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.

Julia Stewart, jus1828 at psu dot edu

Ph.D student

I am interested in the mechanisms of symbiosis in the innate immune system of Scleractinians, as well as the gene flow and uniqueness of Orbicella faveolata, and other corals.

 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. 

(I am also the webmaster. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!)

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.

Victoria Sharp,  vzs95 at psu dot edu

Ph.D student 

I’m interested in exploring the genetic connection involved in the symbiosis and regeneration seen in Cassiopea sp.

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 Sofia Roitman. I look forward to learning new information and acquiring new research techniques as I grow throughout the years in this lab.

Alexa Plisiewicz, arp5625 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a sophomore majoring in Biology with the Vertebrate Physiology option and a business minor. I am interested in exploring coral symbiosis with bacteria and other marine life. As an undergraduate student in the Medina lab, I am currently working with multiple Symbiodinium species to develop growth curves for them. My work is under the supervision of Allison Kerwin, our postdoctoral fellow, and Victoria Sharp, a Ph.D. student. I hope to be an integral part of the research team throughout my remaining time at Penn State, and further my knowledge of the ecology of coral and the fundamentals of research techniques

Leslie Johnson, lwj5052 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a senior majoring in Biology with a concentration in Genetics and Development. I am currently working with Allison and Dr. Medina to characterize the physiology of symbiotic bacterial strains associated with Orbicella faveolata. Current knowledge of coral bacterial physiology is largely limited to only knowing the metagenomic potential of each particular strain; by determining what nutrients and compounds each strain can and cannot metabolize and comparing our results with already obtained sequences from each strain, we will be able to determine gene expression in these strains under laboratory conditions. I am interested in a variety of topics including coral conservation, population genetics, the rise of new species in groups such as cichlid fishes as a result of adaptive radiation, and the effect of vicariance on species history. I am passionate about science education and outreach, and hope to teach courses in genetics and evolutionary biology at the college level after earning my Ph.D. I am also a Learning Assistant in Dr. Medina’s Fall 2018 Evolutionary Biology course, and love helping my fellow students learn!

Kate Karlen, kmk6312 at psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a junior majoring in Biology with an Ecology emphasis. Because I have always been interested in marine biology, I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this lab! I am currently conducting research under Dr. Allison Kerwin, studying the effects of metamorphosis and symbiosis on the microbiome of Cassiopea xamachana, better known as the “Upside-Down Jellyfish”. I have future hopes to pursue a career in wildlife conservation, and I look forward to all the opportunities and knowledge I will gain from the Medina Lab!

Alesandra Echeandia, ase5152 psu dot edu

Undergraduate student

I am a Sophomore majoring in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience and a minor in Italian. I am currently conducting research under Dr. Allison Kerwin, working in characterizing the physiological potential of symbiotic bacterial strains. I’ve always had a passion for Marine Biology and through my research I am able to explore different realms of the field. I’m excited in continuing my work and gaining knowledge along the way!



Former lab members

Graduate students

Aki Ohdera (Ph.D. student, class of 2018)

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)

Zer Vue (Master’s student, class of 2010)

Shinichi Sunagawa (Ph.D. student, class of 2008)

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)

Emmanuel Buschiazzo (postdoc 2010-2012)

Kevin Portune (postdoc 2008)

Christian Voolstra (postdoc 2006-2008)

Alejandro Reyes-Bermudez (postdoc 2007)

Jodi Schwarz (postdoc 2004-2005)

Undergraduate students

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, Kelly Watson, Gabrielle Swain, Sonia Donskaya