The Current Team

Jeff Dudycha, Head Daphnia Wrangler and Principal Investigator
Michael J. Mungo Undergraduate Teaching Award, 2014
Contact Jeff: hislastname [at]

Jeff earned his Ph.D. in Alan Tessier’s lab at the W. K. Kellogg Biological Station. While there, he waited for many, many Daphnia to die of old age, broke several oars rowing out to the middle of lakes on windy days, discovered the mystic rituals that get PCR to work, and thought that the lab never had enough beakers. He followed that with postdocs in quantiative genetics and demography with Debbie Roach at the University of Virginia and evolutionary genetics and genomics in Mike Lynch’s lab at Indiana University. At IU, he launched three sets of mutation accumulation lines that now have been going for so long they could be the subject of a 1960s horror movie. Jeff is now a Professor of Biological Sciences at USC — The real USC — and finally has enough beakers.

Trenton Agrelius, Pluff Mud Refugee and Ph.D. student

Trenton came to our lab via the stinkiest mud in the state: the Spartina alterniflora saltmarsh at the Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences. He was the link between our lab and the Morris lab in our collaborative project on Spartina epigenetics. However, as he stared down the long road to a Ph.D., he came to his senses and realized a hexaploid plant with essentially no genetic information wasn't the best system for an epidissertation. So after finishing his M.S., he switched fully into our lab to study epigenetics in Daphnia, the world’s most awesome genetic model organism. He’s now the lab’s master organizer, and will happily turn any topic of discussion to the mechanisms of DNA methylation. Seriously. Any topic.

Rachel Schomaker, Trophically Mixed-up Ph.D. student

Rachel joined us in the Fall of 2016. Coming from central Florida, she’s here to enjoy the cool, dry weather of Columbia. But before she even got here, she won an all-expense paid vacation to the coast of Maine, where she got to spend relaxing, 18-hr days practicing genomics protocols and bioinformatic analyses. Fun! Her interests run somewhere along the lines of evolutionary ecology and genomics, with an eye towards understanding the sources of biodiversity. According to a vision Jeff had of Storeatula, the Norse goddess of Endosymbiosis, Rachel had to work on Cryptophytes. And so she is, seeking to understand the evolutionary transitions between autotrophy and heterotrophy, and the ecological consequences of the fence-sitting mixotrophs.

Jake Swanson, “No molecular genetics, please” and Ph.D. student

Jake migrated from southern New England to the southern Carolina, asking not to be thrown in the briar patch of pippettors and agarose gels. We take things at face value here, so we threw him in the swamp instead, where he became a spectre of his former self, trying to find the optimum spectrum to isolate new species of cryptophytes. Jake has taken a shine to trying to understand the ecological distribution of coexisting algae (remember the paradox of the plankton?). He began his work by integrating separate mathematical models to demonstrate that New York style pizza is superior to Chicago style. As Jeff points out though, any model based on a wildly wrong, wrong, wrong premise is doomed to fail, much like a floppy New York slice.

Krista Harmon, Totally Rad, previously musselled Lab Tech

Krista was an undergraduate in Jerry Hilbish’s mussel and barnacle lab, and graduated just as we were looking to add to our team. She now is in charge of keeping Daphnia World running smoothly, and works with Trenton and the rest of the Mutation Team to find out just how spontaneous things can be in the lab. She used be a radiology tech at a nearby hospital, so if we ever need x-rays of our already transparent critters, we’re covered. Although we'd like her to stick around until the Daphnia are done mutating, she is heeding the siren call of medicine and the joy of buying malpractice insurance.

Matt Bruner, Dispenser of Pez and M.S. Candidate

Matt graduated with a record-setting number of credits in his degree. We're not sure if there are any classes at USC (Yes, USC, dagnabbit! Don't get me started on "UofSC." Grrrrrr.) that Matt hasn’t taken. There better be some because now he’s an M.S. student in the lab. As an undergrad, he worked with Trenton to construct DNA constructs (that makes sense), and to do that there was a lot of cloning and cloning and cloning -- the molecular biology kind, not the Daphnia kind. Now, in his own project, he’s doing cloning of the Daphnia kind, quantifying how mutations affect growth plasticity. Matt’s also a Navy veteran of the war in Afghanistan. (Don't ask how the Navy got their ships into a land-locked country ... that’s TS.)

Patrick McKenzie, Cryptophycologist and SCHC Biology/Geography Major

A cryptozoologist is someone who studies such keystone species as Homo grandipedia, Equus monocornia, and Chimera chupacabrae. So what dooes a cryptophycologist study? Cryptophytes, of course. These are a strange group of algae that have either phycoerythrins or phycocyanins, which may determine the colors of light in which they fare best. Patrick started working with us when he was a wee'un at the Governor’s School for Science and Math. And now he’s back in the lab as an undergrad in the SCHC. These days, when Patrick isn’t hiding from his parents in Cuba, crossing the Darien Gap, working on his *other* research project in Geography, working on his *other* other research project in Hawaii, giving research presentations in France, or studying Arabic in Jordan, you can find him sequencing the phycobiliprotein beta chain from as many cryptophyte species as we can come up with.

Libby Davenport, Pseudokiwi and SCHC Biology Major

Libby joined the lab in the Summer of ’17. (Ah, the Summer of ’17, when life was breezy, the kids were flipping bottles, and Daphnia always cooperated. Times change, times change.) Libby started in the lab by measuring growth rates of Daphnia, but now has moved on to a project of her own design. She’s combining our experiment on mutation accumulation with an interest in climate change (if it’s real, of course) and a biochemical hypothesis that warmer temperatures make for floppier proteins, so the effects of mutation are predicted to be more dire in warmer environments. Along the way, she detoured south for a study abroad semester in New Zealand, so now she keeps all of her beakers of Daphnia upside down.

Patrick Lawson, Head Patrick and BIOL Major

Patrick was solving some leftover differential equations one day, and their limit as they approached infinity was to change his major from math to biology. So he followed their asymptote into the D-lab, where he said he was interested in finding out how biologists really used math to solve biological problems. And Jeff had found a kindred spirit, who can see the Matrix on which ecology and evolution is built. Patrick plunged into the world of Bateman and Mukai, and estimated U-min and a-max in our mutation accumulation projects. He got trapped by an unstable equilibrium, and by the time he came through to a limit cycle, he was working with Jake on coexistence experiments in algae.

Savannah Simon, Growing Cryptically and SCHC Biology Major

Savannah is a part of our cryptophycology team, and designed a project aimed at understanding how some Cryptophytes can survive the Antarctic winter. She’ll be feeding Antarctic algae to test her hypothesis that they can activate parts of their animal-like evolutionary history. She’s become an expert at counting cryptophytes (it’s kind of like counting sheep, but they don’t jump over a fence each time you count them), measuring their size, and calculating growth rates. So far, the growth rates have all been exponential, rather than logistic, so by the time you are reading this, the whole world may be chilling in gooey red Geminigera.

Julia Altman, Polish Prankster and SCHC Biology Major

Jeśli kiedykolwiek będziesz potrzebować, aby wszystko w twoim laboratorium było potajemnie oznakowane w języku polskim, mamy tę osobę dla Ciebie! Julia była studentką w sekcji Trenton Ecology & Evolution Lab, a potem przyszła z nim pracować nad Daphnia. Ostatecznie starając się zrozumieć mechanizmy plastyczności międzypokoleniowej, pracowała nad pomiarem ekspresji metylotranferazy DNA jako pierwszym krokiem. Po ukończeniu studiów planuje doktorat w biologii i możemy po prostu znaleźć jej etykietowanie rzeczy po angielsku na Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim.

Eric Pia, Biology Major

Eric was in Jeff’s Ecology & Evolution course in Fall 2019, and midway through got so excited about Close Encounters of the Third Allele, that he wanted to get involved in a research project in the lab. So far, we’ve been working towards using a protocol developed by Brooks Miner for genetic species identification in Daphnia. I say "working towards" because mainly all that’s happened is that it’s become very apparent that Jeff’s basic lab skills have ... aged. We WILL get it all sorted out, and then Eric will be developing a project of his own. Fortunately, Eric is pretty relaxed because his career plans were inspired by the Little Shop of Horrors.

Heather Bruck, SCHC Biology Major

Heather is one of our newest members of Team Daphnia, and we have not settled on a project for her. She has been diligently photographing dead Daphnia, with an eye towards measuring the size distribution of their visual organs. Her samples come from eight populations in Far, Far Away (a.k.a. Wisconsin), but our plans may include finding some populations that are Close, Close Nearby (a.k.a. Congaree National Park) so that we can do some more detailed work.

Kyzahni Flores, Media Medium and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Major

Kyzahni answered our ad for an alchemist who could get the spirits of algae media to cooperate. [soapbox] Hey! You over there, editing The New Yorker! Yeah, you! Didja notice that there is NO UMLAUT in that word? None. So stop it! [/soapbox] Kyzahni is fantastic at making algae grow abundantly, and ruthlessly harvests it at the logistically-derived maximum sustainable yield. She has mainly been working with Krista on various projects, but I have a sneaky suspicion that we’re about to start her in on one of out molecular biology projects. It is her major, after all.

Dillon Connolly, Jake Mistaker and BIOL Major

Matt 2.0’s project grew so large, that we had to recruit some extra hands to be beaker buddies and Daphnia wranglers. Dillon sent Jeff an email answering our ad, and neither Dillon nor Jeff put two and two together to realize that Dillon was a student in Jeff’s class. So when Dillon came to interview, he thought Jake was Jeff. As they say in Hollywood, hilarity ensued. But Dillon is part of the Mutant Daphnia team now, and we all know who is who.

Island Avery-Campbell, Record Breaker and BIOL Major

When Island joined the Mutant Daphnia team, she broke a record. We now have more undergrads involved in the lab than we ever have had at the same time. Island plans to be an anaesthis.... anestisi ... an anesthesti .... a knock-em-out physician, but she hasn’t put us to sleep yet. (There is chloroform in the lab, though.) When she isn’t working with 2.0 on the Sedgies, Troys, Morgans, and Listowels in the lab, you can find her watching over our coral mascots.

The Emigrators

Kevin Deitz, former Research Associate and Daft Punkologist

Kevin joined the lab as a technician after graduating from SUNY-ESF with a degree in conservation biology. After getting caught in one too many Pig Traps (or was it getting caught in Piglet’s Graveyard?), he decamped for Texas A&M to pursue a Ph.D. in conservation genetics. Or, rather, extermination genetics, since he actually studied speciation genomics in malaria-carrying mosquitoes. He's now a post-doc in the Andolfatto lab at Princeton. When he was here, he was in charge of the lab’s music, which meant we listened to a lot of Daft Punk. Kevin is a naturalist at heart, and we never knew what he was going to bring in next, though he had a special fondness for amphibians and weird fungi.

Eunsuk Kim Ph.D., former post-doc, Survivalist, and Token Plant Ecologist

Eunsuk completed a disseration at That Crimson Place where he studied life history variation in terrestrial plants. And then, mirroring Jeff’s grad-to-postdoc switch, came to work on genetic variation in aging in Daphnia. Our main challenge is reminding him that, as animals, we feed Daphnia food, not nutrients. At least, not directly. Eunsuk became our go-to guy for R, since his first task was to make sense of our farrago of information on Resveratrol effects in Daphnia, and he had to do it all in R. Eunsuk departed the lab to take a position as a faculty member in his home country of Korea, at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. We still consider him a part of the lab, though, because his manuscripts aren't finished. (Hint, hint, if you're reading this, Eunsuk.)

Matt Greenwold Ph.D., Cryptophylogenomicist and Former Post-doc

Matt's Ph.D. work was on gene family evolution in Aves, where he traced the evolution of feather β-keratins in chickens and turkeys and ... crocodiles? He's part of the global avian genomics consortium, but we convinced him to set aside those magnificently charismatic vertebrates and join our Cryptophyte project. Matt leads our phylogenomic efforts to establish a solid tree for the Cryptos, and he was our own in-house bioinformagician. Matt works on tracing the evolutionary history of photosynthesis in Cryptos, using a combination of molecular evolution and phylogenetic comparative methods. Matt lived in Lothlorien, where he rescued lost kittens, squirrels, and students trapped by a Unix command line. He is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, where he teaches bioinformatics and continues to collaborate with us on Cryptophyte evolution.

Danielle Blew, M.A.T. and Former Star of Rescue 911!

Danielle graduated from our M.A.T. program, and has moved on to a high school teaching position in Houston. As part of her degree, she did a research project over the summer where she was testing the sensitivity of Daphnia to the drug metformin. Unfazed by the chaos of the lab that summer (a good thing, since teaching is probably even more chaotic), she stuck around to see whether the drug has modified gene expression in the Daphnia. Somehow, Danielle managed to also be a paramedic, which made me feel better since I never could seem to find the first aid kit. Now that Danielle is gone, we have several first aid kits prominently located where beakers are likely to be broken.

Chris Brandon, Ph.D., Former Director of Algae Counting Education

Chris joined the lab as a summer undergrad in our REU program, and apparently liked the hullaballoo of that summer enough to want to come back. So he gave up his dreams of selling you pizza, pizza, or the best Swingline staplers there are to realize his vision. His vision of vision. That’s right, he did a Ph.D. dissertation on the evolution of vision in Daphnia. Discouraged by his early attempts to teach blind Daphnia braille, he focused on illuminating the intersection of evolutionary genetics, field demography, and physiological ecology. So that would mean that eco-evo-physio-gen was in his sights. He also gave Jeff fodder for endless vision-related puns. Chris was the originator of the Laboratory Haiku Project. After leaving the lab, he joined the biology faculty at Florida Southern College.

Andy Schumpert, Ph.D., Former Chief of Cladoceran Surgery

After his undergrad experience, Andy felt he needed to regenerate before following his next path. So he started hacking off... I mean, surgically excising Daphnia antennae and began his Ph.D. studying how well they regenerate. However, his dissertation took a left turn at heat shock responses, followed the road to telomeres, built a light-rail system with RNAi, and eventually looped back around to Sirtuin Street, which merges back onto the HSP Highway. Andy was formally a student in the Patel Lab, but came up to the D-lab any time he wanted to be nagged about cell cultures. You can find Andy tooling down country roads on his motorcycle, telling anyone who will listen why they should be studying Daphnia. After finishing his Ph.D., he joined our instuctional faculty as the coordinator for BIOL 102, where student labs feature ... you guessed it: Daphnia!

Madeline Carlson, M.S., Recovering Hemomucinator and Serine Proteaseator

Maddy came through Jeff’s Biol 301 class with flying colors and found that she was interested enough in the juxtaposition of ecology and evolution to join our crew. Maddy’s interest in bioinformatics led her to follow up on some of our earlier work with microarrays. Leaving a trail of slimy globs of hemomucin wherever she worked, Maddy compared genes that appeared to be differentially expressed between Daphnia pulex and Daphnia pulicaria. Her work is easily digested, because she came to to focus on the serine protease gene family, which seems to have experienced substantial functional evolution on relatively short time-scales. In addition to being the lab’s original bioinformagician and keeping us all trypping over serps, before she finished her degree she began teaching high school biology ... in Texas.

Troy Huth, Ph.D., J.D., M.S., Fishy Advocate and Patently Degreed

We found Troy wandering around Antarctica, looking for novel fish gene sequences he could patent. He was the core of the lab’s collaborative efforts (in a project led by Sean Place of Sonoma State University) to study the potential responses of Antarctic fish to climate change and patent infringement. Troy’s a crackerjack bioinformatician, and worked on comparing how three species alter gene expression in the face of temperature rise and ocean acidification. After graduating, Troy became a Technology Transfer Officer at the University of South Florida, where he combined his scientific and legal expertise. He now holds a similar position down the road at MUSC.

Peter Jackson, Interdisciplinarian and Visiting Scholar

Peter is a professor down the road at Benedict College. He was in Jeff’s advanced evolution class in the Fall. He's not trained as a biologist, but took the course becaue he was on a quest to understand life, the universe, and everything (yes, he has his towel). Having studied philosophy and education, he wanted to better understand where evolutionary knowledge came from, so he figured the best way to do that was generate some science of his own. To that end, he worked with us on the long-term mutation accumulation lines to discover how rapidly spontaneous mutations will alter important morphological structures.

Indhira Handy, Cellular Alchemist, Lab Tech

Indhira had a long and distinguished career running a mammalian cell biology lab.  When she retired, she realized her life’s work had been unfulfilling, because it had been limited to working on important medical problems, but had never found her true calling: Daphnia.  Fortunately, a chance meeting while summiting K2 introduced her to Daphnia world, and she’s enjoyed a second career as the Wizard of Daphnia Cell Culture and Western Blots.  At the helm of our invasion of the Patel Lab, Indhira directed our efforts at generating immortalized Daphnia cells, localizing gene expression, and developing effective transformation protocols.  She brought the best cookies to lab meeting. She's back down in the Patel Lab all the time now, testing mitochondrial function. In Daphnia, of course.

David Cann, Certified Barbecue Judge and Lab Tech

David originally joined the lab as an undergraduate worker-bee, and waggled his way into becoming our regular Daphnia lab technician. When not handling the logistics and operations of the D-lab, you could find him at the Saluda River, especially on sunny days, claiming that the lab needed fresh lakewater. And if there's a barbecue competition nearby, you can bet David’s there, always searching for the best barbecue the Palmetto State has to offer. David was the lab's Official Ambassador to World Snake Day, but these days he’s teaching middle school science over in Lexington.