IMG_3794Mónica Medina, mum55 at psu dot edu

  Principal Investigator  

I am interested in a wide range of topics dealing with the ecology and evolution of marine organisms including charismatic invertebrates like corals and molluscs, as well as other less known but equally fun critters like algae, fungi and microbes. My google scholar profile is available here.

Allison Kerwin, ahk135 at psu dot edu      

Postdoctoral Fellow

I research host-microbe interactions in corals and the jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana, using next-generation sequencing and microscopy as well as experimental ecology studies to address a wide range of questions.

Sofia Roitman, sxr410 at psu dot edu

Ph.D student

I am interested in coral microbiology, microbial ecology, and host-microbe interactions. I am currently pursuing research projects that focus on the coral microbiome and how microbial diversity and community structure affect coral health and vulnerability to disease.

 Ana María González Angel, amg449 at psu dot edu

 Ph.D student

I am interested in coral reproduction, ecology and evolution; and I have focused on reproduction in the Orbicella species complex. I am studying the reproductive isolation mechanisms that prevent these organisms from interbreeding including pre-zygotic temporal isolation and pre-zygotic gamete recognition. 

Viridiana_Medina_website Viridiana Avila Magaña, vxa146 at psu dot edu

Ph.D student

My research is focused on comparative marine genomics of cnidarian-algae symbiosis. I am interested in combining bioinformatics and field research; in particular, the molecular recognition and cell-cell communication during the establishment of symbiosis between cnidarians (Corals and Jellyfish) and Symbiodinium. Thus, understanding how these mechanisms evolved in different species. Ultimately, I aim to describe coral bleaching in terms of the disruption of communication that takes place between the different members in the holobiont.

IMG_20141022_112942 Aki Ohdera, auo140 at psu dot edu

Ph.D student

I am interested in the genetics of symbiosis and am currently researching the role symbiosis plays in the lifecycle of the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana. My current projects include a) investigating the microbial interaction required to induce settlement in Cassiopea larvae, and b) investigating the role Symbiodinium plays in triggering strobilation. I use next-generation sequencing to sequence microbial genomes as well as generate transcriptomic profiles of various developmental stages. My ultimate goal is to develop the Cassiopea-Symbiodinium system for researching symbiosis driven development as well as shed light on evolutionary mechanism responsible for establishment of the symbiotic interaction between rhizostomes and Symbiodinium.

Daniel Winstead, djw5623 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am majoring in Biology with minors in Marine Science, and Wildlife and Fisheries.  I am currently studying the process of host-symbiont specificity between multiple Symbiodinium species and Cassiopea xamachana.  Like other Cnidarian organisms, each species usually has one specific symbiont that inhabits its tissues in a natural environment; however, there are many different species of Symbiodinium present in the environment.  I am currently proceeding with competitive experiments between different Symbiodinium species in varying conditions to help determine what causes successful and unsuccessful infections from symbiont to host.

Sarah Duncan, sed5414 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a freshman majoring in Biology, focusing on the Vertebrate Physiology track with a minor in Marine Science. I was excited to be able to join this lab because of my interests in marine biology and coral microbiology. My career goals include either attending graduate school to focus on marine biology or attending veterinarian school with hopes of becoming an aquatic veterinarian one day. Currently, I am being trained to perform PCR analysis and Electrophoresis Gel runs as well. I am helping to assist on the Global Coral Microbiome Project, under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Pollock and graduate student, Sofia Roitman. I look forward to learning new information and acquiring new research techniques as I grow throughout the years in this lab.

Kelly Watson,  kaw5567 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a senior majoring in general biology with a marine science minor. I am pursuing a career in the marine biology field and hope to work under NOAA Fisheries some day. I am still figuring out what I want to do within marine biology, but my current interests include marine invertebrates, coral reefs, and how the ocean and its inhabitants are being effected by climate change. I was excited to join this lab to get some hands on marine research experience and also gain knowledge that will be useful for my future career. At this time, I am assisting Aki Ohdera on an in situ project with the upside-down jellyfish, Cassiopea xamachana, to study the developmental genes involved in the polyp to medusa stage transition.

Sonia Donskaya, svd5526 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am an undergraduate sophomore pursuing a biology degree; I also hope to minor in Spanish. I am interested in working with plants and animals, especially marine animals. I am aiming for a career in which I can work with animals and I am considering a veterinary tract. I am currently working with the Medina Lab’s jellyfish. I’m excited to work in this lab because I love caring for the creatures and I am happy to be exposed to so many Spanish speakers. I will soon assist Aki in research about how the Cassiopea‘s symbionts enter it without being fought off.

Former lab members

Graduate students

Bishoy Hanna (Ph.D. student, class of 2016)

Erika Diaz (Ph.D. student, class of 2015)

Collin Closek (Ph.D. student, class of 2014)

Elizabeth Green (Master’s student, class of 2014)

Aubrie O’Rourke (Master’s student, class of 2011). Currently a Ph.D. student at KAUST.

Zer Vue (Master’s student, class of 2010). Currently at Ph.D. student at Baylor College of Medicine.

Shinichi Sunagawa (Ph.D. student, class of 2008). Currently a Research Scientist at EMBO.

Michael DeSalvo (Ph.D. student, class of 2008).


Joseph Pollock (postdoc 2015 – 2017)

Carlos Prada (postdoc 2014-2016)

Michele Weber (postdoc 2012-2014)

Kristen Marhaver (postdoc 2011-2013), currently NSF postdoc at Carmabi.

Emmanuel Buschiazzo (postdoc 2010-2012)

Kevin Portune (postdoc 2008), currently a postdoc at Universidad de Valencia

Christian Voolstra (postdoc 2006-2008), currently an Assistant professor at KAUST

Alejandro Reyes-Bermudez (postdoc 2007)

Jodi Schwarz (postdoc 2004-2005), currently an Associate Professor at Vassar College.


Shruti Lal (lab technician), currently a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania.


Tori Takaoka

Marcos Espinoza

Shay Moonsor

Lewis Gotico

Zer Vue

Claudia Velazquez

Angelina Velazquez

Martha Gallegos

Bryan Water

Matthew Kellom

Stephany Escalante

Nicole Masuoka

Andres Estrada

Julia Schnetzer

Taranjeet Dhatt

Yogesh Narayan

Yuriana Aguilar

Andrew Col

Joshua Kan

Miriam Zavalza

Pang Kuo Chang

Julianne Liberto

Siobhan Kelly

Christopher Clark

Kristen Valentine

Heather Moran

Ashley Porter

Caroline Baldwin

Lyndzy Gazda

Alaina Weinheimer

Maikel Mansour

Morgan Gannon

Khushboo Attarwala

Victoria Wu

Jamie Proffit

Andrea Gade

Fabiola Maldonado