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Lab alumni

One of the most rewarding parts of the career of a professor in the sciences is getting to observe students go through a transformation from enthusiastic but inexperienced young people to competent colleagues that share an interest in and love for the natural world. I've had the privellege to work with a number of incredibly talented students, scroll below to learn about some of our past lab members.

Joanne Jung, BA Biology May 2024

Joanne worked on a project developing molecular tools to detect rare species of burrowing crayfish using eDNA. Joanne was awarded a position in the Markey STRONG Scholars Program during the summer of 2023 where she conducted research in several molecular biology labs at the University of Kentucky.

Joanne plans to begin her graduate school career in the Fall of 2024.

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Abby Fletcher, BA, Biology May 2023

Abby worked on a project developing eDNA oligos for four darter species found in the Kentucky and Cumberland River Drainage: Development of eDNA protocols for detection of four dater (Percidae: Etheostomatinae) species in central Kentucky streams.

Abby is currently attending medical school at the University of Kentucky.

Brendan Jeffrey, BA Biology, December 2022

Brendan worked on a project examining the importance of the region of mitochondrial genome utilized in the development of eDNA oligos. He compared the effectiveness of oligos targeting cytochrome b relative to oligos that recognize other regions of the mitochondrial genome in four-toed salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum).

Brendan graduated with a BA in Biology in December 2022 and plans to begin medical school in the Fall of 2024.


Rebecca Piche, BA Biology, May 2022

Rebecca's primary project compared the effectiveness of traditional methods of salamander collection (leaf litter bags) to eDNA. Her project title was "Multiple methods of detection of semiaquatic salamanders in small lotic systems: A comparison of eDNA and leaf liter bags." She received two awards for her presentation of this work and is in the process of preparing a manuscript for publication. 

Rebecca plans to begin her graduate school career in marine biology the Fall of 2023.

Elizabeth Strasko, BA, Biology May 2021

Elizabeth completed a project developing a protocol for the detection of the Smallmouth Salamander (Ambystoma texanum) using eDNA. She has paper currently in review: . Development and validation of PCR primers for detecting Ambystoma texanum (smallmouth salamander) from eDNA samples.

Elizabeth is working on an M.S. degree at Western Kentucky University, expected completion in Dec. 2024. Her project title is: Measuring temporal variation in ephemeral pond amphibian communities using metabarcoding

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Faith Day, BA, Biology May 2021

Faith worked on a project examining the foraging habits of fathead minnows in varying levels of predation hazard: Effects of available forage on habitat selection of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) in the presence of predation hazard.

Faith is enrolled in medical school at  Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Florida. 

Angie Flores, BA, Biochemistry May 2021

Angie amplifed and sequenced cytochrome b from locally collected southern two-lined, spring, northern dusky, and northern red salamanders to obtain sequences used in primer design. The resulting primers were used to detect these species via eDNA. Angie's work on southern two line and northern dusky salamanders appears in this publication on which she is a coauthor: Bell et al. 2022.   

Angie is enrolled in medical school at La Plata National University in La Plata Argentina where she plans to specialize in obstetrics.


Florene Bell, BA, Biology May 2020

Florene (Gabby) worked on many projects in the lab, while conducting her senior reserach and afterwards. The title of her senior research project is "Use of eDNA to detect multiple salamander species in eastern Kentucky streams." Her work is the majority of this publication (Bell et al. 2022) in the journal of Herpetological Conservation and Biology on which she is first author. 

Gabby currently works as the Lead Laboratory Scientist at Solaris Diagnostics in Nicholasville, Kentucky.

C.J. Leow, BA, Biology May 2020

Chi Jing (C.J.) worked on a number of projects involving mitochonrial gene sequencing, primer development, and detection of salamander and fish DNA in environmental samples. He is a coauthor or first author of one publication, six presentations, and four Gen Bank submissions.  

He is currently pursuing an M.S. in biology at Southeastern Louisiana University (Hammond, LA) focusing on transcriptome of killifishes as a potential model organism.


Ramon Guivas, BA, Biology December 2018

Ramon's senior research project (Evaluation of biomass and filtration method on eDNA detection of fantail darters (Etheostoma flabellare) examined the relationship of biomass to eDNA as well as the impact of filtration method on the effectiveness of eDNA detection. His work is published in the International Journal of Zoology, available via this link: Guivas and Brammell 2000

Ramon is a talented communicator and works as an environmental educator in Louisville, KY.

Elle Beery, BA, Biology May 2018

Coadvised with Dr. Marvin Ruffner.

Elle worked on a project developing tools for use in evaluating the efficacy of eDNA in detecting two snake species widespread in central Kentucky. The title of her project is: Use of eDNA in the detection of northern water (Nerodia sipedon) and queen snakes (Regina septemvittata).

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Kyle Lafuenburger, BA, Biology May 2018

Kyle's senior reserach project examined the effectivness of eDNA in the detection of darter species, including the fantail darter (Etheostoma flabellare). Kyle's work contributed greatly to the establishment of tools to detect this common darter species and the system by which aspects of eDNA detection of aquatic organisms could be examined.  

Harold Brabon, BA, Biology May 2017

Harold develop primers to detect a relatively rare fish found in the eastern portion of Kentucky, the trout perch, Percopsis omiscomaycus. His senior reserach project title was: Detection of Percopsis omiscomaycus (trout-perch) using eDNA in eastern Kentucky streams


Harold is currently a student at Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine.


Ashton Bain, BA, Biology May 2017

Coadvised with Dr. Malinda Stull.


Ashton sequenced mitochondrial DNA from a number of salamander species found in central Kentucky. In addition, she compared the efficiacy of tail clips versus swabs for obtaining DNA from these organisms.  

Robert Washburn, BA, Biology May 2017

Robert's senior reserach project focused on the acquisition of mitochondrial DNA sequences from Kentucky salamanders, "Sequencing of cytochrome b in Kentucky salamander species." Using previously published primers he obtained mitochondrial gene sequences for five salamander species, data later used to develop species specific primers to detect these animals in the environment. 

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Ronnie Sams, BA, Biology May 2016

Ronnie worked on several projects in the lab but his senior research project examined eDNA levels from two salamander species with varying life histories in central Kentucky streams. His senior reserach project title was: Seasonal Fluctuations in Salamander eDNA in Central Kentucky Streams. He was awarded first place in the poster division of the undergraduate reserach competition at the 2015 KY Academy of Science meeting.

Ronnie graduated from veterinary school from Auburn University in May of 2022 and is a veterinarian in Washington State.  

Christopher Pauley, BA, Biology May 2016

Chris Pauley's senior research project focused on the development of molecular tools to detect the federally endangered Mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) that resides exclusively in the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada mountains - Use of eDNA to detect salmonids and amphibian species in high elevation habitats in the Sierra Nevada in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, CA.

Christopher obtained a master's degree in environmental management in Kiel University (Kiel, Germany) and will be pursuing a Ph.D. in the fall of 2022.

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Dallas Murphy, BA, Biology May 2016

Dallas conducted field surveys of amphibians of several sites near Asbury's campus in central Kentucky. His senior research project title was: Amphibian population distributions in a central Kentucky watershed.

Rebecca Blackburn, BA, Biology May 2016

Rebecca sequenced mitochondrial genes from a number of salamanders found in central Kentucky. Her work enabled the development of oligos used in many subsequent studies.

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Cierla McGuire, BA, Biology May 2016

Cierla developed oligos to identify members of the genus Ambystoma found in central Kentucky and field tested them in local breeding sites. Her work, titled "Use of eDNA to detect salamander species in lentic habits in central Kentucky (Jessamine County)," placed third in the undergraduate poster competition at the 2015 KY Academy of Science meeting. 

Cierla completed a M.S. in biology from Auburn University and plans to begin medical school in 2023.

Trevor Smith, BA, Biology, December 2015

Trevor's project involved the sequencing of target salamander DNA and development and validation of oligos for detection of three salamander species. His senior research project title is: "Use of eDNA to Identify Salamander Species in Lotic Systems and Amplification of Cytochrome B in Desmognathus fuscus (Northern Dusky Salamander), Pseudotriton ruber (Northern Red Salamander), and Gryrinophilus porphyriticus (Spring Salamander)

Trevor graduated from the UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry in San Antonio Texas in 2021 and practices optometry in Lexington, KY.

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Mary Johnson, BA, Biology Education, December 2015

Mary developed oligos for detection of Kentucky's largest salamander, the hellbender. Her senior reserach project was titled: Development of an eDNA
protocol for detection of hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis ) in Kentucky streams.

Mary is a high school science teacher and nature photographer. 

Annissia Wood, BA, Biology May 2015

Annissia developed and tested in controlled settings primers for detecting several species of Kentucky darters. Her senior research project title was "Development of a protocol for detection of four species of Kentucky darters."

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Samantha Burr, BA, Biology, May 2014

Samantha's project focused on eDNA collection and extraction methods. She developed a protocol for the detection of zebrafish for use in testing eDNA methods in a laboratory setting. Her senior reserach project title was: "Use of eDNA to detect non-native species in small lentic systems."

Ben Adams, BA, Biology, May 2013

Ben examined the impact of the widely used herbicide atrazine on the chemical alarm cue response in longear sunfish. His project, titled: Effects of atrazine on the chemical alarm cue response in longear sunfish (Lepomis megalottis), demonstrated impairment of this response following atrazine exposure. 

Ben completed a Ph.D. in molecular biology at the Univ. of Massachusetts, a post doc in the Dept. of Cell Biology at Harvard, and is currently a Senior Scientist, Foghorn Therapeutics in Cambridge, MA

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Jordan Cox, BA, Biology, May 2013

Jordan's project, the Fishes of the Hickman Creek watershed, surveyed the fish of the Hickman Creek watershed and compared currect fish distributions to historic published distributions. 

Matt Johnson, BA, Biology, May 2013

Matt worked on a proejct using hepatic gene expression in Lepomis species following exposure to waterbourne contaminants. His senior research project title is: Use of biomarker gene expression in contaminant detection.

Matt completed medical school at Ohio University and is completing his residencies in internal medicine. 

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Graham Howell, BA, Biology, May 2012

Graham conducted a fish survey of a large watershed in Jessamine County, Kentucky. His senior research project, titled "The fishes of the Jessamine Creek watershed," identified 25 fish species wtihin this drainage.  

Graham is a fisheries biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. 

Demetria Todd, BA, Biology, May 2012

Demetria's project examined chemical alarm cue response in smallmouth bass and longear sunfish. Her project, titled "Chemical alarm cue response in two centrarchid species exhibiting varying degrees of piscivory" placed third in the 2011 KY Academy of Science Ecology and Environmental Science undergraduate student poster competition. 

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Matt Engler, BA, Biology, May 2011

Matt's project examined the diversity of crayfish in two watersheds found in central Kentucky. He obtained an undergradate grant for his work from the Kentucky Academy of Science. The title of his senior research project is: A survey of the distribution and habitat preferences of the crayfish of Hickman and Jessamine Creek watersheds.

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