Who are we?

Learn more about the team and our alumni below.
We are a bunch of undergraduate students, Master’s students, PhD candidates and post-doctoral fellows interested in evolution, metabolism, mitochondria and more!

Principal investigator

Courtney Stairs is an associate senior lecturer in the Biology Department at Lund University since October 2020. She completed her PhD at Dalhousie University (Canada) under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Roger in 2015. She continued to as a EMBO long-term fellow, NSERC post-doctoral fellow and SciLife Pushing Frontiers fellow at Uppsala University (Sweden) in the laboratory of Prof. Thijs Ettema. See CV for more details.

Undergraduate researchers

Tuğba Nur Atalay is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Molecular Biology and Genetics.

I received an Erasmus+ internship to join the Stairs lab for the summer of 2021. I’m interested in microorganisms, the molecular mechanism of evolution and astrobiology. I believe that microorganisms are highly important as a key element in the search for life. “

Sevilay Direk is a fourth year undergraduate student in Molecular Biology and Genetics who received a Erasmus+ scholarship for the summer of 2022.

“I enjoy pretty much everything about my major field. Still, I am mostly interested in genetics, molecular mechanisms of microorganisms. I find it very exciting to explore the living mechanism and evolution of these tiny creatures. For this summer, my project is about Arcobacter species. Hope I will contribute to LabUpstairs Group with my curiosity and working determination”

Master’s students

Phillip (Xuran) Zhao is a Master’s student in bioinformatics at Lund University. He is currently developing a phylogenetic tree annotation tool as part of his Master’s thesis.

“I am interested in organism evolution. It would be my pleasure that, one day, I can help to reveal the grand history of living creature evolution using bioinformatics.”

Mara Vizitiu is a master’s student in bioinformatics at Lund University. She is currently developing bioinformatic tools to predict quinone biosynthesis strategies in anaerobic eukaryotes as part of her Master’s thesis.

“I did a BSc in Biochemistry at the University of Bucharest during which I became particularly fascinated by Microbiology and Genetics. Nowadays, my interests lay in elucidating the evolutionary history of Eukaryotic microorganisms, but I will quickly fall in love with any area of study I have the chance to investigate. My constant objectives are to learn and know as much about the world as I can.”

Vi (Virág) Varga is a MSc student in bioinformatics at Lund University. Vi’s MSc thesis focuses on comparative genomics of Metamonads.

“My primary area of interest is in parasite genetics, with hopes of contributing to public health efforts through methods of genetic control. I am currently working on examining orthologous groups in Parabasilids and Anaeromoebids, with the goal of identifying key OGs that may have contributed to the evolution of parasitism in Trichomonas and closely related species. “

Doctoral candidates

Karla Aguilera is a doctoral candidate at Lund University aimed at studying protist:prokaryote interactions.

“I am a M.Sc. in Biology with specialisation in Molecular Biology and Genetics and a B.Sc. in Bacteriology Parasitology Chemistry. I am interested in elucidating the molecular processes occurring in organisms and cell-cell interactions. Currently I am investigating the interactions between protists and potential syntrophic partners in anaerobic environments.”

Karla’s publications: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.012

Post-doctoral researchers

Julie’s Google Scholar

Julie Boisard is a Crafoord Stiftelsen sponsored post-doctoral fellow at Lund University.

” I am fascinated by eukaryotic microorganisms and aspire to explore their diversity and importance in the living world.

During my PhD in Paris at the National Museum of Natural History, I characterized the genome of gregarines, non-model apicomplexan parasite protists. My main objective was to assess the extent of diversity in these lineages through comparative genomic analysis. I was also interested in the question of motility in apicomplexans as part of their interaction with the host cell.

Here in Lund within Courtney’s team, I will continue to study protists, this time focusing on their relationships with prokaryotes in anoxic environments.


Elena Aramendía completed a 15 credit research project as a MSc student in Bioinformatics (1st Year) in 2022.

“I have always been interested in molecular biology and during my BSc in Biochemistry I became particularly interested in genomics and microbiology. I am fascinated by the diversity found in microorganisms and its importance in the history of Eukaryote evolution, so I am excited to work with Eukaryotic micoorganisms and learn as much as I can about this field during my work in the lab.”