Jacob Russell, PhD

Associate Professor

Jacob Russell

Office: PISB 325
Phone: 215.895.1643
Lab: PISB 310 B1
Lab Phone: 215.895.4978
Website(s): Russell Lab
Research Focus: Russell Lab

Specialization: Molecular Ecology, Symbiosis, Metagenomics


  • BS, Molecular Genetics, University of Rochester, 1999 (advisors: John Jaenike & Wolfgang Stephan)
  • PhD, Ecology and Evolution, University of Arizona, 2004 (advisor: Nancy Moran)
  • NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, 2005-2006 (advisor: Naomi Pierce)
  • Green Memorial Fund Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, 2006-2007 (advisor: Naomi Pierce)

Research Interests

  • The nutritional roles of gut bacteria in the evolution of herbivory across the ants.
  • Distributions, evolution, and specificity of heritable bacterial symbionts across the insects.
  • Variation and significance of defensive bacteria in natural aphid populations.
  • The roles of gut bacteria in the digestive physiology of Trinidadian guppies and the effects of guppy diet in shaping bacterial gut communities.

Symbiotic bacteria are ubiquitous associates of animals, playing integral roles in their nutrition, digestion, and defense. Many of these interactions are ancient and highly specialized, having enabled the colonization of previously inhospitable niches and the subsequent diversification of their animal hosts. Through a combination of molecular, phylogenetic, and experimental techniques (both lab- and field-based), my research focuses on the functional significance and evolutionary histories of symbioses between animals and bacteria.

Current Federal Funding:

NSF, IOS—Symbiosis, Defense, and Self-Recognition. “Collaborative Research: Factors shaping the maintenance of variation in a symbiont-mediated host-enemy interaction.” $394,119. 2011-2014. (With PI Kerry Oliver from the University of Georgia)

NSF, DEB—Population and Community Ecology. “Collaborative Research: Inferring bacterial roles in the evolution of trophic level across the ants.” $450,00. 2011-2014. (With PI Corrie Moreau from the Field Museum of Natural History)

Research Focus



  • Oliver KM, Smith AH Russell JA (2013) Defensive symbiosis in the real world—diversity and maintenance of protective bacteria across aphids and other insects. Functional Ecology: accepted. (invited review)
  • Russell JA, Weldon S, Smith AH, Kim KL, Hu Y, Łukasik P, Doll S, Anastopoulos I, Novin M, Oliver KM (2013) Uncovering symbiont-driven genetic diversity across North American pea aphids. Molecular Ecology 22: 2045-2059.
  • Russell JA, Funaro CF, Milton Y, Goldman-Huertas B, Suh D, Moreau CS, Kronauer D, Pierce NE (2012) A veritable menagerie of heritable bacteria across the ants, lepidopterans, and beyond. PLoS One 7(12): e51027. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051027
  • Sullam KE, Essinger S, Lozupone CA, O’Connor M, Rosen G, Knight R, Kilham SS, Russell JA. (2012) Environmental and ecological factors that shape the gut bacterial communities of fish: a meta-analysis. Molecular Ecology 21: 3363-3378.
  • Anderson KE*, Russell JA*, Moreau CS, Katuz S, Sullam KE, Hu Y, Basinger U, Mott BM, Buch N, Wheeler D (2012) Highly similar microbial communities are shared among related and trophically similar ant species. Molecular Ecology 21: 2282-2296. (*co-first-authors)
  • Russell JA (2012) The ants are unique and enigmatic hosts of prevalent Wolbachia symbionts. Myrmecological News 16: 7-23. (invited review)
  • Funaro CF, Kronauer DJC, Moreau CS, Goldman-Huertas B, Pierce NE, Russell JA. (2011) Army ants harbor a host-specific clade of Entomoplasmatales bacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 77: 346-350.
  • Russell JA, Moreau C, Goldman-Huertas B, Fujiwara M, Lohman D, Pierce NE. (2009) Bacterial gut symbionts are tightly linked with the evolution of herbivory in ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA: 106: 21236-21241.
  • Russell JA, Goldman-Huertas B, Moreau CS, Baldo, L, Stahlhut JK, Werren JH, Pierce NE (2009) Specialization and geographic isolation among Wolbachia symbionts from ants and lycaenid butterflies. Evolution 63: 624-640.
  • Oliver KM, Russell JA, Moran NA, Hunter MS (2003) Facultative bacterial symbionts in aphids confer resistance to parasitic wasps. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100: 1803-1807.