My research is centered on questions related to developmental programming, life history theory, and phenotypic plasticity. I use integrative and interdisciplinary approaches
to understanding how the endocrine system and the microbiome mediate the effects of an organism's early environment on phenotype and fitness.
For my PhD, I worked with Dr. Amy Lu at Stony Brook University on understanding how vertical microbial transmission contributes to the maturation of the offspring gut microbiome in captive vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops sabaeus) housed at the Vervet Research Colony in Wake Forest, NC. In mammals, the offspring gut microbiome
is seeded through exposure to maternal bacteria during early life. This initial colonization sets the stage for the rapid succession of microbes in the gut that occurs throughout development and can directly impact later-life phenotypes. While we learn more
each day about this process in humans, we know almost nothing about vertical
transmission in nonhuman primates. In collaboration with Dr. Noah Snyder-Mackler (University of Washington) and the Vervet Research Colony (Wake Forest University), I developed a DNA extraction protocol to maximize microbial DNA yield from milk samples (detailed in a microbiome special issue along with some of the first culture-independent data on a nonhuman animal milk microbiome here).
During my time as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan, I am working with Dr. Ben Dantzer on understanding the role of the microbiome in mediating adaptive developmental plasticity in wild red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) as part of the Kluane Red Squirrel Project. Using a combination of observational data, life history data, and experiments, I will be investigating the interactions between glucocorticoids and the microbiome in response to environmental change and testing the validity of predictive adaptive models and the "match-mismatch" hypothesis.
artwork by Melissa Ingala