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Welcome to the Friesen Lab Website

Our research interests lie at the interface of ecology and evolution. How do the molecular and physiological pathways of organisms shape their ecology, and how does selection imposed by interactions with other organisms and the environment ultimately shape their genomes?


Paper on Streptomyces thermoautotrophicus out in Scientific Reports!

Jeff here – Dr. Friesen and I are authors on a multi-institutional paper about Streptomyces thermoautotrophicus, the organism that spawned the Oxygen-tolerant Nitrogenase project, which came out today in Scientific Reports:


This paper results from the combined efforts of labs in Michigan, California, Argentina, Germany, and the UK.  This collaboration began when everyone involved realized they were simultaneously working on the same topic and decided to collaborate rather than compete – science can be an amazing venue for bringing people together!

We’ve met some amazing people through this project and traveled to some truly bizarre places (see our post on Microbe Hunting in Centralia PA).  Furthermore, the backstory on S. thermo makes this paper a great read!  A couple different press-releases came out in conjunction with this paper as well:

Three Cities in Three Weekends: The Travels of an Undergraduate

First time for many things during my trip: first Dean’s Research Scholars event, first time on the Amtrak, first time in Chicago and first time learning about historical architecture. The Amtrak from East Lansing to Chicago took about 4 hours and during the ride, I talked to a MSU geography graduate student about coding in R. Also on the trip with me was Elizabeth, the DRS coordinator and Sarah, a senior zoology major. We met with Beck Jo once we arrived in Chicago. From the moment I walked out of Union Station and onto the street of downtown Chicago, I was amazed at how busy the city was. We finally went to our room in the newly renovated Chicago Athletic Association. It was absolutely beautiful and old timey.

The purpose for my Chicago visit was an event at Ross and Terri Rubino’s house in Park Ridge, IL (about 30 minutes north of the city). They were very gracious hosts and the event had good food and even better company. Approximately 20 guests attended and Sarah and I both gave informal speeches about our stories, MSU experiences, and research. My interaction with the alumni was priceless; they were interested, inquisitive, encouraging and praising. It was great to connect and talk to alumni who are still so invested in the university’s success.  I am continuously amazed by the support of alumni worldwide. I am happy and proud to attend Michigan State University and grateful for research opportunities that have allowed me to discover more about myself.

The next morning, the city was even more packed than the day before and we went on a historic architecture walking tour through the city. We learned how Chicago evolved into a trading hub and unique skyscraper mecca. We also walked through Millennium Park and saw the bean.

Selfie with the "bean" sculpture.

Selfie with the “bean” sculpture.

(Visit https://natsci.msu.edu/students/undergraduate/deans-research-scholars/meet-the-scholars/katherine-wozniak/ for my DRS profile!)

The following weekend, I attended the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium (GCURS) at Rice University in Houston, Texas.  I got in late on Friday night and the symposium was all day Saturday. I was the very first presentation during the first session. I gave a 12 minute talk on my latest experiment which aimed to further investigate if invasive M. polymorpha relies less on co-evolved rhizobia. For the rest of the day, I met many undergraduates from Texas and listened to a variety of talks from ecology to engineering. One particular presentation employed all of the best genetic techniques and thanks to my advanced microbiology lab and microbial genetics classes, I understood every word!

We toured the Bio Research Center (BRC) and got to see a majority of the campus during our walk to dinner. It was not hard to get used to the warm weather and sunshine. To my surprise, Houston was laid back compared to Chicago. All of the buildings at Rice have red roofs and there are a lot of red brick buildings—they even have a piece of the Berlin Wall. Although I was in Houston a short time, it was still an awesome experience. A big thank you to Rice University, Dr. Susan Cates and the GCURS for having me!

At Rice's BRC.

At Rice’s BRC.

Last but certainly not least, I presented a 10 minute PowerPoint to the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) MI branch meeting at University of Michigan. My talk was on the same experiment I presented in Houston but with a lot more focus on pathogenicity because pathogenicity was the meeting’s focus. The presentation went well and I got to hear talks from three graduate students, and three PIs from various universities. I received very insightful feedback and questions, which was exciting because I felt like an expert in my field. I became a member of ASM and made quite a few connections. A really interesting talk was given by Dr. Melody Neely about using zebra fish to investigate pathogens and how they sometimes invade the immune system—surprisingly, zebra fish have very similar immune systems to humans. Fish also take up a lot less space in the lab and require less maintenance than rabbits and mice. Toward the end of the meeting, I received the Best Oral Presentation Award from ASM MI! I really enjoyed the meeting and am grateful that I could present to such a diverse group.

Giving my presentation! (Thanks for the photo, Dr. DiRita)

Giving my presentation! (Thanks for the photo, Dr. DiRita)

An exciting new project let by Sarah Evans (KBS) with Lisa Tiemann, Maren Friesen, and Jim Cole was just announced! Check out the MSU press release here.

Evans, Tiemann, Friesen, and Cole in front of ornamental switchgrass on MSU campus.

Postdoctoral Opening: Plant-microbe community genomics

Postdoc in Ecological Plant Transcriptomics and Microbiome Analysis

The Friesen Lab in the Department of Plant Biology at Michigan State University is seeking highly motivated individuals to contribute to data analysis and manuscript preparation for two funded projects investigating the transcriptomic connections linking plant-plant competition and plant-microbiome interactions in legumes (collaborative with Sharon Strauss at UC Davis) and grasses (collaborative with Sarah Evans, Lisa Tiemann, and Jim Cole at MSU). The legume project is focused on questions related to niche evolution and species coexistence, while the grass project aims to understand plant-microbe resource exchange and nutrient cycling across diversity and fertility gradients.

Key qualifications include a strong statistical and computational background with the ability to ask creative questions. Familiarity with Illumina data and bioinformatics is desired but not essential–this could be a great opportunity for the right person to develop genomics expertise. Excellent communication and organizational skills are required along with a track record of timely publications.

Funding is initially available for one year with renewal based upon performance. The successful applicant would be encouraged to develop independent lines of research in accordance with an individualized mentoring plan. The Friesen lab is located in the Molecular Plant Sciences building which is designed to foster collaboration. Start date is flexible, ideally spring 2016 but earlier or later would be considered.

Please send a ~1 page statement of interest, CV, and contact info for 3 references to mfriesen@msu.edu .  Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled.

Undergraduate Opening: Computational Biology

The Friesen lab is seeking a motivated undergraduate student with an interest in computational biology to assist on a series of projects investigating ecological genomics and transcriptomics in non-model species of clover and their nitrogen-fixing bacterial symbionts. Applicants should be comfortable with a command line and preferably a computer cluster; knowledge of at least one programming language and the willingness to use multiple languages will be required. These positions will be primarily computational, but there may be opportunities to participate in data generation if desired. This paid position will require a minimum of 10 hours of work a week; work times can be set to accommodate academic schedules. Candidates will be encouraged to design and implement side research projects that complement larger project goals.

Please apply through http://friesen.plantbiology.msu.edu/?page_id=352

Undergraduate Opening: Microbiology

The Friesen lab is seeking motivated undergraduate students with an interest in microbiology to assist on a project culturing novel microorganisms with the ability to fix nitrogen. The position will require a minimum of 10 hours of lab work a week; work times can be set to accommodate academic schedules. Main duties will include culturing bacteria from environmental samples, glassware washing, preparation and sterilization of solid and liquid media, decontamination and disposal of used culturing materials. Candidates will be trained in sterile technique and exposed to culturing techniques for a variety of organisms with diverse metabolic demands along with basic molecular biology (e.g., PCR) and microscopy techniques. Furthermore, candidates will be encouraged to design and implement side research projects that complement larger project goals. These positions are currently available on a volunteer or for-credit basis.

Please apply through http://friesen.plantbiology.msu.edu/?page_id=352

Can you explain your research using only the ten hundred most used words?

Check out Colleen’s award-winning attempt!

We study big green things that use sun light as food and littler things that use some parts of the air as food and live in the ground that the big green things live in. The big green things give the littler things food made from sun light, and the littler things give the big green things food they made from the air. This makes both the big green things and littler things happier. We want to know how the big green things and the littler things talk to each other and decide how much food to give and take.  

Maren, Prateek, and Colleen took on the challenge at the Science Communication Workshop hosted by Danielle Whittaker at BEACON Congress 2015. Here is Maren’s description:

I study how tiny cells make friends with big green things to share good things with each other. The tiny cells make food out of air and the bigger things make another kind of food. When they live together, they are both better off than when they are alone because they are good at different things. A lot of people think that tiny cells that don’t make food are mean and bad for the big green thing, but it turns out that these tiny cells aren’t happy either.

If you want to try this on your own, head over to http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ and type your text in the box. It will alert you if you use a word that isn’t in the ten hundred most used words. This was a fun and silly exercise that illustrates how difficult it can be to explain your research simply, without the jargon and buzzwords scientists take for granted. Admittedly, I would not recommend using this level of language to actually explain your research to anyone-that might be a bit insulting! But it will definitely improve your creativity. On a side note, can we talk about how alarming it is that “plant” is not among the ten hundred most commonly used words? We need to work on changing that.

We also learned about writing great Twitter “hooks” to promote an article you would like your followers to read. It’s important to make it something exciting and intriguing that will leave your reader interested enough to actually click on the link you posted. You can see the tweet that won the contest at the workshop below, plus Maren and Colleen’s entries.

Prateek was also terribly brave and tackled explaining his thesis in three minutes or less, with a single slide. Prateek did a great job explaining how he is exploring how plants make friends with their microbial partners and how many friends plant actually need to be happy. This exercise taught us how important it is to translate your research into succinct, easy to understand sound bites to effectively communicate your research in a short period of time. Check out his slide below!


Chandra Jack

Photo on 8-8-15 at 3.23 PM #2

Chandra Jack got her B.A in Biology at Rice University in 2005. She also received her PhD from Rice in Evolutionary Biology in the Strassmann-Queller lab where she studied cooperation, cheating, and kin recognition in the social amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum.

She joined the Friesen lab in August 2014 as a BEACON Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow where she is interested in studying tripartite interactions between Medicago, rhizobia, and insects to better understand rapid evolution in invasive plants.

Plant Biology 2015 Conference

26 July 2015-30 July 2015

This past week Dr. Friesen, Colleen and I attended the Plant Biology conference through the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) in Minneapolis, MN. The conference highlighted plant research in areas such as development, plant-microbe interactions, plant-insect interactions, biochemistry, abiotic & biotic factors, and genetics. We each presented a poster of our recent work and interacted with other scientists. I received a Bio-Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) travel stipend from the NSF to attend this conference—it was for former students of REUs to display their work at a conference of their choice.

View of Minneapolis from our plane.

View of Minneapolis from our plane.

Maren's poster.

Maren’s poster.

Colleen Friel's poster.

Colleen Friel’s poster.

Katie Wozniak's poster.

Katie Wozniak’s poster.

Minneapolis is beautiful and surprisingly clean. They have an efficient rail system for long distance transportation (and it’s only $1.75/ride), electric buses, and recycling at every turn. Most of the buildings downtown are connected via a skyway, which is unique to Minneapolis. Without ever going outside, you can walk across town and visit a series of shops and restaurants. I can imagine this is a huge perk during the brutal Minnesota winters.

A beautiful day in MN!

"mini Polis" city in a park near the convention center.

“mini Polis” city in a park near the convention center.

We listened to the major symposia speakers and had choices of mini symposia with different featured disciplines in plant research. They even had a symposium on space biology! On the first day of the conference, we were asked “What do you want to learn at this meeting?” and Colleen and I wrote “Take legumes (with rhizobia) to space.” Someone from the Space Biology program actually tweeted a picture of our response! P.S. I now have a Twitter handle thanks to Dr. Friesen, so follow me @OKmicrobe.


Dr. Friesen, Colleen & Katie before the first major symposium.

Dr. Friesen, Colleen & Katie before the first major symposium.

The most rewarding part of the conference for me was networking. Coffee breaks and poster sessions allowed me to speak to my peers at the conference about my research, and my graduate school interests. I gained advice on new contacts, how to apply to graduate school, where to apply, and what life is like as a graduate student at some of the schools I’m interested in. I also got to meet several professors, including one from the University of Minnesota! On the last night of the conference, there was a party in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall—I never knew plant biologists loved to dance.

Colleen & Katie at the farewell party.

Colleen & Katie at the farewell party.

Dr. Friesen and Dr. Harcombe as "Drago" at the farewell party.

Dr. Friesen and Dr. Harcombe (as “Drago”) at the farewell party.

Overall, the conference was a learning experience for me and I am thankful to have attended. Now, back to work…