Current Projects


Viral Disease Identification in Marine Vertebrates: Currently, we are working with collaborators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to identify the causal agents of Puffy Snout Syndrome (PSS), which is a deformative infectious disease of unknown origin in captive held Scombrids (tunas and mackerels).


Coral Health on Moorea Parrotfish and Inorganic Nutrients? Regardless of the backronym, a project investigating the effects on coral health of interaction between parrotfish predation and inorganic nutrient concentrations.


The Moorea Virus Project is a collaboration with the Correa Lab at Rice University, the Thurber Lab at Oregon State University, and the Burkepile Lab at University of California Santa Barbara. The entire Vega Thurber Lab has participated in this project looking at microbial and viral dynamics over space and time in reef environments around Moorea.


A large collaborative project with the Tara Foundation investigating the biogeography of microbes in the water and in association with corals across the Pacific. Conveniently taking place aboard the sailboat Tara. Lab members Dr. Rebecca Vega Thurber, Grace Klinges, Ryan McMinds, and Jerome Payet have all participated in the project from field work on Tara to analysis of samples.


The Global Coral Microbiome Project. Investigating interactions and coevolution among bacteria and corals across the globe. Bacteria perform a plethora of beneficial functions for their coral hosts, but the majority are unknown and uncharacterized. This project aims to identify microbial functions that have been selected by corals over their evolutionary history, and will begin to do so by characterizing the microbial communities of a wide geographic and taxonomic range of corals which have never been sampled. This project is headed by Dr. Rebecca Vega Thurber, postdoc Jesse Zaneveld, Ph.D. student Ryan McMinds, and collaborators at Penn State University Monica Medina and Joe Pollock.


Past Projects

Marine Mammal Viruses

Marine mammals are essential for stabilizing coastal marine community, structure, and function. However, the causes of about 50% of marine mammal-stranding events are yet to be determined. To study the viral consortia that may be responsible for marine mammal strandings, Ph.D. student Stephanie Rosales uses archived frozen brain tissue samples, next generation sequencing, and bioinformatic analysis. Ultimately, using these techniques she aims to discover and characterize neurotropic viruses that are detrimental to marine mammal strandings.


A long term collaborative project with Dr. Deron Burkepile studying the effects on reefs of nutrient enrichment and large herbivore removal. Many members of the lab were involved with this project, and a number of big papers came out of it.


Bacteriovorax are predatory bacteria whose presence helps shape their microbial community through trophic interactions. Its dynamics may thus be important in maintaining a healthy population of microbes in association with host organisms such as corals. Ph.D student Rory Welsh led the project investigating the processes which affect and are affected by Bacteriovorax.

Coral, Symbiodinium & Other Marine Viruses

Viruses are an often-overlooked part of every ecosystem. In addition to causing disease in charismatic species such as corals (e.g. White Plague), viruses are ubiquitous to every habitat at all times. Among other things, their effects on microorganisms such as phytoplankton can drastically change the way nutrients are cycled in the environment. Researchers in the lab who have focused on environmental virology include past postdoc Jerome Payet, past postdoc Adrienne Correa, past Ph.D. students Nitzan Soffer and Stephanie Rosales, and current PhD student Adrianna Messyasz. The lab is also involved with the study of viruses' effects on coral development and discovery of new coral and Symbiodinium viruses.