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The Toby Lab


Deanna Soper

Dr. Soper (left) with her research student Colette Ohotnicky (right).



In my lab my I investigate a wide range of topics that are primarily focused on host reproduction under parasite selection and ecological genetics.  My lab is centered around the use of two different organisms, which results in two research teams.

Scholarship Applicants Amount Deadline
Academic Acheivements HS Seniors Up to full tuition Priority: Jan 15
Regular: Mar 1
Academic Acheivements HS Seniors Up to full tuition Priority: Jan 15
Regular: Mar 1
Academic Acheivements HS Seniors Up to full tuition Priority: Jan 15
Regular: Mar 1
Academic Acheivements HS Seniors Up to full tuition Priority: Jan 15
Regular: Mar 1

Team Snail  

Most of my work has been conducted on the freshwater snail from New Zealand, Potamopyrgus antipodarum.  This snail is a host to several sterilizing trematode parasites, primarily in their native range.  While investigating their reproductive biology and behaviors, it was observed that male external genitalia is highly variable.  As a result, the primary current project in this species is focused on utilizing our brand new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to take detailed images for morphological analysis.  I also have obtained funding, in collaboration with the Raffel Lab at Oakland University, to conduct a field survey of freshwater gastropods and their parasites in Michigan. 

Team Coral

My most recent addition to the lab is the coral species, Orbicella faveolata.  Stony corals are under threat of extinction, and in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory and the Stenesen Lab, we are investigating O. faveolata growth after microfragmentation.  This project has two aims: (1) to understand what areas of the microfragments undergo rapid growth and (2) determine if the HIPPO growth pathway is present and, if present, understand relative expression in rapidly expanding tissues.



Image of  Potamopyrgus antipodarum

Current Projects - Team Snail

Documentation of reproductive structures in Potamopyrgus antipodarum

Potamopyrgus antipodarum is an interesting snail to study because it has several characteristics that are uncommon in other snail species.  For example, this snail is dioecious, meaning that individuals are either male or female.  Males can be identified through external genitalia, which they use to internally fertilize females.  Females do not lay eggs, but rather undergo "pregnancy" (internal gestation) and give live birth.  Baby snails can sometimes be born in their gestational sac (see video here).  In this project, we are documenting male reproductive structures to better understand the heterogeneity present in this organ within and among populations.  This project is funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation.

Gastropod and Parasite Distribution in Michigan

This field project started during Summer 2019.  In collaboration with Oakland University, we are collecting snails and parasites to determine the species distribution and abundance of both snails and their parasites.  This work will continue into the following school year to finish taxonomic identification of the organisms collected.  We hope to better understand the life cycle and dynamics of the parasites that cause Swimmer's Itch.  This work is funded by the Michigan Swimmer's Itch Partnership.

Current Project - Team Coral

Rapid coral growth after microfragmentation

Stony corals are under significant threat to extinction.  Global climate change, decreasing pH as the result of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, and increased disease prevelance (i.e. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in the Florida Keys) have all reduced populations across the world.  Here we are using a Caribbean species, Orbicella faveolata (Mountainous Star Coral), to investigate coral growth after microfragmentation.  Microfragmentation is one method that practitioners are utilizing to restore damaged reefs because it results in increased tissue growth rates.  Our project, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory and the Stenesen Lab, is investigating which tissues of the microfragment undergo rapid growth.  We are also targeting the HIPPO Growth-Signaling Pathway to determine if it is present in this species and how it is operating. 

coral polyp

Orbicella faveolata polyp

Photo Credit: Deanna M. Soper


Other Collaborations

I have also developed collaborations with the Cody and Stenesen Labs (at UD) utilizing Drosophila melanogaster.  My collaboration with the Cody Lab investigates evolutionary changes to host and parasite populations.  The Stenesen Lab has a project focused on investigating a mutation in pain reception and I have assisted with protocol development of behavioral assays.  

Evolution of virulence and reproductive structures under host/pathogen evolution in Drosophila melanogaster using Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Drosophila melanogaster has been utilized to better understand the Pseudomonas aeruginosa chronic and acute infection of cystic fibrosis patients.  Drosophila melanogaster provides an opportunity to understand evolutionary changes in both host and parasite because Drosophila have a short life span and infection can easily be performed.  Here, we are undergoing an experimental evolution project that utilizes coevolving host and parasite.  We are tracking genetic, behavioral, and morphological characteristics of both organisms.  

Healthy vs Infected Drosophila

Photo Credit: Angela Moore

Drosophila melanogaster infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa compared to unifected D. melanogaster.


Conference Talks

Evolution Conference, 2019

Evolution Conference, 2016


Soper, D.M., Hatcher, K.M., and Neiman, M. (2015) Documentation of Copulatory Behaviour in Triploid Male Freshwater Snails. Ethology, Ecology, & Evolution. doi:10.1080/03949370.2015.1030781.

Soper, D.M., King, K.C., Vergara, D., and Lively, C.M. (2014) Exposure to parasites increases promiscuity in a freshwater snail. Biology Letters. 10(4): 20131091.

Soper, D.M., Savytskyy, O.P., Neiman, M., Zolan, M.E., and Lively, C.M. (2013) Spermatozoa production by triploid males in the New Zealand freshwater snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 110(1): 227-234.

Soper, D.M., Delph, L.F., and Lively C.M. (2012) Multiple paternity in Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Ecology & Evolution. 2(12): 3179-3185.

Soper, D.M.  (2012) The reproductive biology of Potamopyrgus antipodarum at the organismal and cellular level.  Dissertation, Indiana University.

Neiman, M., Paczesniak, D., Soper, D.M., Baldwin, A.T., and Hehman, G.  (2011) Wide variation in ploidy level and genome size in a New Zealand freshwater snail with coexisting sexual and asexual lineages.  Evolution. 65(11): 3202-3216.

Montgomery, B., Soper, D.M., and Delph, L.F. (2010) Asymmetrical conspecific seed-siring advantage in Silene. Annuals of Botany. 105(4): 595-605.

Other Media

Unless Podcast - "Supermicrofragmentationpolyprestoration"

Can be found here.

Potamopyrgus antipodarum article for The Metropolitan Society of Natural Historians

http://www. metropolitannaturalhistory. org/taxon-of-the-month/ potamopyrgus-antipodarum

 Invited Speaker Talks

Dr. Maurine Neiman: Sex in the Wild Talk, April 2018 can be found here.

Dr. Laurie Marker: Cheetahs & Humans Sharing a Landscape Talk, October 2018 can be found here.

Mainstream Media Coverage

-Science Daily

-Iowa Now

Snail Care Videos

Snail feeding:

Water changing:


Lab Members


Natalie Villafranca, Undergraduate Researcher, Team Coral 

Molly Weglarz, Undergraduate Researcher, Team Coral

Lydia Jones, Undergraduate Researcher, Team Snail 

Devon Romano, Undergraduate Researcher, Team Snail

Allison Driskill, Undergraduate Researcher, Team Snail


Hayden Tompkins, Visiting Research Scholar, Fall 2018-Spring 2019, currently: masters student at University of Miami

Meghan Rearden, Visiting Research Scholar, Spring 2019, currently: Ph.D. student at Colorado State University

Abigail Sequeira, Undergraduate Researcher Spring 2017-Spring 2019, currently: Ph.D. student at Texas A & M University

John Paul Dieffenthaller, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2018-Spring 2019, currently: masters student at Colorado State University

Virginia Green, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2018, currently: Ph.D. student at Indiana University

Colette Ohotnicky, Undergraduate Researcher Spring 2017-Spring 2018, currently: masters student at Oregon State University

Angela Moore, Undergraduate Researcher Summer 2017, currently: vet tech