P.I. Rebecca Vega Thurber

Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology

My lab investigates how bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms interact with and regulate marine ecosystems. Currently our projects focus on tropical reefs in French Polynesia and the Caribbean. Our lab is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation.​

My lab’s research uses interdisciplinary approaches to address questions about how viruses and microbes function in and affect the environment. Using a combination of empirical experimentation, field work, metagenomics, microscopy and molecular biology, my research provides important insight into a variety of fields including: microbiology, coral reef ecology, animal physiology, virology, and the evolution of symbioses. email.

Current members



Adriana Messyasz. Ph.D. Candidate

I am interested in the role of viruses in coral reef health and disease. I use bioinformatics to identify changes in viral diversity and abundance in healthy, bleached, and nutrient-enriched corals. I also identify viruses present in algae and tropical fish (S. nigricans) and study which viruses are shared between coral, fish, and algae. Overall I want to know what kinds of viruses are transmitted around the coral ecosystem and the types of viruses that play important roles in coral health. email.



Grace Klinges.  Ph.D. Candidate & NSF Graduate Research Fellow

Disruption of symbiosis by pathogens or abiotic stressors is correlated with disease events, which are a major cause of coral mortality in tropical reefs worldwide. I study an obligate intracellular parasite of the genus Aquarickettsia that is correlated with decreased health in Acropora species and is stimulated by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the form of nutrient pollution. Through genomics and environmental manipulation, I am working to discover the basis for these effects on coral health. I use RNA-Seq to assess the effects of this parasite on the coral immune system and qPCR to quickly and accurately quantify this parasite in nutrient- and disease-exposed coral samples. email. CV.


Becca Maher.  Ph.D. Candidate & NSF Graduate Research Fellow

I study how local and global stressors alter the coral host and its associated microbial community.  I investigate how stressors such as fish predation, thermal stress, and nutrient enrichment act synergistically, additively, or antagonistically to alter the coral microbiome.  In particular, I am interested in using multivariate statistical techniques to describe changes in the ecology of microbial communities. I also use genomics to describe the functional contributions of bacterial symbionts to their host. email. CV.

2017-2018 (Lab Manager) 2018- (PhD Student)

Emily Schmeltzer.  Ph.D. Candidate

My research interests lie in marine microbial ecology on tropical coral reefs, specifically how coral-associated microbial communities from different coral host species respond to nutrient enrichment, coral bleaching events, predation pressures, and varying anthropogenic impacts.  I spend my time doing a combination of fieldwork, labwork, and programming and bioinformatics to analyze both high-throughput metagenomics and amplicon data. email.


Savanah Leidholt.  Ph.D. student

I am studying Puffy Snout Syndrome (PSS), which is a lethal disease prevalent in various species of fish in aquaculture and aquarium settings.  I am interested in discovering the etiological agent or agents that cause disease as well as disease mitigation techniques to reduce the spread of PSS. email.


Alex Vompe.  Ph.D. student & Presidential scholar 

My research uses in situ sampling and bioinformatics to examine the association between environmental stressors and phase shifts in corals and their microbiomes.  My graduate work will inform coral conservation strategies and consider the importance of microbial communities in coral resilience. email. CV.



Dr. Kalia Bistolas. NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology

I am interested in the interface between viruses, their microbial and coral hosts, and human-driven changes in marine nutrient regimes. The goal of my research is to understand how viruses contribute to cellular metabolism, microbial community composition, and coral health to better predict how microbial communities respond to transient and sustained eutrophication. email.


Dr. Lydia Baker. Postdoctoral Scholar 

My research uses a combination of molecular and bioinformatic methods to explore intractable host-microbe interactions that are invaluable to our understanding of microbial ecology, symbiont evolution, and the impact microbes have on their host and the world.  At OSU, my research focuses on genomic variation in the population of bacterial symbionts that have been found associated with multiple cnidarian hosts.  Using phylogenomic and co-divergence analysis, we will be able to learn more about the evolution and transmission of these symbionts. email.



Dr. Hannah EpsteinNSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology

My research interests are focused around coral reef microbial ecology and its role in ecosystem health and climate resilience. In the Vega Thurber Lab, I examine the effects of shifts in nutrient subsidies on the health and resilience of corals through a microbial lens. With the aim to identify land-sea connections in biogeochemical cycling, we hope to discover whether land conservation activities can bolster the health of adjacent reef habitats, providing critical information for future environmental management initiatives. email. website.



Dr. Denise Silva.  Research Assistant - Laboratory Manager

My research interests are focused on molecular microbial ecology, anthropogenic impacts, bioremediation, and bioinformatics. Currently, I explore the core microbiome profile of several coral species in distinct coral reefs around the world and relate environmental factors with the coral core microbiome.  This study is part of the Global Core Microbiome Project (GCMP), which involves more than 110 coral species from several reefs worldwide. As manager of the Vega Thurber Lab, I develop operational standards to maintain the proper functioning of the laboratory and ensure compliance with practices in accordance with current standards. In addition, I provide support to students and help in orienting their research, especially related to laboratory protocols, plans to ensure the well-being and safety of students during laboratory activities. email.

& Undergraduate Superstars

Tatiana Galvin

Currently working on identifying the causative agent of puffy snout disease with Savanah Leidholt.

Mikayla Reuter

Currently working on image analysis for the Mo'orea Virus Project


Ali Yaakola

Currently working on viruses genetics and genomics




Graduate students

Dr. Ryan McMinds, postdoctoral researcher at the Center of Modeling, Simulation & Interaction, Université Côte d’Azur, Nice, France

Dr. Stephanie Rosales, senior research associate at the University of Miami's (UM) Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS)

Dr. Rory Welsh, microbiologist at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Dr. Nitzan Soffer, Genomics/NGS portfolio Account Executive at Tecan

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Jesse Zaneveld, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, Bothell

Dr. Jerome Payet, Oregon State University

Dr. Adrienne Correa, Assistant Professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas

Dr. Marie Cuvelier, Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography at Nova Southeastern University

Undergraduate alumni

Shalvi Patel

Colton Stensrud

Will Duke

Kylen Tromblay

Taylor Sund

Sonora Meiling, Masters student at the University of the Virgin Islands

Amelia Foster

Trevor Bark


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Go team!