Kayla Simanek

Kayla Simanek, 4th year Ph.D. student

Kayla has a master’s degree in microbiology from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. After completing their degree, they were an APHL Antibiotic Resistance Fellow with the Virginia State Public Health Laboratory where they helped with next-generation sequencing of antibiotic resistant, Gram-negative bacterial clinical isolates. In the Paczkowski lab, Kayla is studying quorum sensing in clinical strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. They are interested in characterizing how naturally evolved SNPs in quorum sensing genes contribute to virulence of clinical strains.


Megan Schumacher

Megan Schumacher, 2nd year Ph.D. student

Megan a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin Madison. After completing her degree, she worked as a laboratory technician at the Medical College of Wisconsin where she studied the role of human cytomegalovirus in neurodegenerative disease. Since joining the Paczkowski lab, Megan has taken an interest in the differences in quorum sensing between laboratory and clinical strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. She hopes to explore these differences between strains using wax worm and lung organoid models, which will allow the study of unique bacterial signaling as well as host transcriptomic remodeling.


Caleb Mallery

Caleb Mallery, 2nd year Ph.D. student

Caleb Mallery is a first-year Ph.D. student from Endicott, New York. He completed his undergraduate degree in biology at Hartwick College, where he worked in an environmental microbiology laboratory using whole-genome sequencing data to understand microbial life in extreme environments. In the Paczkowski lab, Caleb uses genetic approaches and is taking advantage of new computational advances, such as AlphaFold, to identify novel protein-protein interactions in quorum sensing pathways. Caleb is excited to utilize these techniques to help broaden the understanding of quorum sensing in various microbial pathogens, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia.


Lia Prager

Lia Prager, 1st year Ph.D. student

Lia is a first-year Ph.D. student in the biomedical sciences program at the University at Albany. As an undergraduate student, she participated in the HHMI SEA-GENES program at SUNY Plattsburgh where she studied bacteriophage genomics in Mycobacterium smegmatis. After transferring to UAlbany, she joined the Paczkowski lab as an RNA Institute Research Fellow and was later hired as a Laboratory Technician. Lia received her BS in biology from UAlbany, and is continuing her graduate education in the School of Public Health. She is studying RhlR promoter specificity and virulence gene expression in the quorum sensing network of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Her research interests within biomedical science pertain to molecular biology, with a specific focus on microbial genetics.


Nathalie Colón-Torres

Nathalie Colón-Torres, 1st year Ph.D. student

Nathalie graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez in 2018 with two bachelor’s degree in Biology and Industrial Microbiology. Pursuing an interest in the pathogenesis of infectious diseases, she continued her professional development at the University of Rochester, where she obtained a Master’s in Microbiology doing literary research on mechanisms in Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation. Now a graduate student in the Paczkowski lab, Nathalie focuses on studying quorum sensing mainly by examining RhlR promoter selection mechanisms that contribute towards pathogenicity of Pseudomonas aeruginosa


Liz Knorr

Liz Knorr, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Liz received her Ph.D. in Zoology from Oregon State University in 2022. Her Ph.D. work focused on understanding the interaction between the healthy microbiome and invading pathogens within the canine respiratory system. Liz joined the Paczkowski lab as an APHL-CDC Infectious Disease Fellow and is now studying quorum sensing in clinical strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa from patients with cystic fibrosis.


Varun Bavda

Varun Bavda, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow

Varun is a Postdoctoral Research Affiliate at the Paczkowski laboratory. He earned his master’s degree in biotechnology from ARIBAS, S.P. University, Gujarat, India in 2014. Later, he joined the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Bhopal, India and received his Ph.D. in Life Sciences in 2021 with Dr. Vikas Jain. During his Ph.D., he mainly studied the role of lytic cassette proteins of bacteriophage infecting Mycobacterium tuberculosis. He moved to Albany, NY in 2022 and joined the Paczkowski lab to expand his interest and experience in quorum sensing in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Using his skills as microbiologist and molecular biologist, Varun further wants to understand the ecosystem of P. aeruginosa and M. abscessus co-infection in the cystic fibrosis patient’s lungs by mimicking the mucus environment using synthetic cystic fibrosis media.


Autumn Pope

Autumn Pope, Laboratory Technician

Autumn Pope is from Oneonta, NY. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology at Hartwick College, where she worked in an environmental microbiology laboratory using subsurface microbial species to understand biofilm production in extreme environments through bioinformatic tools and wet lab experimentation. In the Paczkowski lab, she is working to understand ligand binding selection by the RhlR quorum-sensing receptor in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


Amanda Kurtz

Amanda Kurtz, APHL-CDC Fellow

Amanda received her BS in biochemistry from the University of Oregon, where she worked in a bioengineering lab focused on creating hydrogels for 3D printed structures. In the Paczkowski lab, she is investigating the role of mutations commonly found in clinical isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to better understand their role in promoting infection and community interactions.