Alina Avanesyan
Among the redwoods -- Muir Woods

About Me

I am a biology researcher. I’m working primarily on evolution and ecology of species interactions. I’ve done most of my research on host-parasite and plant-insect interactions, and I’ve also worked on some aspects of population genetics, and phylogenetics. In my research, I like to integrate different approaches whenever it is possible: field and laboratory experiments, molecular biology techniques, as well as microscopy and histological techniques.

I earned my Diploma and, later, my Candidate of Science degree in Biological Sciences at Herzen State University in St. Petersburg, Russia. I worked on cellular immune responses of pulmonate snails to infection by trematodes using Biomphalaria glabrata snails and Echinostoma caproni trematode as a model. After completing my degree in 2002 I joined the faculty at Herzen State University. As faculty, I taught a variety of lectures and laboratories, and worked with my undergraduate students on their research. In 2008, I spent a semester as a visiting research scholar at the Biology Department at the University of Northern Iowa, where I received training in molecular biology techniques and worked on phylogeography and genetic variation in Uca crab populations. The following academic year (2008/09), while still at Herzen, I became a part-time researcher at The Institute of Cytology in St. Petersburg, where I continued my training in molecular biology and worked on genetic hybridization of littoral snails.

I continued my education as a doctoral student at the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. My research areas included phylogenetic relationships of forensically important flies, plant-insect interactions (which became the focus of my dissertation), as well as aspects of plant population genetics. I earned my Ph.D. in Biological Sciences in 2014, under the direction of Dr. Theresa Culley. In my dissertation, I focused on interactions between native and exotic grasses and generalist insect herbivores. I was interested in the potential impact of generalist insects on the successful spread of exotic plants. Using a grasses-grasshoppers model, I combined behavioral and molecular approaches to explore tolerant and resistant responses of native and exotic grasses to herbivory by Melanoplus grasshoppers, as well as grasshopper feeding preferences on these plants. Through all of my experiments, I found strong preference of grasshoppers for exotic plants, which was in contrast to previous studies and suggested that grasshoppers might provide potential resistance to establishment of exotic plants in the introduced range.

In 2016, I did a short postdoc at the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on biology and distribution of the invasive spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, in raspberry. Then, during 2016/2017 academic year, I was a Genetics Instructor at Grand View University where I taught upper-level Genetics and Molecular Biology laboratory courses for biotechnology majors.

Since January 2018, I am a Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. I am working in Dr. Bill Lamp’s lab, where I continue my research on ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions with a focus on novel associations between native and introduced species. Currently, I am developing several research projects: I am planning to continue exploring herbivore resistance and tolerance in exotic grasses, a potential role of native insect generalists in biotic resistance of native communities, and, most recently, I’ve started developing a project on host plant usage by a recent invader, the spotted lanternfly. All this is super exciting, and I’m looking forward to my next research adventure..

Outside my work I enjoy spending time with my husband and our little daughter. We enjoy the outdoors whenever we get a chance – hiking, biking, skiing, and simply exploring new places! And if the weather isn’t cooperating, you will find me exploring the unpredictable worlds of Neil Gaiman and George Martin, or looking for all those who disappeared and “were said to been seen in San-Francisco” with Armistead Maupin…

Sergey, Alina, and Alice