Principal Investigator

Dr. Nikki Traylor-Knowles


I am integrative biologist interested in the evolution of immunity and regeneration. I work with cnidarians (corals, sea anemones) to understand how their innate immune system evolved, and how it reacts to changes in their environment, such as those seen during El Niño events, or due to anthropogenic stressors such as pollution. I am also interested in the mechanisms of wound healing, and regeneration, and how these processes are affected by environmental shifts. My laboratory uses techniques in cell biology, genomics, and biochemistry to answer these questions. Lastly, I am interested in applying these techniques to conservation efforts by exploring the development of biomarkers for stress response in coral reefs.

Lab Manager

Kevin Rodriguez


My research interests are focused on developing a more thorough understanding of the genomic adaptations and histological characteristics of corals exposed to disease and anthropogenic induced climatic variability. By better understanding how the innate immune mechanisms of reef building corals are responding to acute heat stress and disease, I hope to refine existing management practices. My current work is concentrated on employing biomedical research techniques to comprehend the roles of specific cell types during stress response in corals. Additional interests include molecular systematics of coral reefs and developing creative methods for scientific information delivery to non-specialists.

Graduate Students

Ph. D. Student Michael Connelly


I am passionate about researching coral cellular and molecular immunity and applying discoveries with the goal of improving reef ecosystem management in human-impacted seas. My graduate research aims to clarify coral innate immune mechanisms and develop bio-indicators for health status in threatened Caribbean and Indo-Pacific coral species. My current research focuses on the application of antibiotics and bacterial mimic molecules as immune stimulants to tease apart linkages between coral microbial communities, innate immunity gene expression and acute heat stress tolerance.

Ph. D. Student Grace Snyder


I am passionate about coral conservation and how using population genetics can identify reefs at risk of extinction. My graduate research focuses on species delimitation of the Indo-Pacific genus Pocillopora in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. 

M.S. Student Benjamin Young

I want to understand the mechanisms which can facilitate resistance to disease and wounds inflicted on coral. My main focuses and projects will be looking at how different immunity genes are expressed in response to diseases in Acropora cervicornis. I am also interested in the wound healing process in a number of heat stressed coral from the Caribbean area. At the moment, these projects are my main focus, but the end goal is to progress into a Ph.D. in coral immunity to help save the world one coral at a time.

Undergraduate Students

Anthony Bonacolta


I’m double-majoring in Marine Science and Microbiology and Immunology, and I am interested in the underlying mechanisms of cnidarian holobionts. I wish to study the microbiota’s affect on cnidarian immunity and functionality.

Jess Daly


I am a senior marine science and biology student and I am interested in how climate change affects marine animals. I am currently working on PCR analysis of samples from the university invertebrate museum, as well as starting a project involving coral wounding.

Madison Emery


I am a junior marine science and biology student interested in coral reef ecology and conservation. More specifically, I am interested in the relationship between cnidarian symbiosis and immunity, and how this relationship effects the health of coral reefs.

Megan Howson

I am a senior Marine Science/Biology student with minors in chemistry and psychology. I am studying wound healing in Nematostella using cell markers to examine the mechanisms involved in regeneration including apoptosis and proliferation.

James Nowotny


I’m interested in the use of genomics to learn more about the mechanisms behind marine invertebrate immunity and behavior.  I’m excited to see how what is learned from these techniques is applied to help conserve coral reef communities now and in the future.

Haley Plaas

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I am interested in climate change research, marine conservation, and public education. I believe that the discrepancy between the public and scientific researchers is much too great, and I want to minimize it through science education. I work on outreach projects for the lab, hoping to inspire conservation efforts.

Brian Walters

My interests include finding a deeper understanding of bio-systems in order to apply that knowledge to conservation as well as designing and testing experimental apparatus and methods. I enjoy maintaining hobby and laboratory tanks and expanding my husbandry skills. In the future, I hope to develop new research into the immune response of corals impacted by environmental stressors.

Former Students and Employees

Stephanie Chang


Born and raised in Miami, I have always loved being around the ocean and spent much of my time fishing and boating. I have loved the water from such a young age, and it drew me toward marine science. At 19 years old, I graduated from Miami-Dade College with a major in biology and am currently completing a research internship at RSMAS. I perform PCR in the lab and am studying the regeneration of Nematostella vectensis. I hope to bring awareness to the importance of the conservation of the ocean along my path toward veterinary medicine.

Kristina Kaleel


I am interested in looking at coral immunology and their immune defense systems. I would like to learn more about the cellular mechanisms as to how corals defend against pathogens in order to see the effects of anthropogenic impacts, and whether there are ways to help boost their immune function.

Zhanna Kozhekbaeva


Research Associate and Lab Manager, Ph.D.

Annabel Macklin


I am very interested in marine biomedicine, immunology and regeneration biology. I love discovering how different animals overcome the many challenges of living in the microbe-rich marine environment and how this can help us learn about diseases worldwide.

Bianca Noguera


I am an undergraduate at the University of Miami. I am interested in climate change, conservation, and environmental preservation. Growing up in South Florida and living next to the water really piqued my interest in marine science from a young age. When I was a senior in high school, my environmental science teacher opened my eyes to the effects of climate change, and this is what made me decide to pursue this course of study.

Alexis Sturm


I am a senior undergraduate student at the University of Miami who is interested in the fields of coral reef ecology and conservation. I am working on characterizing aspects of the wound healing process in the coral, Pocillopora damicornis.