. My current project uses metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to characterize microbial community composition & function in Lake Okeechobee. Our goal is to identify specific triggers of cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding tributaries. I received my B.Sc. in Biology from Elmhurst College and my Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Graduate Students

Colleen Mcmaken
I graduated from Nova Southeastern University with Bachelors in Marine Biology and Biology and will be starting in the Master’s program for Marine Biology for the Fall 2019 semester. I have been a volunteer in the lab since my junior year at NSU helping with DNA extractions from water, soil, and sponge samples and other various tasks that graduate students have needed assistance with. I am currently assisting with a microbiome study on the endangered flowering plant Deeringothamnus rugelii (commonly known as Rugel’s pawpaw or yellow squirrel banana) from multiple locations found at Bok Tower Gardens. My research interests include microbiome studies to help with the conservation of marine species. I am hoping to pursue my research interests through a thesis project on the impacts of microbial transfer from the sand to the eggs of sea turtles in South Florida.

Alexis Berger
My project is focused on characterizing the bacterial symbionts in the pyrosome, specifically the pelagic tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum. These tunicatescan be found in tropical and temperate waters ranging from 45°N to 45°S. With rising sea temperatures, the pyrosome has been recorded outside its normal habitat range and with it its brilliant luminescence. This tunicate is well known for its bioluminescence and it has been observed since the 1840s. In this study, the bacterial symbionts believed to be responsible for the luminescence were observed using electron microscopy. We found that bacteria are in fact present within Pyrosoma atlanticum, both SEM and TEM confirmed the bacterial presence. The next stage of this project is to observe the light organs histologically and to identify the bacteria itself. We will be using either PCR or Sanger sequencing of the 16s rRNA gene to determine its identity and to develop probes for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).

John Pettingill

John is a Graduate Student in the Lopez Molecular Biology Lab. He is from Maine, and received a B.A. in Biology from Ave Maria University in Naples, FL, where he also earned a degree in piano performance. John is studying the lettuce sea slug, Elysia crispata, and its ability to steal chloroplasts from the algae it consumes. His research focuses on genetic adaptations and mechanisms for maintaining this symbiosis.


Staff and Undergraduates

We are indebted to several individuals who have worked or volunteered in the laboratory as temporary, grant-funded staff or undergraduates looking to gain practical lab experience. Until we can get proper bios, there names are listed below.

Nina Pruzinsky

Catherine Bilodeau

Christian Rodriguez

Kristen Olenchak

Anna Volter

Celeste Banfill

Elena Grosu

Amanda Haussman

Bryce Parrish