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).