Category Archives: Blog

News and updates from both the personal and professional sphere.

In Crust we Trust – a short visit to New Mexico

For part of my spring break I had the pleasure of visiting an old friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Nicole Pietrasiak (@drylandalgae) at New Mexico State University. What a blast!

We talked about ongoing and future collaborative projects, all of which revolve around soil algae, especially those living in cryptogamic crust communities. Dr. Pietrasiak is an expert on soil crust ecology and biodiversity, with a focus on cyanobacteria. So what is a soil crust?

This lumpy stuff on the ground ūüôā – while they may not look like much, soil crusts are a vital component of desert ecosystems. Numerous and diverse micro- and macroorganisms including fungi, bacteria, algae, protozoans, lichens, mosses and invertebrates form communities that aggregate the soil particles into, well, crusts. Without crust cover, desert soils can be extremely prone to erosion, resulting in a multitude of problems including dust storms and loss of soil. Crusts are also thought to help the establishment of native plant communities, which are essential for the ecosystem’s health and biodiversity.

Many new species of microorganisms have been discovered by studying soil crusts – this is largely thanks to the advent of DNA sequencing, which helps distinguish similar-looking but genetically and evolutionarily distinct organisms. Nevertheless, many more are undoubtedly still waiting to be discovered, as deserts emerge as the new yet rather unsuspected biodiversity hotspot. Like the Amazon rainforest, but dry! I am excited to be a tiny part of this quest for discovery.


Paper on Egyptian desert algae accepted to Journal of Phycology


Another coauthored paper (with lead author A. Saber, H. McManus, G. Guella and M. Cantonati) describing a new genus of desert algae, Pharao desertorum, was just accepted into Journal of Phycology. We also present data on three other desert isolates, and for two of them we show lipid and pigment profiles, as these putatively reflect adaptations to the desert extremophilic lifestyle of these algae. Coming soon in JPhycol Online Early!

Hydrodictyaceae paper accepted in AJB

A collaborative paper just got accepted in American Journal of Botany: McManus HA, Fuńć√≠kov√° K, Lewis PO, Lewis LA, Karol KG. Organellar phylogenomics inform systematics in the green algal family Hydrodictyaceae (Chlorophyceae) and provide clues to the complex evolutionary history of plastid genomes in the green algal Tree of Life. Coming soon in AJB open access! (image: member of Hydrodictyaceae, Pediastrum duplex – photo by Emily Norman)


AC Natural Sciences Poster Presentations

Our student researchers presented the results of their summer’s work in a poster session on Friday afternoon in the Testa atrium. We had a great turnout, and the scientific breadth covered by the various posters was really impressive – reminder how enriching it is to be in a department that includes biology, chemistry, and physics.

Super proud of Melissa, Emily (who had to run to practice before the photo was taken; I will have to photoshop her in…), Aleeza and Madison. Nice job, ladies, keep up the good work!


New paper on Oocystaceae systematics

Our paper, Molecular and morphological delimitation and generic classification of the family Oocystaceae (Trebouxiophyceae, Chlorophyta), is now accepted in Journal of Phycology ( The article sorts the diversity of Oocystaceae into subfamilies and clades based on molecular and morphological data. Many thanks to my fabulous coauthors, especially to the lead author Lenka ҆tenclov√°, who will be coming to work with me for a couple of months at Assumption College starting next week!

NEAS and PSA 2017

NEAS April 21st-23rd, Bretton Woods, NH.


The Northeast Algal Symposium (NEAS) this year was all fancy in the Mt. Washington Hotel in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. As usual, the meeting was student-focused and the grad and undergrad presentations were nothing short of amazing. And behold, I presented a fancy poster in sunrise hues.


PSA June 4th-8th, Monterey, CA.


As usual, the annual meeting of the Phycological Society of America (PSA) was a blast. Great Bold Award session, a multitude of other fabulous talks, and of course, a truly epic symposium on terrestrial algae organized by my academic sister Dr. Nicole Pietrasiak (New Mexico State University). Live tweets from the talks added a new dimension to the talks – it is interesting to see a 140 character version of one’s work! #phyco2017

A couple of interesting field trips were also part of this trip Рa tour of the Pacific Biological Laboratories once run by Ed Ricketts, a close friend and collaborator of John Steinbeck. What a spectacular intersection of science and literature!


And lastly, I managed to sneak out for a visit to Point Lobos, a wonderful natural area with lively intertidal communities, including the giant green anemone Anthopleura xanthogrammica (the host of symbiotic green algae of the genus Elliptochloris) and whole lawns of gorgeous corallines. IMG_2439.JPG


Looking forward to next year in Vancouver!

Barrows Academy Bioblitz 2017

The Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in North Windham, CT had its third annual bioblitz on Friday May 19th 2017.¬†Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world, and this time I brought Emily and Melissa along for the fun. The grand total this year was 162 species, with plants being the winning group (even over insects!), although I am sure more species will be added as the contents of the student-made insect traps are checked and identified this week. The Barrows students now have three years of species data to analyze!

It was a long and hot day for sure, and we went algae hunting on our way home (with moderate success), so definitely action-packed. Found Lemanea and some other filamentous stream macrophytes for later examination and DNA work, but not the elusive Tuomeya americana we were looking for. The search continues.IMG_2301