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Professors Awarded Major Grant by National Science Foundation

Professors Erika Ebbs and Stephen Harris will study symbiotic communities among ducks.

Assistant Professors of Biology Erika Ebbs and Stephen Harris have been awarded a major grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support their research.

The grant comes from an NSF program that aims to build the research capacity of new faculty in biology and provides funding for equipment, supplies, technical assistance, and other expenses. The grant will support numerous student research projects over the coming three years.

The Project

Their project is “BRC-BIO—Expanding the ‘community’ in Community Genetics: Infracommunity genomics of duck symbionts to determine the eco-evolutionary factors underpinning holobiont evolution.”

It focuses on symbiotic communities, or situations where one species (the host) has other species (various kinds of microbes) living in or around it, and they all rely on and co-evolve with each other.

In the research that Ebbs and Harris conduct with their students, the host species are ducks and the microbes include particular viruses and parasites.

Using state-of-the-art methods and equipment for genomic sequencing, the research will yield a fuller understanding of the population genetics and evolutionary dynamics of symbiotic communities, which have been relatively understudied until now.

“We hope to understand better how and why symbiotic communities form, specifically in relation to the hosts’ (ducks) ecology,” says Ebbs. “For example, how migration, habitat choice, and feeding behavior might determine the parasite communities within hosts.

“Waterfowl harbor numerous zoonotic diseases (animal to human transmission), and we hope that understanding symbiotic communities within these hosts over different ecological variables will help us predict how such zoonotic diseases might be affected by human-mediated change,” Ebbs adds.

It will fund the development of three Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) within the Biology Department.

The Professors

Assistant Professor Ebbs

Assistant Professor of Biology Erika Ebbs is an evolutionary parasitologist who uses population genetic, phylogenetic, and ecological tools to understand host-parasite relationships across time and space.

Ebbs is a SUNY PRODiG fellow. The PRODiG program aims to inspire underrepresented students by increasing the diversity of SUNY faculty across the system.

Assistant Professor Harris

Assistant Professor of Biology Stephen Harris’s research uses genomics and bioinformatics to study the evolution, ecology, and behavior of natural populations in response to environmental change.

Performing fieldwork in urban ecosystems in New York City, coral reefs in the Florida Keys and Belize, and tropical forests in Indonesia led to his passion for democratizing science by using the latest innovations in biotechnology to build portable, low-cost, and user-friendly sequencing labs for research and education.

In pursuing this mission, he recently co-founded and is director of Science-Corps, which sends recent PhD graduates abroad to teach science and build science capacity globally.