Malik Lab

Malik Lab Member

Tera Levin

Tera’s work focuses on dynamic evolutionary arms races between bacterial pathogens their eukaryotic hosts. These arms races drive the rapid adaptation of mechanisms for both host immunity and microbial attack. To decipher the selective pressures and molecular events involved in these arms races, Tera uses the opportunistic bacterium Legionella pneumophila and its natural hosts, environmental amoebae. The experimental, genetic, and genomic tractability of this host-microbe system is ideal for making and testing evolution-based hypotheses about which molecules engage in arms races (and therefore which molecules determine the outcomes of infections). Tera seeks to reconstruct the molecular events that shaped Legionella into a new human pathogen. She is also interested in using amoebae to illuminate the origin and evolution of anti-bacterial innate immunity.

Tera’s interest in biology stems back to her childhood in Illinois, where she enjoyed reading books, collecting insects, watching nature documentaries, and dreaming about the day when she could become a biologist. During her undergraduate years at Oberlin College, she pursued a diversity of research projects, from the biogeochemistry of deep marsh soils to the chemical ecology of birds. She then worked at the National Institutes of Health, focusing on a dramatic host-pathogen interaction— the sudden, inflammatory cell death caused by anthrax toxins. Tera decided to combine her interest in microbes with her love of evolution during her graduate work in Nicole King’s lab at UC Berkeley. Here, she studied the evolution of multicellularity in choanoflagellates, a group of microeukaryotes that are the closest relatives of animals. Following her discovery of the choanoflagellate sexual life cycle, Tera pioneered genetic screens in these new model organisms and discovered the first known gene that regulates choanoflagellate development. Her findings have implications for the origin of multicellularity in animals and also have opened up choanoflagellates to mechanistic studies for the first time. In her early postdoc work, Tera also studied host-microbe interactions in Drosophila, where she identified a family of exceptionally rapidly evolving Toll-like receptors.


Levin, T. C., Malik, H. S. (2017) Rapidly evolving Toll-3/4 genes encode male-specific Toll-like receptors in Drosophila. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 34 (9): 2307-2323.

Arbuthnott, D.*, Levin, T. C.*, Promislow, D. E. (2016) The impacts of Wolbachia and the microbiome on mate choice in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 29 (2): 461-8.

Levin, T. C., Greaney, A. J., Wetzel, L., and King, N. (2014) The rosetteless gene controls development in the choanoflagellate S. rosetta. eLife. 10.7554/eLife.04070

Levin, T. C. and King, N. (2013) Evidence for sex and recombination in the choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta. Current Biology. 23 (21): 2176-2180.

Dayel, M. J., Alegado, R. A., Fairclough, S. R., Levin, T. C., Nichols, S. A., McDonald, K., and King, N. (2011) Cell differentiation and intercellular interactions in the colony-forming choanoflagellate Salpingoeca rosetta. Developmental Biology. 357: 73-82.

Levin, T. C. , Glazer, A. M., Pachter, L., Brem, R. B., Eisen, M. B. (2010) Exploring the genetic basis of variation in gene predictions with a synthetic association study. PLoS ONE. 5(7): e11645.

Whelan, R. J., Levin, T.  C., Owen, J. C., Garvin, M. C. (2010) Short-chain carboxylic acids from gray catbird (Dumatella carolinensis) uropygial secretions vary with testosterone levels and photoperiod. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol 156(3):183-8.

Levin, T. C., Wickliffe, K. E., Leppla, S. H., Moayeri, M. (2008) Heat shock inhibits caspase-1 activity while also preventing its inflammasome-mediated activation by anthrax lethal toxin. Cell Microbiol. 10 (12):2434-46.