Summer is here in the northern hemisphere and tick season is upon us. While for many, this
comes with no small amount of concern for tick-borne diseases, for Paula Lado tick season means
opportunity. Her subjects are active again and her studies on ticks as vectors for infection turn to
field work, approaching them where they live. Lado, a graduate student at Ohio State University
in Columbus, is exploring the interconnectedness of ticks, their microbiome and “their effect on
How did you first get interested in science and microbiome research?
I honestly don’t even remember when I got first interested in science. I have always been curious
and attracted to “biology”, to “nature” in general. I find nature just fascinating, and I love solving
problems… or at least to try. As for the microbiome, that came later. It is a concept that has
received a lot of attention during the last few years. I have worked on different things related to
microbes for years (for example, different kinds of bacteria transmitted by ticks, individual
pathogens), but next generation sequencing techniques allow us to see things from different
perspectives, to study groups of microbes at the same time, to work at the community level, and to
tackle questions that are more complex. I hope to continue exploring microbiomes, the interaction
between different microorganisms of the microbiome, and their effect on disease ecology.
Can you give us a summary of the work you’re currently doing?
The main goal of my dissertation project is to gain greater understanding into the underlying
variables and processes that determine tick-borne diseases dynamics using an innovative
integrated approach. Specifically, we analyze the microbiome (symbionts and pathogens) of
American dog ticks collected from different US states, and to combine that information with the
genetic data to gain understanding of the diseases dynamics.
What will be a typical day for you in the lab?
Well, it depends upon what I need to do. I’d be doing extractions, PCRs, preparing plates for
sequencing, or preparing libraries. Sometimes, I mentor undergrads in the lab as well, so in that
case I would be doing the techniques with them and discussing good lab practices.
What do you find most interesting about your research?
I like everything about my project. I find the topic fascinating, complex, and challenging. One of
the things that I like the most is that I do different activities: I get to do fieldwork and collect ticks, I
do pure lab work, bioinformatics analyses, and writing. It’s very dynamic and it gives me the
opportunity to learn many things and improve my skills while developing new ones. I also enjoy
that my project requires the integration of different disciplines. I believe that nowadays,
integrative approaches are a must, and they are incredibly productive. We get the opportunity of
interacting with people with different backgrounds and expertise.
How does your research impact health, disease and the environment?
I work with the microbial communities of two species of ticks that transmit human pathogens. We
amplify a fragment of the 16S ribosomal gene, for all bacteria, and then we use the sequences
and bioinformatics tools, as well as online databases to identify all the bacteria present within the
ticks’ tissues. We can determine what pathogens and symbionts are present, as well as their
relative abundances. It has been suggested that microbiome profiles could be used as biomarkers
of infection prevalence in endemic areas. Those microbiome profiles result, in part, from the
interaction between endosymbiont species and/or genera. Examples of negative and positive
interactions have been reported: on the one hand cases of exclusion, in which a pathogen is
“excluded” from the vector by other endosymbionts; and on the other hand, cases of facilitation,
in which a pathogen’s environment and settlement is favored by a different symbiont. I am
interested in these interactions, and how they can affect disease dynamics in different habitats,
and geographic locations.
What are your hobbies?
There are many activities I enjoy doing. I love soccer, and I get together with friends almost every
week to watch a game while having random conversations. I like to hike, roller skate (although I
have never learned how to use the brakes), working out, cooking, gardening…listening to music,
What are the major challenges you face in your research with regards to sample collection,
nucleic acid isolation and data analysis?
We all face many challenges, that is simply the way it goes. The trick is to get really good at
troubleshooting, adjusting plans, and having “plan Bs”. Because the species I work with have a wide geographic distribution range, and the adults are only active mid-spring-summer, then one
of my challenges has been to decide where to travel, prioritize locations. It has also been
challenging to get funds for my fieldwork activities, but luckily, I was awarded a Lewis and Clark
in 2018 which will allow me to do fieldwork in 2019.
Another challenge is to extract enough DNA for all the techniques I plan to do.
Which QIAGEN products do you use/have you used in the past and what did you like about the products?
We’ve used the lysis buffer, DNA extraction kits (like the QIAamp DNA Blood Mini Kit), PCR
Purification Kits (like the QIAquick PCR Purification Kit), PCR reagents, and Oligos.
The products have always worked the way they are supposed to. I have not had any issues with
QIAGEN products. The yield obtained by the extraction kits has been highly satisfying. The
quality of the extracted DNA is also very good.
Perhaps you’re working with tough material or working with environmental or human samples.
Quality work needs quality products. QIAGEN offers insights and a range of kits to help you with
your microbiome research.