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Lizzy Wilbanks, Principle Investigator

Lizzy received her B.A. in Chemistry and Biology from Swarthmore College, where she conducted undergraduate research in synthetic organic chemistry (and discovered that microbes are marvelous chemists!). She completed her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of California, Davis, where she was co-advised by Jonathan Eisen and Marc Facciotti. Her dissertation research was inspired by projects at the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Microbial Diversity summer course in Woods Hole, and focused on the metabolism and metagenomics of sulfur cycling bacterial aggregates. Following NASA and Agouron postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech with Victoria Orphan, Lizzy served as a visiting professor at Swarthmore College in the Biology Department. She joined UCSB in 2016.

ewilbanks [at]


Emily Junkins, Postdoctoral Researcher

Emily received her BS from Auburn University in Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology in 2012 and her MS from Chaminade University of Honolulu in Forensic Science in 2016 with David O. Carter where she focused on post-mortem, temporal changes in the microbiome during decomposition in an effort to estimate time since death. She completed her PhD in Microbiology at the University of Oklahoma in 2021 with Brad S. Stevenson where she studied how spatial structure affects bacterial interactions and secondary metabolite production for drug discovery efforts. During this time, she also studied the structure and metabolic capability of microbial mats and stromatolites in hot spring systems. Overall, Emily is interested in the rules of microbial interaction and how those interactions drive evolution. As a post-doc in the Wilbanks Lab at UCSB, Emily is transitioning from focusing on genes and phenotypes to genomes and evolutionary mechanisms using the “pink berry” consortia as a model, natural system. Here, she is focused on how phage-host interactions influence population dynamics overtime. Specifically, she is interested in phage-defense systems, like CRISPR-cas, that lead to diversification within microbial populations.


Braulio Castillo Villaseñor, Ph.D. Candidate

Braulio got his Bachelor’s Degree in French and Biological Sciences with a concentration in Microbiology in 2018 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. While he did his undergrad work in soil microbial ecology, he was always fascinated by the immense diversity of microbes and their physiology. At UCSB he has finally gotten to do work with one of his favorite groups, sulfur metabolizing anaerobes! Originally from Tijuana, Mexico; Braulio is pursuing a PhD in the EEMB department and enjoys cinema, eating tacos, and pondering the relative nature of knowledge.

bsb402 [at]


Taruna Schuelke, Ph.D. Candidate

Taruna earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Genetics, and her newly found love for microbes has brought her to the Wilbanks lab at UC Santa Barbara. She previously conducted research in various systems ranging from fruit flies to fungal pathogens. Now, she is thrilled to dip her toes in marine microbiology. She loves to reduce, reuse and recycle and will yell at you for using a plastic bag! In her spare time, Taruna enjoys dancing and watching The Office.

taruna [at]


Sevan Esaian, Ph.D. Candidate

Sevan received his BSc in Biological Sciences in 2016 (with a MCDB concentration) and a MSc in Biological Sciences in 2018 (with a concentration in Ecology) from the California State University – Los Angeles. His research experiences cover a broad range of experimental approaches and projects including cellular signaling, embryology, gene regulation, botany, avian field work, and geographic information science. Sevan's dissertation focuses on: (1) quantifying giant kelp microbiome community development patterns by age and depth, (2) characterizing metagenomic CAZyme differences in giant kelp microbiomes, and (3) assessing biosynthetic gene cluster diversity in dominant pink berry bacterial taxa. 

sevanesaian [at]

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Tori Jones, PhD Student

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