Principal Investigator

Vaughn Cooper, Ph.D

Principal Investigator

Vaughn Cooper is an evolutionary microbiologist and Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He is broadly interested in how potential pathogens (e.g. bacteria such as Burkholderia, Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, and viruses like SARS-CoV-2) evolve to adapt to new hosts and environments. Other major interests include evolution in biofilms, the evolution of antimicrobial resistance and why genome regions mutate and evolve at different rates.

He is proud to have founded EvolvingSTEM, a program that provides an authentic classroom research experience for high school students across several states in which they conduct a microbiology experiment that demonstrates evolution in action. He also directs and co-founded the Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine at Pitt. He is also co-Founder and Scientific Advisor of SeqCoast Genomics and Middle Author Bioinformatics, which work together to provide advanced genome-scale sequencing and analyses using intuitive and accessible processes. Previously, he co-founded the Microbial Genome Sequencing Center (MiGS) and was a professor at the University of New Hampshire. He has an AB in Biology with honors from Amherst College, a PhD in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior from Michigan State University, and was a Fellow of the Michigan Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan in evolutionary biology and pediatrics. Dr. Cooper is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and his research on microbial and genomic evolution has appeared in >100 publications. He believes that there has never been a better time to be a microbiologist or geneticist thanks to unprecedented advances in technology, and he is committed to democratizing access to these exciting tools.

Faculty Instructor

Abigail Matela

Faculty Instructor

Abigail graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Biological Sciences and BA in Anthropology. She received her PhD in Botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she worked under the mentorship of David Baum to study genes involved in the evolution of plant leaf hair shape in the Mustard family. She was actively involved in teaching introductory and upper level science courses and was awarded the Eldon H. Newcomb Award for Excellence as a Teaching Assistant.

Abigail is passionate about promoting community engagement with science and has over 10 years of experience in developing science outreach materials for audiences of all ages, with a focus on women and other populations traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. She is currently working to build and expand EvolvingSTEM, an outreach program that engages middle and high school students in an authentic research experiment to explore how bacteria adapt when grown under strong selection for biofilm formation. As a native Pittsburgher, Abigail is excited to share this exceptional learning opportunity with schools across Pittsburgh.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Glenn Rapsinski

Postdoctoral Associate

Glenn graduated from Saint Vincent College with a BS in Biology. He received his MD and PhD from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia. During his graduate work, he studied how DNA influences the formation of curli fibrils, an amyloid protein component of the extracellular matrix of E. coli and Salmonella, and the immune responses to amyloid/DNA complexes in the laboratory of Dr. Çagla Tükel. He completed pediatric residency and pediatric infectious diseases fellowship at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. During his clinical fellowship, he worked in Dr. Jennifer Bomberger’s lab where he studied how P. aeruginosa establishes biofilm on airway epithelium and the microbiome in children with cystic fibrosis related chronic rhinosinusitis.

As a physician-scientist, Glenn enjoys studying clinically relevant questions he encounters in the hospital. In the Cooper Lab, Glenn will be studying how P. aeruginosa evolves in the airways of patients with tracheostomy tubes and endotracheal tubes for mechanical ventilation and how the host airway changes because of these breathing devices.

In addition to his lab work, he enjoys his clinical work seeing patients on the Pediatric Infectious Diseases service and teaching medical students and residents at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He also enjoys cooking, baking, and some gardening. His at home microbiology experiments include home cheese making.

Graduate Researcher

Alecia Rokes

PhD Student

Alecia is a graduate student in the Program in Microbiology and Immunology at Pitt. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Lehigh University in 2019. At Lehigh, she was first introduced to microbiology through the SEA-PHAGES program. Her budding interest in microbial evolution led her to join the Lang Lab and work on a project studying non-transitivity of fitness evolution in yeast populations. Specifically, she investigated intracellular viral competitions and the host/virus coevolution of the Killer virus in yeast. Alecia joined the Cooper Lab in 2020 where her thesis work revolves around understanding resistance evolvability in Acinetobacter baumannii. She is interested in studying how different strains of A. baumannii, including clinical isolates, adapt and evolve in response to antibiotic pressures. In addition to general strain background differences, she is studying interactions between resistance mutations and how specific mutations affect downstream evolvability to different stresses. Her work should help to resolve the genotype-phenotype-fitness map of this high priority pathogen. Alecia is also the point person for the Cooper Lab’s in-house sequencing efforts. Outside of the lab, Alecia likes to spend time outside with her two dogs, frequenting local lakes and ponds in the summers. She is equally excited for the winters and the skiing that comes with the snow.

Anna Li

MD PhD Student

Hi! I’m an MD PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon studying bacteriophage research

Changhua Yan

Exchange Scholar

Changhua Yan is an exchange scholar from Tsinghua University in China, where he was a undergraduate student and majored in medicine. He is interested in biofilms, and currently researching on how different membrane stressors such as glycerol and ethanol affect biofilm formation of Pseudomonas fluorescens.

Nanami Kubota

PhD Student

Nanami is a PhD student in the Program of Microbiology and Immunology (PMI) at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2020 from Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY).

Nanami is doing her thesis work on understanding how phage genomes integrated in the bacterial chromosome (i.e., prophages) can influence bacterial fitness and community composition. To answer these questions, she works with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and its Pf phage, and dabbles a little bit in evolutionary game theory. Her training goal is to sharpen both her computational and experimental skills for applications in microbial evolution research.

Undergraduate Researcher

Naomi Bastiampillai

Undergraduate Researcher

Naomi Bastiampillai is an undergraduate researcher who is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is is completing her bachelors in microbiology, and is researching the role of efflux pumps in the evolution of ciprofloxacin resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii isolates. Post-graduation, Naomi would like to pursue an MD-PhD in order to satisfy her interest in research and the medical field.

Talia Grossman

Undergraduate Researcher

Hi! I am Talia Grossman. I am currently working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Cooper Lab. I also work with the outreach program, evolving stem. I am on track to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelors in Ecology and Evolution. In my free time I do service through the environmental fraternity at Pitt, Epsilon Eta and keep reptiles.

Colton Siatkowski

Undergraduate Researcher

Colton Siatkowski is an undergraduate researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a senior completing his bachelors in biological sciences, and in the lab works under Dr. Matela for the EvolvingSTEM education outreach program. Outside of the lab, he is also involved with The Pitt Pulse, Pitt’s health and science magazine, as a graphic designer.

Mingqi Zhao

Undergraduate Researcher

Mingqi Zhao is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Biological Sciences. She is currently working as an research assistant to Nanami Kubota on her project exploring the influence of integrated phage genomes on bacterial fitness and community composition. With a keen interest in Biology, she is driven to pursue a PhD degree in the field following her undergraduate studies.