Microbiology graduate student Laurel Woods passed her defense

Dominique Limoli and Laurel Woods

Laurel Woods successfully defended her MS thesis, "Mapping Microbial Communities During Cystic Fibrosis Lung infection" on Wednesday, November 9, 2022. Mentor Dominique Limoli, PhD (left) is pictured with Laurel. 


Laurel was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the youngest daughter of Jane and Jim Woods. Growing up, she loved watching Jeopardy with her dad and filling out newspaper crossword puzzles with her grandma. Both of which helped spark her passion for learning early on. 

Laurel attended the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. As a public boarding school focused on math and science, it was a unique learning experience that opened the door for her to take challenging STEM classes while fostering a sense of independence.

After high school, Laurel earned a full scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas as a member of the Schedler Honors College. There, she majored in Biology. During her sophomore year, she took her first microbiology course, which challenged her and piqued her interest in the field. Her favorite part of the class was using the microscope to observe different bacterial species. She also began doing research part-time in Dr. Tamara Haselkorn’s lab studying symbiotic partnerships between social amoeba, bacteria, and fungi. On a whim and hoping to have a unique summer experience outside of Arkansas, she applied for the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Iowa.

In the summer of 2019, she participated in the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates in Dr. Mary Weber’s lab. There, she enjoyed the research opportunities at a large institution and was introduced to the possibility of pursuing graduate education.

In the spring of 2021, she joined Dr. Nicki Limoli’s lab. She studied interspecies interactions between Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus in the context of chronic respiratory diseases like cystic fibrosis. During her graduate education, she enjoyed many hours spent at the microscope. Outside the lab, Laurel participated in the UIowa Team for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides fundraising event from 2021 to 2022.

When not looking into a microscope, she can be found crocheting in a hammock at City Park, enjoying the Iowa City Public Library, listening to the latest mystery podcast, or getting a hamburger at George’s.



The airways of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) are colonized with a diverse array of microorganisms with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus being two of the most common pathogens. Clinically, people who are co-infected with P. aeruginosa and S. aureus exhibit poorer health outcomes compared to monoinfected individuals. Yet if and how interactions between these two pathogens contribute to this clinical decline is unknown.

In vitro coculture of P. aeruginosa and S. aureus reveal both competitive and cooperative relationships between these two species that is driven by the fine-scale spatial positioning of cells. We hypothesize that differential P. aeruginosa exopolysaccharide production influences the spatial positioning of both P. aeruginosa monospecies and P. aeruginosa/S. aureus multispecies aggregates in the CF airway. Using in situ imaging techniques, we provide microscopy images and measurements to define the three-dimensional spatial relationship between microbial communities during chronic CF infection in ex vivo tissue samples. We also provide evidence for P. aeruginosa-derived extracellular matrix components driving spatial patterning of monospecies P. aeruginosa aggregates in CF sputum.

 Lastly, we used a relevant CF in vitro model system to uncover how P. aeruginosa-derived extracellular matrix components drive the fine-scale spatial positioning of P. aeruginosa/S. aureus aggregates in vitro. The results from this study provide ex vivo data to iteratively guide in vitro investigation of CF pathogen community interactions to promote the development of novel treatment strategies or lead to better-informed treatment strategies for coinfected individuals with CF.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022