Mutualism at multiple levels allows for vast evolutionary advances that would not occur solely in the presence of competition. From genes to communities, symbioses have altered the development, reproduction, and resource utilization of countless organisms. By studying relationships between microbes, insects, and plants, I hope to better understand the evolution and maintenance of interspecies interactions, and the broad diversity of associations with microbial partners.
Before beginning study at Harvard, I had a funded internship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where I investigated the relationship between leaf-cutting ants, their cultivated fungus, and the foliar endophytic fungi of the Panamanian rainforest. During my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, I studied a leafhopper’s endosymbiotic bacterium, along with population genetics and the evolution of avirulence in a bacterial, insect-transmitted plant disease.
Insects and fungi are captivating, as both are vast groups with unusual capabilities that comprise a large part of the world’s biodiversity, yet are significantly understudied relative to their abundance. Their interactions give insight into strange life-cycles, evolution of complex traits and chemicals, and the interdependence of organisms.
Growing up both in the heart of San Francisco and in Santa Cruz’s redwood-forested mountains on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I appreciate the muddled human crush of the city as well as wild open spaces. Details fascinate me, and I tend to pay attention to small things.
University of California, Berkeley
Publications and Posters
Degnan, P.H.*, Bittleston, L.S.*, Hansen, A.K., Sabree, Z.L., Moran, N.A. and Almeida, R.P.P. 2011. Origin and examination of a leafhopper facultative endosymbiont. Current Microbiology 62: 1565-1572 *Contributed equally to this work.
Coletta-Filho, H.D., Bittleston, L.S. and Almeida, R.P.P. 2011. Spatial genetic structure of a vector-borne generalist pathogen. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 77: 2596-2601
Bittleston L.S., Brockmann, F., Wcislo, W. and Van Bael, S.A. 2011. Endophytic fungi reduce leaf-cutting ant damage to seedlings. Biology Letters 7: 30–32
Bittleston L.S., Killiny, N. and Almeida, R.P.P. 2008. “Evolution of Xylella fastidiosa Avirulence.” Pierce's Disease Research Symposium Poster
Awards and Honors
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2011
Harvard University James Mills Peirce Fellowship, 2010
Honors in Molecular Environmental Biology, 2007
High Distinction in the College of Natural Resources, 2007
Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Grant, 2007
Federal Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant, 2006-2007
UC Berkeley Alumni Leadership Scholarship, 2003-2007
Cal Bear's Scholarship, 2005-2007
College of Natural Resources Dean’s List, 2005-2007
National Merit Scholarship, 2003