Courtney W Stairs

Courtney W Stairs

Associate senior lecturer

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Personal profile


I’m interested in understanding how microbial eukaryotes – a.k.a ‘protists’ – have evolved to thrive in low-oxygen environments.

Low-oxygen environments are important ecosystems that host diverse microbial communities. The interactions between these microbes can have major environmental impacts to global geochemical carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles. Moreover, the interactions between these microbes in the anaerobic digestive tracts of animals can have major health and veterinary consequences.

Living without oxygen can be challenging. To survive in such environments, some organisms work together using metabolic syntrophy – a type of mutualistic symbiosis where there is a metabolic division of labour amongst individuals in a community. We know that metabolic syntrophy is common among anaerobic prokaryotes, but less is known about the role of syntrophy in the survival of microbial eukaryotes in these environments.

My research programme will discover and characterize protist:microbe interactions from diverse anaerobic environments including anoxic marine and freshwater sediments and the animal gut.

Our group is a collection of researchers interested in both bioinformatics and microbiology.  Our current team is made up of: 

  • Mara Vizitiu is a master’s student in bioinformatics at Lund University. Mara is currently developing bioinformatic tools to predict quinone biosynthesis strategies in anaerobic eukaryotes.
  • Phillip (Xuran) Zhao is a Master’s student in bioinformatics at Lund University. Phillip is currently developing a phylogenetic tree annotation tool as part of a Master’s thesis.
  • Vi (Virág) Varga is a MSc student in bioinformatics at Lund University. Vi’s MSc thesis focuses on comparative genomics of Metamonads.
  • Karla Aguilera is a doctoral candidate at Lund University aimed at studying protist:prokaryote interactions.
  • Julie Boisard is a Crafoord Stiftelsen sponsored post-doctoral fellow working on developing methods to detect symbiosis between protists and prokaryotes in the natural environment. 
  • Tuğba Nur Atalay visited the lab for summer 2021 as an Erasmus+ student and worked expressing quinone biosynthesis genes in yeast. 

Check out our lab webpage at or



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water

UKÄ subject classification

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Bioinformatics and Systems Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Microbiology

Free keywords

  • Protist
  • Mitochondrion
  • Eukaryotic evolution
  • Anaerobic
  • Archaea
  • Syntrophy
  • metabolism


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