Group in September 2020, missing: Verna Hearne

Current lab members

Jan Engelstädter (PI)


I am an evolutionary biologist broadly interested in the evolutionary biology of sexual processes, parasitism, and the interplay between these phenomena. I use a combination of mathematical modelling and experimental work to address fundamental questions within this exciting field.

I did my PhD with Greg Hurst at University College London, focusing on the endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia. After postdoctoral positions at Harvard University (with David Haig) and ETH Zurich (with Sebastian Bonhoeffer) and a junior group leader position at ETH Zurich I moved to Australia to start my current position at The University of Queensland where I am now an Associate Professor. In addition to research I am actively involved in teaching into various courses on evolutionary biology and modeling. I have been an Associate Editor for Evolution and I’m currently an Associate Editor for Proceedings B.

Links: Profile at UQ, Google Scholar, ORCID

Dr Verna Hearne (lab manager)

Nicole Fortuna (PhD student)


My main research pursuit is trying to understand long-term evolutionary dynamics between coevolving host and parasite clades. In particular, I am interested in the phenomena of parasites shifting between different kinds of host species, and the macroeolutionary patterns that influence parasite distribution across different hosts. As part of my PhD, I am using statistical and mathematical modelling to study patterns of parasite distribution. By using simulations, I am able to analyse the possible contributions of the phylogenetic distance and clade effects to the dynamics of host-shifting. In my project, I will also attempt to account for the effects of missing data on our ability to detect patterns of coevolution in associated host-parasite clades. While applicable to many host-parasite systems, my project is inspired by the Wolbachia-arthropod system.

Ehsan Sanaei (PhD student)


Phylogenetics, population genetics, systematics, entomology and morphology were essential parts of my previous research at the University of Tehran (Tehran, Iran) and Chonnam National University (Gwangju, Korea). Now, here at UQ, Wolbachia is at the center of my PhD research. Wolbachia is a maternally inherited intercellular symbiont wildly distributed in arthropods and nematodes. However, more than abundant, the various phenotypes induced by Wolbachia on its host make this endosymbiont/parasite an attractive subject of study. Like many facultative symbiots, Wolbachia has a great ability to shift its host species, sometimes also referred to as horizontal transmission. In the story of Wolbachia, host shifts are my favorite facet, which enthused me to work on a review paper about this topic. In order to understand the Wolbachia host shift and the factors determine it, I adopted scale insects as a suitable model. An extensive Wolbachia survey in Australian scale insects is the first part of my Ph.D. Under the supervision of Jan Engelstädter and Lyn Cook, I am searching for Wolbachia infection among more than a thousand samples including nearly a hundred species of scale insects. In the next step, I am searching for Wolbachia strains in scale insect’s associate species such as parasitoids and ants to identify possible routes of horizontal transmission. Finally, by utilizing phylogenetic and niche modeling methodologies, I am trying to obtain a better picture to explain Wolbachia host shifts in scale insects.

Jack Price (PhD student)

I have previously worked on concepts such as cryptic genetic variation and the effects of environmental conditions on the adaptability of populations. I am now looking at how integrons behave in bacteria, both in respects to antibiotic resistance and also in a more general evolutionary sense. Hopefully I will be able to gain some insight into what impact these prevalent genetic systems are having on the evolutionary behaviour of bacterial populations. More generally, I am interested in the possibilities and constraints placed on evolving populations. What exactly evolution can deal with and what restricts its adaptive potential is what motivates me to further explore and learn about this fascinating phenomenon.

Elisha Freedman (PhD student)

I have been fascinated by the world of insect endosymbionts and their profound influence on the evolutionary trajectories of their hosts since learning about the well known endosymbiont, Wolbachia, in my undergraduate degree. Also working with Dr. Simone Bloomberg, and Associate Professor Lyn Cook, my research will be focusing on simulating infection multiplicities and the maintenance of these infections within insect host populations. I will also be looking into the endosymbiont infection patterns of scale insects that parasitize gum trees. I am interested in whether the relatedness and proximity of host plant species influences the patterns of endosymbiont infections across these scale insects.

Ian Gooi (PhD student)


Hello there. I’m Ian, a microbe and data wrangler interested in the predictability and repeatability of antibiotic resistance evolution. My work is based on the Gram-negative soil bacterium Acinetobacter baylyi, which I use as a model organism to understand evolutionary dynamics on a broader scale. Using a combination of experimental evolution and in-silico prediction, I explore both how A. baylyi evolves in response to antibiotic pressure, as well as the functional limits and challenges of trying to predict evolutionary trajectories from first principles. When I’m not in the lab, I’m also interested in (separately) sandwiches, tea, spiders, and Oxford commas.

Olivia Jessop (Honours student)


I’m really interested in microbial genomics, and their connection to human health. Currently, I’m working on a project trying to elucidate the role of recombination in the adaptive evolution of Acinetobacter baylyi. In particular, I’m focusing on the effect of transformation on the appearance and spread of antibiotic resistance genes within a bacterial population. I will be observing the frequencies of resistance alleles in transforming and non-transforming populations after evolving them through serial transfers, to determine the impact of transformation. I will also be using a mathematical model to try to predict the end-point allelic frequencies, and validate this model by comparing predictions to the experimental results. I hope my results can provide better insight into the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacterial populations.

Erik Roeed (Honours student)

I did my undergraduate coursework in genetics and zoology here at The University of Queensland. Now, in my Honours research, I try to better understand whether arthropods can evolve resistance against endosymbiont-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). In particular, my research focuses on infection type hybrid zones and bidirectional CI. Using a combination of mathematical and simulation-based approaches, I make and analyse both deterministic and stochastic models in my work. This will hopefully allow me to make robust theoretical predictions about the conditions under which we can expect a hypothetical CI-resistance trait to spread in real hybrid zones. Although my work is chiefly inspired by the CI-inducing bacterium Wolbachia and its many arthropod hosts, my models should be generalisable also to other CI-inducing endosymbionts.

Co-supervised PhD students:

  • Beth Brittain (primary supervisor: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos)
  • Maddie James (primary supervisor: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos)
  • Henry Arena-Castro (primary supervisor: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos)
  • Laura Baseggio (primary supervisor: Andy Barnes)
  • Avneet Kaur (primary supervisor: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos)
  • Brianna Gough (primary supervisor: Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos)


  • Hasan “Shimul” Chowdhury Mehedi: PhD student 2013-2017
    (now postdoc at the University of Liverpool, UK)
  • James Reeve: Honours student and lab technician 2015-2016
    (now PhD student at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
  • Mark Chan: Honours student 2016
    (now PhD student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
  • Nick Smith: Honours student 2014
    (now PhD student at the University of Sydney)
  • Angie Nguyen Vu: lab manager
    (now research manager)
  • Danesh Mohadigaravand: PhD student 2011-2014
    (now Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, UK)

Some of our collaborators (present and past):

  • Pia Abel zur Wiesch (The Arctic University of Norway & Yale University, USA)
  • Andy Barnes (The University of Queensland, Australia)
  • Sebastian Bonhoeffer (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Sylvain Charlat (CNRS, University of Lyon, France)
  • Lyn Cook (The University of Queensland, Australia)
  • Olivier Duron (CNRS, University of Monpellier II, France)
  • Jozsef Farkas (University of Stirling, UK)
  • Isabelle Gordo (Gulbenkian Institute of Science, Portugal)
  • Fred Guillaume (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)
  • David Haig (Harvard University, USA)
  • Alex Hall (ETH Zürich)
  • Peter Hammerstein (Humboldt University Berlin, Germany)
  • Emily Hornett (Penn State, USA)
  • Peter Hinow (University of Wisconsin, USA)
  • Greg Hurst (University of Liverpool, UK)
  • Pål Johnsen (University of Tromsø, Norway)
  • Roger Kouyos (University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Rafal Mostowy (Imperial College London, UK)
  • Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos (The University of Queensland, Australia)
  • Max Reuter (University College London, UK)
  • Mark Schembri (The University of Queensland, Australia)
  • Arndt Telschow (University of Münster, Germany)
  • Christoph Vorburger (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)