Laura Wegener Parfrey

Faculty Profile

Faculty Profile

Photo by: Elaine Simons Lane
Assistant Prof., CRC Tier 2

Eukaryotic microbial ecology in coastal environments; Eukaryotes in the microbiome.

BS (2004) State University of New York at Albany

PhD (2011) University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Postdoc (2011-2013) University of Colorado – Boulder

Contact Information

Biodiversity Office Room 109, Biodiversity Lab Room 170

Research Interests

My lab studies communities of microbial eukaryotes (protists) with the goal of understanding their diversity and distribution across environments. Eukaryotes, which include the familiar plants, animals, and fungi, are incredibly diverse and consist of many microbial lineages of amoebae, flagellates, ciliates, algae, and parasites.  We use high-throughput sequencing to characterize microbial communities.  Our analyses use a phylogenetic framework of the eukaryotic tree of life to gain an evolutionary perspective on microbial community diversity.  Currently there are three focal areas of research.


1. Eukaryotes in the human microbiome

All animals have evolved in association with a consortium of microbes, and microbes make up huge part of who we are as humans: 90% of the cells in our bodies are microbial. Research in recent years has revealed that these microbes influence aspects of our lives ranging from disease, immune system development, nutrition and even behavior.  Western life styles have greatly altered our microbial consortium.  These insights come almost exclusively from bacteria, but we have many reasons to suspect that eukaryotic microbes also play an important role at the community level.  To begin to elucidate the role of eukaryotes within the microbiome community my lab is collaborating with other researchers to understand the normal human microbiome, so that we can better determine how it is altered during westernization and in disease states.  We are also assessing microbial eukaryotic communities in other vertebrate hosts to discover broader ecological and evolutionary patterns.


2. Microbial eukaryotic communities across environmental gradients

Determining how organismal diversity is distributed across environments is one of the fundamental goals of ecology.  High throughput sequencing methods enable us to characterize microbial communities at unprecedented levels of detail.  My lab uses a combination of environmental surveys, field transplant experiments, and lab experiments to understand some of the major transitions that structure microbial eukaryotic communities.  We are setting up field sites in coastal BC to study salinity gradients.  We are also interested in better understanding the ecology and evolution of microbial communities that are ubiquitously associated with non-vertebrate marine hosts.


Biology 121 Genetics, Evolution and Ecology

Team Members

Matthew Lemay - Hakai Postdoc
Andy Loudon - Zoology PhD program
Ferdous Nawar - Zoology MSc program
Melissa Chen – Honours undergraduate
Karina Grigore – Directed studies undergraduate
Jordan Lin - Directed studies undergraduate
Please contact me if you would like to discuss opportunities to join the lab in any of these areas.

Selected Publications

Parfrey LW, Walters WA, Lauber CL, Clemente JC, Berg-Lyons D, Teiling C, Kodira CD, Mohiuddin M, Brunelle J, Driscoll M, Fierer N, Gilbert JA, Knight R. 2014. Communities of microbial eukaryotes in the mammalian gut within the context of environmental eukaryotic diversity. Frontiers in Microbiology. 5, 298.

Parfrey LW, Lahr DJG, Knoll AH, Katz LA. 2011. Estimating the timing of early eukaryotic diversification with multigene molecular clocks. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA. 108(33):13624-13629.

Parfrey LW, Walters WA, Knight R. 2011. Microbial eukaryotes in the human microbiome: ecology, evolution, and future directions. Frontiers Cell Infection Microbiol. 2:153.

Parfrey LW and Katz LA. 2010. Genome dynamics are influenced by food source in Allogromia laticollaris strain CSH (Foraminifera). Genome Bio. Evol. 2:678-685.

Parfrey LW, Grant J, Tekle YI, Lasek-Nesselquist E, Morrison H, Sogin ML, Patterson DJ, Katz LA. 2010. Broadly sampled multigene analyses yield a well-resolved eukaryotic tree of life. Syst Biol. 59(5):518-533.