The Aquatic Microbial Ecology Research Group at the University of Tennessee



Steven W. Wilhelm, Ph.D. (Western Ontario)

Professor of Microbiology and benevolent dictator

Professor Wilhelm is the laboratory PI and responsible for herding cats, chaos control, wine selection and middle relief.


Steven Wilhelm is the Kenneth and Blaire Mossman Professor & Associate Head of the Department of Microbiology. Professor Wilhelm is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology as well as a Sustaining Fellow of ASLO. In 2018 he was also named a James R. Cox Professor at the University of Tennessee.

Gary LeCleir, Ph.D. (Georgia)  

Research Assistant Professor, REU Director

Dr LeCleir came to Knoxville in 2006 after completing his PhD at the University of Georgia.  He is our in house statistical guru, field deployment leader and reigning karaoke champion.  Gary is also the in house expert on  all things Boston Red Sox and manages the oUTsiders softball team.




Robbie Martin, Ph.D (Tennessee)     


Postdoctoral Associate, Microbiology 


Robbie joined the lab in late 2012 and has been a virtual Jack-of-all-trades.  After completing his PhD he accepted our offer to stay on to continue to work on our toxic cyanobacterial projects.  Presently Robbie is setting up chemostat studies of Microcystis gene regulation and physiology that will feed into modeling studies by collaborators at Northeastern and the Technical University of Berlin.

Lauren Krausfeldt, Ph.D. (Tennessee)

Postdoctoral Associate, Microbiology 

Lauren has worked on a series of projects examining how heterotrophic microorganisms interact with cyanobacterial blooms to promote or constrain the production of cyanotoxins.  Her early work focused on nitrogen transformations (including the importance of heterotrophic N-fixers). More recently she has been using molecular tools and large environmental metatranscriptomes to address questions concerning the biological degradation of microcystin.  Her current position sees her continuing this work (in collaboration with Dr Drew Steen in EPS) as well as assisting some of our outreach efforts with Dr Jennifer DeBruyn in BESS (UTIA).


Samantha Coy, B.Sc. (Drury)

Doctoral Candidate, Microbiology

Sam came to UT from Drury University in the fall of 2013.  Her research is currently examining how DNA modifications in viruses shape their resilience in nature.  Her work uses Phycodnaviruses as model systems.





Eric Gann, B.Sc. (U. Mass Amherst)

Doctoral Candidate, Microbiology 

After spending the summer of 2014 in Knoxville as a NSF-funded REU student, Eric has returned to start working on the Aureococcus anophagefferens virus-host system.  He is the team leader in the GBMF project focused on genetically transforming the host, and works in close collaboration with other groups as we are developing information on viral particle structure, protein complement and the role of the large number of auxiliary metabolic genes the virus carries.  


Lena Pound, M.Sc. (College of Charleston)

Doctoral Candidate, Microbiology

Lena has returned to Knoxville to begin to work on her PhD.  Lena completed her undergraduate at the University of Tennesse, where she spent nearly 5 years working as a research assistant in the Wilhelm group.   After 2 years working on marine systems and living on the coast, her new research will return her to freshwater systems to look at the virus community associated with Microcystis bloom events and the potential role of lysogeny in allowing for the maintenance of near mono-specific communities during these large blooms.

Naomi Gilbert,  B.Sc. (James Madison)       

Doctoral Candidate, Microbiology

Naomi came to teh lab in the fall of 2017 from James Madison University (and former AMERG member Morgan Steffen's lab).  Naomi's dissertation research will see her collecting samples in the southern ocean as part of a research collaboration with scientists at CSIRO (Hobart) and Bigelow.  Her focus will be to resolve virus-host interactions from transcriptional data sets as well as to characterize the interplay between bacteria and phytoplankton with respect to trace metal cycling in marine surface waters.


Brittany Zepernick,  B.Sc. (Bowling Green)       

Doctoral Candidate, Microbiology

Brittan joined the lab in fall 2018 as part of our harmful algal blooms team.  She will be working on our collaborations with researchers in Ohio, Michigan and NC to examine factors that drive Microcystis success and ecological outcomes in large lakes.

Shelby Whitehead

Undergraduate Assistant,  Microbiology/Journalism

Shelby is a double major, studying both biology and journalism.  She joined the lab initially in the spring of 2018.  After spending a summer at ORAU, she has returned to the lab to continue her efforts in both science journalism and the resolution of how giant viruses shape the world.


Brennan Hughes    

Undergraduate Assistant, Microbiology

Brennan joined the lab in the fall semester of 2018 and is working closely with Eric on all things Aureococcus.  Along with the characterization of our new Aa viruses, Brennan will be working with Eric to understand how nutrient availability alters virus-host interactions and viral effects.

Christopher Cook,  B.Sc. (Towson)       

Masters Candidate, Earth & Planetary Sciences (from the Drew Steen Lab)

Chris is spending the semester with us and learning how to be a microbiologist - culturing microbes, measuring growth rates, and gauging how bacteria degrade the cyanotoxin microcystin.



updated 04/02/2019