Picture of Leonora Bittleston

Leonora Bittleston

PhD student


Leonora Bittleston

Research Interests

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.

About Me

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.


Harvard University

Ph.D. student in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Advisors: Naomi Pierce and Anne Pringle

University of California, Berkeley

B.S. in Molecular Environmental Biology, 2007

Honors Research Project: "Euscelidius variegatus and its pathogenic bacterial symbiont, BEV"

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

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Last modified 8 April 2014