Group Leader - dr Piotr Łukasik

Academic Career:

Oct 2001 –  Oct 2006: M.Sc. Student (Mathematical and Natural Sciences / Biology), Jagiellonian University

Apr 2008 – Sep 2011: D.Phil. Student, University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

Sep 2011 –  Jul 2014: Postdoctoral Researcher, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A.

Sep 2014 – Oct 2018: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, U.S.A.

Oct 2018 – Jun 2019: Researcher, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden

         from July 2019: Research Group Leader, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland


I outlined my past research experiences and projects below. Check out the Research page for info on the group’s planned work!

I have always been fascinated by the diversity of life, and keen on understanding it. My undergraduate and M.Sc. studies in Mathematical and Natural Sciences and Biology at Jagiellonian University (2001-2006) have provided me with formal training and broad background in ecology and evolution, but also the opportunity to get immersed in research on invertebrate biology. As a student, I conducted field-based and laboratory experimental work on rock-dwelling snails, acarid mites, flour beetles, nematodes, and tropical insect communities, in Kraków as well as Scotland, Madagascar, Netherlands, and Panama. After graduation and an extra year of traveling and instructing scuba diving, I enrolled in Ph.D. studies, commencing my research career in invertebrate symbioses.

In Panama in 2006, as a M.Sc. Student at Jagiellonian University, and a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute research fellow.

Freshly graduated D.Phil.(Zoology) at Jesus College, University of Oxford

As a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, UK (2008-2011), supervised by Charles Godfray and Julia Ferrari, I studied the diversity and functions of facultative endosymbiotic bacteria of aphids. I manipulated symbiont infections in clonal genotypes of aphids, assessing the potential for horizontal transmission of bacterial strains within and across aphid species. I used the resulting aphid lines to test how symbionts affect aphid life histories, and particularly their susceptibility to pathogens and parasitoids. My work provided valuable insights into how a diverse community of multiple bacterial types, often with overlapping effects on host biology, can persist within insect populations and communities.

During a postdoc in the laboratory of Jacob Russell, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA (2011-2014), and associated visiting fellowship at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Tsukuba, Japan (2013), I focused on the diversity and distribution patterns of bacteria associated with ants, and the description of bacterial roles in ant evolution. I used ants from around the world for microbial community characterization using ecological experiments, molecular methods, genomics and microscopy. My work contributed to the discovery of massive differences between ant taxa in the numbers of bacteria that they harbor, but also in the biology and evolutionary histories of these bacteria. Our analyzes provided insights into bacterial specificity and switches between distantly related hosts, and into genomic features that determine the biological properties of bacterial symbionts of insects.

Collecting ants in the Peruvian Amazon, during a course on ant taxonomy and identification

Looking for cicadas in the Chilean Andes in 2014, during the first of several expeditions.

Between 2014 and 2018, I conducted postdoctoral research in the laboratory of John McCutcheon at the University of Montana in Missoula. I focused on the genomic evolution of a specialized, nutritional endosymbiotic bacterium of cicadas, Hodgkinia cicadicola. In some cicada groups, this heritable symbiont had fragmented into complexes of multiple genetically and cytologically distinct yet interdependent cellular lineages – a process with no known parallel in other biological systems. I conducted extensive fieldwork in South America, and characterized the collected cicadas using broad molecular screens, large-scale comparative genomics, and microscopy. This allowed me to understand the nature of these splits, their distribution across host phylogenies, and the evolutionary forces acting upon cicadas and their symbionts. I continue working with colleagues from Montana, Connecticut, Chile, Japan, and Poland on the characterization of these unique symbioses.

Finally, since October 2018, as a Researcher at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm (Ronquist Lab), I have worked in the massive insect biodiversity project, Insect Biome Atlas (IBA). The project goal is a comprehensive characterization of insect communities, and factors that influence their composition and abundance. We have started collecting insect community samples comprising tens of millions of individual insects, in Sweden and in Madagascar. These communities will be characterized using high-throughput molecular methods (next-generation amplicon sequencing targeting insect marker genes); so far, my primary task in the project has been the development of these molecular methods. I will remain a co-primary investigator in IBA after moving to Poland in July 2019. Our group’s planned research will largely rely on the massive collection of samples and data developed by IBA.
Piotr next to a Malaise trap set up at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

Testing a newly received Malaise trap at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. 250 such traps are being set up across Sweden and Madagascar, and will provide an estimated 8,000 insect community samples by 2020.