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Jacob Russell

Jacob A. Russell, PhD

Department of Biology
Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Office: PISB 325
Phone: 215.895.1643
Lab Location: PISB 310 B1
Lab Phone: 215.895.4978
Additional Sites:

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

Curriculum Vitae:

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Research Interests:

  • Roles of bacterial symbionts in ant evolution
  • Function, stability, and dynamics of heritable symbiont communities in aphids
  • Genomic mechanisms driving correlations between symbiosis and insect ecology
  • Coevolutionary histories between insects and their microbes


After a rigorous undergraduate education in molecular genetics at the University of Rochester, Dr. Russell enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Arizona, where he furthered a passion for studying symbiosis. When he completed training at Harvard under the support of a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship in microbiology, Professor Russell transitioned to a faculty position at Drexel, where he developed a research program focused on symbiosis and molecular ecology.

Symbiosis is a defining feature of the biology of many animals, whose relationships with bacterial “symbionts” shape 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. Others are more labile and dynamic and amenable to studies of their real-time change in contemporary animal populations.

The Russell lab studies the functional significance and evolutionary histories of symbioses in ants and aphids through a combination of molecular, bioinformatic, phylogenetic, and experimental techniques. Through lab- and field-based research, lab members strive to understand the adaptive significance of symbioses that are primarily heritable across recent to ancient timescales. This work has implications for managing crop pests and animals’ survival in the face of climate change and a rapidly changing environment.

Professor Russell aims to communicate the capacity to understand complex systems through interdisciplinarity and the benefits of both field and manipulative lab research to develop and test hypotheses by infusing his coursework in Genomics, Molecular Ecology, Bioinformatics, and Physiological Ecology with lessons from these symbiotic systems.

Dr. Russell has served as a Subject Editor at the journal Molecular Ecology since 2013. His publications have earned over 7,000 citations, comprising 48 articles in prominent, peer-reviewed journals, and three book chapters.

Current Federal Funding

National Science Foundation, Integrative and Organismal Biology, Award #1754597. "Collaborative Research: Competition and cooperation in the defensive symbiont communities of aphids.” 2018-2022. (role: PI; with PI Kerry Oliver, Associate Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia)

National Science Foundation, Dimensions of Biodiversity, Award #1442144. “Dimensions: Identifying how the ecological and evolutionary interactions between host and symbiont shape holobiont biodiversity.” 2015-2020. (PI, along with: PI Corrie Moreau, Assistant Curator of Entomology, Field Museum of Natural History; PI John Wertz, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Calvin College; PI Scott Powell, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, George Washington University).

Selected Publications:

  • Béchade, B, Hu, Y, Sanders, JG, Cabuslay, CS, Łukasik, P, Williams, BR, Fiers, VJ, Lu, R, Wertz, JT, Russell, JA. (2021) Turtle ants harbor metabolically versatile microbiomes with conserved functions across development and phylogeny. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 98: 1-20. DOI: 10.1093/femsec/fiac068 
  • Carpenter, M, Peng, L, Smith, AH, Joffe, J, O’Connor, M, Oliver, KM, Russell, JA. (2021) Frequent drivers, occasional passengers: Signals of symbiont-driven seasonal adaptation and hitchhiking in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Insects 12 (9): 805.  
  • Smith, AH, O’Connor, M, Deal, B, Kotzer, C, Lee, A, Wagner, B, Joffe, J, Woloszynek, S, Oliver, KM, Russell, JA. (2021) Does getting defensive get you anywhere? - Seasonal balancing selection, temperature, and parasitoids shape real-world, protective endosymbiont dynamics in the pea aphid. Molecular Ecology 30: 2449-2472.  
  • Parfrey LW, Moreau CS, Russell JA. (2018) Introduction – The host-associated microbiome: Pattern, process, and function. Molecular Ecology 27: 1749–1765. 
  • Hu Y*, Sanders J*, Łukasik P, D’Amelio CL, Millar JS, Vann DR, Lan Y, Newton JA, Schotanus, Kronauer DJC, Pierce NE, Moreau CS, Wertz J, Engel P, Russell JA. (2018) Herbivorous turtle ants obtain essential nutrients from a conserved nitrogen-recycling gut microbiome. Nature Communications 9: 964. *These authors contributed equally to this work. 
  • Rock DI, Smith AH, Joffe J, Albertus A, Wong N, O’Connor M, Oliver K, Russell JA (2018) Context-dependent vertical transmission shapes strong symbiont community structure in the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Molecular Ecology 27: 2039-2056.  
  • Łukasik P, Newton JA, Sanders JG, Hu Y, Moreau CS, Kronauer DJC, O’Donnell S, Koga R, Russell JA (2017) The structured diversity of specialized gut symbionts of the New World army ants. Molecular Ecology 26: 3808-3825. 
  • Russell JA, Oliver KM, Hansen AK (2017) Band-aids for Buchnera and B vitamins for all. Molecular Ecology 26: 2199-2203.  
  • Hu Y, Holway DA, Łukasik P, Chau L, Kay AD, LeBrun EG, Miller KA, Sanders JG, Suarez AV, Russell JA (2017) By their own devices: invasive Argentine ants have shifted diet without clear aid from symbiotic microbes. Molecular Ecology 26: 1608-1630. 
  • Russell JA, Sanders JG, Moreau CM (2017) Hotspots for symbiosis: Function, evolution, and specificity of ant-microbe associations from trunk to tips of the ant phylogeny (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 24: 43-69.