Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Welcome to the Mikaelyan lab!

We are part of the Urban Entomology program at NCSU and conduct research on a broad range of interdisciplinary research involving insect-microbe interactions. Our primary focus is wood-destroying and other structural pests.

The Mikaelyan Lab


Aram Mikaelyan

Dr. rer. nat. (Ph. D.)
Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator
Entomology and Plant Pathology

Aram was born in what was then the Soviet Union and raised in India. He grew up loving biology and languages - two interests that competed for his time (and space, on his bookshelf). He finally ended up studying insect gut microbiology at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology (Germany), LOEWE center for synthetic microbiology (Germany), and Vanderbilt University (USA).

At the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at NC State, he continues to study and now teaches insect gut microbiology. He is primarily interested in the coevolution of insects with their gut microbiomes. In order to recharge, he likes to draw and (much less frequently) play the bass.


Melbert Schwarz

M. Sc. 
Graduate student

Melbert grew up just outside of DC in northern Virginia and has also lived in Florida and Quebec. His research questions are focused on better understanding the influence of microorganisms on the biology of their host and incorporating existing ecological theory into the world of microbes.

Outside of the lab, Melbert enjoys hiking, fishing, rugby, brewing, listening to music, playing bass, stroking his beard thoughtfully, and just generally rocking out!


Marissa Cole

Graduate student

Marissa grew up just down the road in Cary, NC. She studied biology at Wake Tech, where she first discovered her love for all things "Arthropoda", and completed her bachelor’s degree in biology at Meredith College, focusing her undergraduate research on entomology. Her research in the Mikaelyan Lab is focused on the effects of diet on the rate of trophallaxis in termites.

In her free time, she likes spending time with her family (especially her dog), photographing insects at the arboretum, drawing, and sharing her love of entomology through volunteering whenever possible!


Ezra Bailey

Undergraduate student
Ezra (Emily) was born in South Africa, but grew up in Indiana and North Carolina. She is a biology and entomology undergraduate lab technician with a lifelong love of wildlife, animal tracking, and evolutionary biology. Ezra plans to go to graduate school at NC State and find ways to improve people's lives through research in biology and entomology, as well as eventually visit to South Africa to work with animals there.

When not in class, a lab, or being a teacher's assistant, she loves to draw and paint, read about wildlife, hang out with her pet mantis, and drink quite a bit of tea.


Sophia Copeman

Undergraduate student

Sophia was born and raised on the coast of North Carolina. Living near the beach introduced her to the world of marine biology, invertebrate zoology, and her biggest interest: entomology. She is an undergraduate lab technician majoring in Zoology and minoring in Entomology.

She got her first research experience in the Blaimer Ant Lab at NCSU and has expressed her love of bugs by volunteering in both the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NCSU Insect Museum. Outside of classes, internships, and lab work she enjoys making biology-inspired art, prints, and patches!


Aaron Ashbrook

Ph. D.
Postdoctoral researcher

Aaron grew up in Southwestern Michigan and his home was a short drive from Lake Michigan. While working in different labs during his undergraduate studies in biology at Grand Valley State University, he realized that he wanted to pursue a career in entomology. This led him to Purdue University where he worked with urban pests and investigated basic and applied research questions on how bed bugs respond to heat exposure and other control techniques. At NC state, Aaron will continue to research urban pests in order to enhance entomopathogen efficacy for their control.

When not working on research projects, Aaron likes to spend time with his dogs, other pets, and gardening. He is also an avid consumer books and movies that are primarily in the horror and science fiction genres. 

Want to join us?

Specific openings will be advertised as and when they are available. However, we are always interested in hearing from potential undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdocs, especially candidates from underrepresented minority groups, even if a posting is not currently active. 

Please fill in the contact form on the right. Undergraduates applying to us should mention in their email why they would like to join our lab. Graduate students and postdocs should highlight a specific knowledge gap in the field of pest-microbe interactions that you would like to address in our lab.  In your email, please include a link to an online profile (e.g., Google scholar, LinkedIn, or Researchgate). Note that blanket applications will be disregarded.


Our lab works at the interface of entomology and microbial ecology to understand the ecological and evolutionary bases of pest-microbe interactions. The diversity and complexity of host-microbe interactions set insects apart from other hosts in the animal world. We are interested in understanding the evolutionary history of insect-microbe interactions and leveraging that knowledge to control pests. As part of the urban entomology program at NCSU, our primary focus is wood-destroying and other structural pests. However, our program also addresses fundamental and applied questions about symbiosis in other insects groups.

Insects display a diversity of symbioses that is unmatched in the animal world, ranging from obligate intracellular endosymbiosis to intestinal microbiomes. While only some insect species possess these endosymbionts (e.g., Buchnera or Blattabacterium), all insect species are associated with complex communities of microbes in their guts, also called gut microbiomes.

Studies have shown that insects are colonized by host-specific microbiomes, and that the taxonomic composition reflects the evolutionary history of the hosts. 


Our lab uses a combination of classical microbiology, molecular ecology, high-throughput sequencing, and entomology to study the coevolution of microbiomes with wood- and litter-feeding insects. These insects play essential roles in the turnover of lignocellulose in terrestrial ecosystems, but many species have gained notoriety as pests. Regardless, of whether they are beneficial insects or pests, several species have evolved to digest lignocellulose with the aid of their microbiomes

Lignocellulose is the major structural component of plant cell walls, and is relatively recalcitrant to biochemical attack; the few insect groups among the beetles and cockroaches that thrive on it, have evolved symbiotic mechanisms to digest it.

Termites are exemplars of symbiotic digestion, especially of lignocellulose. They are essentially eusocial, morphologically reduced cockroaches, that evolved 150 million years ago from more primitive, and detritivorous, cockroaches. Many termite species have diversified to feed on lignocellulose in different stages of decay, ranging from sound wood through litter, and humus. Termite microbiomes are not only complex, but also unique in their composition; many of the bacterial and protozoan lineages found in these communities have only distant relatives in other environments. 

Symbiotic digestion of lignocellulose involves the efficient breakdown of lignocellulose through a combination of mechanical and enzymatic action - the latter involves contributions from both the host and the microbiome. Despite the relative wealth of knowledge that exists about the mechanism of symbiotic digestion in termites, very little is known about how lignocellulose digestion may have evolved in other cockroach lineages or beetles.  

One of the projects in the lab involves understanding the mechanism of symbiotic digestion of lignocellulose in insects feeding on dead wood and litter. We are primarily interested in identifying the symbionts involved in the digestion of different components of lignocellulose, and in the forces driving parallel evolution between these insects and their microbiomes.  


The evolution of symbiotic digestion of lignocellulose in termites has been crucial to not just their ecological dominance, but also their infamous success as major structural pests. Termites are responsible for over $5 billion dollars in annual damage, and are currently managed through the use of toxic chemicals. The obligate dependence of termites on their gut microbiomes could serve as the ideal target for the development of ecologically sustainable methods of termite control.

A project in this direction is aimed at understanding the degree to which insect digestionbehavior, vigor, and fitness is influenced by its microbiome. We use a combination of native and invasive species of termites for our experiments aimed at targeted alterations to the gut microbiome; these include Reticulitermes spp., Zootermopsis spp., and Nasutitermes spp. Additionally, for experiments requiring finer control over microbiome composition, we use our gnotobiotic cockroach model based on Shelfordella lateralis


  1. Lampert, N., Mikaelyan, A. and Brune, A., 2019. Diet is not the primary driver of bacterial community structure in the gut of litter-feeding cockroaches. BMC microbiology, 19(1), p.238.
  2. Otani, S., Zhukova, M., Koné, N.G.A., da Costa, R.R., Mikaelyan, A., Sapountzis, P. and Poulsen, M., 2019. Gut microbial compositions mirror caste‐specific diets in a major lineage of social insects. Environmental microbiology reports, 11(2), pp.196-205.
  3. Leigh, B.A., Bordenstein, S.R., Brooks, A.W., Mikaelyan, A. and Bordenstein, S.R., 2018. Finer-Scale Phylosymbiosis: Insights from Insect Viromes. MSystems, 3(6), e00131-18.
  4. Tokuda, G., Mikaelyan, A., Fukui, C., Matsuura, Y., Watanabe, H., Fujishima, M. and Brune, A., 2018. Fiber-associated spirochetes are major agents of hemicellulose degradation in the hindgut of wood-feeding higher termites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(51), pp.E11996-E12004.
  5. Richards, C., Otani, S., Mikaelyan, A. and Poulsen, M., 2017. Pycnoscelus surinamensis cockroach gut microbiota respond consistently to a fungal diet without mirroring those of fungus-farming termites.  PloS one 12 (10), e0185745
  6. Mikaelyan, A., Thompson, C.L., Meuser, K., Zheng, H., Rani, P., Plarre, R. and Brune, A., 2017. High‐resolution phylogenetic analysis of Endomicrobia reveals multiple acquisitions of endosymbiotic lineages by termite gut flagellates. Environmental microbiology reports 9 (5), 477-483
  7. Mikaelyan, A., Meuser, K. and Brune, A., 2017. Microenvironmental heterogeneity of gut compartments drives bacterial community structure in wood-and humus-feeding higher termites. FEMS microbiology ecology 93 (1)
  8. Strassert, J.F., Mikaelyan, A., Woyke, T. and Brune, A., 2016. Genome analysis of ‘Candidatus Ancillula trichonymphae’, first representative of a deep‐branching clade of Bifidobacteriales, strengthens evidence for convergent evolution in flagellate endosymbionts. Environmental microbiology reports 8 (5), 865-873
  9. Ikeda‐Ohtsubo, W., Strassert, J.F., Köhler, T., Mikaelyan, A., Gregor, I., McHardy, A.C., Tringe, S.G., Hugenholtz, P., Radek, R. and Brune, A., 2016. ‘Candidatus Adiutrix intracellularis’, an endosymbiont of termite gut flagellates, is the first representative of a deep‐branching clade of Deltaproteobacteria and a putative homoacetogen. Environmental microbiology 18 (8), 2548-2564
  10. Li, H., Dietrich, C., Zhu, N., Mikaelyan, A., Ma, B., Pi, R., Liu, Y., Yang, M., Brune, A. and Mo, J., 2016. Age polyethism drives community structure of the bacterial gut microbiota in the fungus‐cultivating termite O dontotermes formosanus. Environmental microbiology 18 (5), 1440-1451
  11. Mikaelyan, A., Thompson, C.L., Hofer, M.J. and Brune, A., 2016. Deterministic assembly of complex bacterial communities in guts of germ-free cockroaches. Applied and environmental microbiology 82, 1256–1263
  12. Rossmassler, K., Dietrich, C., Thompson, C., Mikaelyan, A., Nonoh, J.O., Scheffrahn, R.H., Sillam-Dussès, D. and Brune, A., 2015. Metagenomic analysis of the microbiota in the highly compartmented hindguts of six wood-or soil-feeding higher termites. Microbiome 3 (1), 56
  13. Mikaelyan, A., Köhler, T., Lampert, N., Rohland, J., Boga, H., Meuser, K. and Brune, A., 2015. Classifying the bacterial gut microbiota of termites and cockroaches: a curated phylogenetic reference database (DictDb). Systematic and applied microbiology 38 (7), 472-482
  14. Mikaelyan, A., Dietrich, C., Köhler, T., Poulsen, M., Sillam‐Dussès, D. and Brune, A., 2015. Diet is the primary determinant of bacterial community structure in the guts of higher termites. Molecular Ecology 24, 5284–5295
  15. Bauer, E., Lampert, N., Mikaelyan, A., Köhler, T., Maekawa, K. and Brune, A., 2015. Physicochemical conditions, metabolites and community structure of the bacterial microbiota in the gut of wood-feeding cockroaches (Blaberidae: Panesthiinae). FEMS microbiology ecology 91, 1–14
  16. Markande, A.R., Mikaelyan, A., Nayak, B.B., Patel, K.D., Vachharajani, N.B., Vennila, A., Rajendran, K.V. and Purushothaman, C.S., 2014. Analysis of midgut bacterial community structure of Neanthes chilkaensis from polluted mudflats of Gorai, Mumbai, India. Advances in Microbiology 4 (13), 906
  17. Otani, S., Mikaelyan, A., Nobre, T., Hansen, L.H., Koné, N.G.A., Sørensen, S.J., Aanen, D.K., Boomsma, J.J., Brune, A. and Poulsen, M., 2014. Identifying the core microbial community in the gut of fungus‐growing termites. Molecular ecology 23 (18), 4631-4644
  18. Mikaelyan, A., Strassert, J.F., Tokuda, G. and Brune, A., 2014. The fibre‐associated cellulolytic bacterial community in the hindgut of wood‐feeding higher termites (N asutitermes spp.). Environmental microbiology 16 (9), 2711-2722
  19. Thompson, C.L., Mikaelyan, A. and Brune, A., 2013. Immune-modulating gut symbionts are not “Candidatus Arthromitus”. Mucosal immunology 6 (1), 200
  20. Thompson, C.L., Vier, R., Mikaelyan, A., Wienemann, T. and Brune, A., 2012. ‘Candidatus Arthromitus’ revised: segmented filamentous bacteria in arthropod guts are members of Lachnospiraceae. Environmental microbiology 14 (6), 1454-1465


Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
3312 Gardner Hall, 100 Pilsbury Circle
North Carolina State University



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