Meet the Microbiome Researcher: Paula Lado - Trekking out to meet ticks head on

August 31, 2019
Summer is here in the northern hemisphere and tick season is upon us. While for many, this comes with no small amount of concern for tick-borne diseases, for Paula Lado tick season means opportunity. Her subjects are active again and her studies on ticks as vectors for infection turn to field work, approaching them where they live. Lado, a graduate student at Ohio State University in Columbus, is exploring the interconnectedness of ticks, their microbiome and “their effect on disease ecology.”

How did you first get interested in science and microbiome research?

I honestly don’t even remember when I got first interested in science. I have always been curious and attracted to “biology”, to “nature” in general. I find nature just fascinating, and I love solving problems…or at least to try. As for the microbiome, that came later. It is a concept that has received a lot of attention during the last few years. I have worked on different things related to microbes for years (for example, different kinds of bacteria transmitted by ticks, individual pathogens), but next generation sequencing techniques allow us to see things from different perspectives, to study groups of microbes at the same time, to work at the community level, and to tackle questions that are more complex. I hope to continue exploring microbiomes, the interaction between different microorganisms of the microbiome, and their effect on disease ecology.

Can you give us a summary of the work you’re currently doing?

The main goal of my dissertation project is to gain greater understanding into the underlying variables and processes that determine tick-borne diseases dynamics using an innovative integrated approach. Specifically, we analyze the microbiome (symbionts and pathogens) of American dog ticks collected from different US states, and to combine that information with the genetic data to gain understanding of the diseases dynamics.

What will be a typical day for you in the lab?

Well, it depends upon what I need to do. I’d be doing extractions, PCRs, preparing plates for sequencing, or preparing libraries. Sometimes, I mentor undergrads in the lab as well, so in that case I would be doing the techniques with them and discussing good lab practices.

What do you find most interesting about your research?

I like everything about my project. I find the topic fascinating, complex, and challenging. One of the things that I like the most is that I do different activities: I get to do fieldwork and collect ticks, I do pure lab work, bioinformatics analyses, and writing. It’s very dynamic and it gives me the opportunity to learn many things and improve my skills while developing new ones. I also enjoy that my project requires the integration of different disciplines. I believe that nowadays, integrative approaches are a must, and they are incredibly productive. We get the opportunity of interacting with people with different backgrounds and expertise.

How does your research impact health, disease and the environment?

I work with the microbial communities of two species of ticks that transmit human pathogens. We amplify a fragment of the 16S ribosomal gene, for all bacteria, and then we use the sequences and bioinformatics tools, as well as online databases to identify all the bacteria present within the ticks’ tissues. We can determine what pathogens and symbionts are present, as well as their relative abundances. It has been suggested that microbiome profiles could be used as biomarkers of infection prevalence in endemic areas. Those microbiome profiles result, in part, from the interaction between endosymbiont species and/or genera. Examples of negative and positive interactions have been reported: on the one hand cases of exclusion, in which a pathogen is “excluded” from the vector by other endosymbionts; and on the other hand, cases of facilitation, in which a pathogen’s environment and settlement is favored by a different symbiont. I am interested in these interactions, and how they can affect disease dynamics in different habitats, and geographic locations.

What are your hobbies?

There are many activities I enjoy doing. I love soccer, and I get together with friends almost every week to watch a game while having random conversations. I like to hike, roller skate (although I have never learned how to use the brakes), working out, cooking, gardening…listening to music, and traveling.

What are the major challenges you face in your research with regards to sample collection, nucleic acid isolation and data analysis?

We all face many challenges, that is simply the way it goes. The trick is to get really good at troubleshooting, adjusting plans, and having “plan Bs”. Because the species I work with have a wide geographic distribution range, and the adults are only active mid-spring-summer, then one of my challenges has been to decide where to travel, prioritize locations. It has also been challenging to get funds for my fieldwork activities, but luckily, I was awarded a Lewis and Clark in 2018 which will allow me to do fieldwork in 2019. Another challenge is to extract enough DNA for all the techniques I plan to do.

Which QIAGEN products do you use/have you used in the past and what did you like about the products?

We’ve used the lysis buffer, DNA extraction kits (like the QIAamp DNA Blood Mini Kit), PCR Purification Kits (like the QIAquick PCR Purification Kit), PCR reagents, and Oligos.

The products have always worked the way they are supposed to. I have not had any issues with QIAGEN products. The yield obtained by the extraction kits has been highly satisfying. The quality of the extracted DNA is also very good.

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Perhaps you’re working with tough material or working with environmental or human samples. Quality work needs quality products. QIAGEN offers insights and a range of kits to help you with your microbiome research.

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