Nancy A. Moran


Freshman Research Initative

About FRI
FRI stream website

Teaching Lab Location

T.S. Painter Hall (PAI)
103 W 24th St
Austin, TX 787012

Students in BFL lab


Jo Holley
Associate Professor of Practice

Jo Anne Holley

Freshman Research Initative (FRI)
Microorganisms in Bees and Other Insects

Paper wasp nest (Vespidae, Polistes apachus)

Bugs in Bugs

Symbiotic microorganisms have major effects on their host nutrition and susceptibility to disease and toxins. As part of U.T. Austin's Freshman Research Initiative, students in this lab explore the gut microbiota and pathogens of insects to understand how they affect the health and function of their hosts. An emphasis is be placed on ecologically important insects such as honey bees and other pollinators. These are of current interest due to their roles in agricultural and natural systems and to their widespread population declines. We focus on local Texan bees and wasps because they are abundant and biologically diverse. Different species can have different diets, social structure, and nesting habitats. All these can influence the microbes they associate with, as well as many other ecological factors.

The "Bugs in Bugs" stream is broadly interdisciplinary and develops skills relevant for a variety of careers in science. It is well suited for students interested in ecology, evolution, natural history, medicine, molecular biology, microbiology, and nutrition. Most research occurs in the lab using molecular, bioinformatics, and microbiological techniques, but students can undertake research based out doors working and collecting live insects specimens. Students can choose among projects related to their interests such as on the microbe abundance, diversity, and genomics, or insect diversity and behavior.

The research for the stream is conducted in a molecular lab located Painter Hall (PAI), but has access the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL), about 20 minutes away from the main campus. BFL is located on a reserve that provides students with easy access to insect populations, thus facilitating research.

BFL lab


* Bugs in Bugs undergraduates

  • Elston KM, Phillips LE, Leonard SP, Young E, Holley JC, Ahsanullah T*, McReynolds B, Moran NA, Barrick JE. 2023. The Pathfinder plasmid toolkit for genetically engineering newly isolated bacteria enables the study of Drosophila-colonizing Orbaceae. ISME Commun . 3(1):49. doi: 10.1038/s43705-023-00255-3.
  • Holley JC, Jackson MN*, Pham AT*, Hatcher SC*, Moran NA. 2022. Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa) Harbor a Distinctive Gut Microbiome Related to That of Honey Bees and Bumble Bees. Appl Environ Microbiol.88(13):e0020322. doi: 10.1128/aem.00203-22.