George Davis


George joined the Friesen lab in Fall 2015 as a technician.  He facilitates greenhouse experiments and serves as a support to graduate students and post-docs.

George graduated from North Carolina State University in 2010 with a B.S. in mathematics. After working in finance for 2 years, he began working at various production greenhouses and taking courses in horticulture and plant science.  He moved to Lansing, MI in the fall of 2015 and began working at the Friesen Lab.

When not in the lab, he is mountain biking, being a landlord, drinking beer at Eagle Monk brewery, gardening or eating durian fruit.

Maddy Rabbitt



Maddy is an undergraduate student in her junior year at Michigan State University.  She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Microbiology.  She hopes to attend dental school in the near future and have a career in Orthodontics or Oral Surgery.

In her free time, Maddy participates in the Michigan State Equestrian Team where she rides hunt seat, and is in training to take over the Treasurer position in her Senior year.  Maddy also participates in the preprofessional society of Alpha Epsilon Delta.

Lab Photo! Summer 2016


L2R: Jeff Norman, Maren Friesen, Chandra Jack, George Davis, Shawna Rowe, Emily McLachlan, Carissa Zielinski, Colleen Friel, Ellie Siler, Kamyra Rodgers, Alan Bowsher, Ellen Garcia, Prateek Shetty, Maddy Rabbitt, Jeff Bond

Aaron Garoutte


Aaron Garoutte graduated from Hope College in 2006 with a B.A. in Biology. He received his PhD in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Michigan State University where he was advised by James Tiedje. Aaron’s PhD work included the use of metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to study the microbial community associated with bioenergy crops Switchgrass (Vanicum virgatum), Miscanthus (Miscanthus gigantus) and Corn (Zea mays).

He joined the Friesen lab in Fall 2016 where he will work as bioinformatician. Aaron is jointly advised by Dr. Kevin Childs.

Alan Bowsher


Alan joined the lab in June 2016 as a post-doctoral research associate, and is working on root transcriptome analyses for both the Trifolium and the Switchgrass projects.  His interests lie in plant adaptation to soil fertility gradients, responses to abiotic stress, and plant-soil-microbe interactions in the rhizosphere. Alan is also conducting experiments for collection of root exudates from switchgrass seedlings, as well as examining the influence of Nitrogen X Microbiome interactions on physiology, performance, and transcriptomics in switchgrass.

Alan completed a B.S. in Biology at Ohio Northern University in 2010, and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 2015, where he focused on root structure and function in relation to fertility gradients.

Shawna Rowe


Image taken at the International Society for Microbial Ecology 2016. Shrubbery name unknown.

Shawna is a PhD student in the Department of Plant Biology performing research in the Friesen lab. She started her PhD during the summer of 2015 and is interested in how leguminous plants recognize differential nitrogen fixing abilities in rhizobia and how they distribute resources accordingly. Additionally, she is fascinated by how the microbiome influences the symbiotic relationship, specifically instances of rhizobial cheating. Evolution, biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology are all exciting topics and Shawna is excited to see where her PhD will take her in the world of research.

Additionally, Shawna enjoys hiking, camping, kayaking, baking, traveling, reading, and generally having new experiences. She currently sits as a member of the social committee for the Plant Biology graduate student association. She is an active member of BEACON: The center for evolution in action and of the Plant Biotechnology for Health and Sustainability program. She is interested in science communication and education directed at individuals who are not aspiring/ active scientists. She enjoys a casual coffee/ tea addiction.

Shawna grew up in Ozarks region of Southwest Missouri and completed a B.S. in Biochemistry with a Minor in Peace Studies at the University of Missouri. Her time at Mizzou led to her love of plant-microbe interactions. 

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 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.