Microbiome Service Laboratory Team

Microbiome Service Laboratory TeamPut to the Test

On the Front Lines:
UMB Champions of Excellence
Microbiome Service Laboratory Team
Institute for Genome Sciences, School of Medicine

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in Maryland in March 2020, Mike Humphrys, MSc, and his Microbiome Service Laboratory (MSL) team got to work on addressing the novel coronavirus. The mission: Transform a genomics lab into a large-scale COVID-19 testing platform.

“We were discussing COVID-19 testing in late February and early March, and we bought the supplies we’d need to kind of play around with the test and figure it out,” said Humphrys, director of MSL, which is part of the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).

“Once you have a swab sample in the lab, you have to extract nucleic acids — DNA and RNA —do a couple of purification steps, and then do the actual test. We use programmable robots for that, so we took the robots and built an assembly line, then bought a bunch more robots with state funding and programmed all of them to run just COVID tests.”

Once the system was functional, the lab was capable of processing 1,000 samples a day, but it wasn’t receiving that many because of the initial struggles setting up COVID-19 test collection. After those front-end issues resolved and tests started pouring in, the lab could process 10,000 or more samples a day coming from various collection sites around Maryland and other nearby states.

“Our capabilities have progressed a lot since the start,” Humphrys said. “During the Thanksgiving and Christmas surges, the system was able to adjust to about 1,000 to 1,200 samples an hour, just churning through them. It was pretty cool to see it in action.

“I think the most we’ve done recently is 11,000 samples in a 10-hour day,” he added. “I don’t think that at any time along the way we’ve really hit our capacity or been totally overloaded.”

Humphrys says the MSL team worked long hours, with some staff working on-site and some remotely. It was common for employees to work 12- to 18-hour days, six or seven days a week. Because of these yeoman efforts and the success of the testing initiative, the MSL team was named a University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Champion of Excellence.

IGS collaborated with University of Maryland Pathology Associates, UMB, the state of Maryland, and the city of Baltimore on the project, and IGS director Claire Fraser, PhD, who also is the Dean’s Endowed Professor at UMSOM, called the MSL team’s work “extraordinary.”

“The Microbiome Service Laboratory has overcome many technical and logistical challenges to make this testing program a success,” Fraser said. “With Mike’s calm and steady leadership and the staff’s work ethic, ingenuity, and collaborative approach, the lab has inspired all of those involved in this effort across campus and across the state.”

In normal times, MSL supports research studies designed to characterize the bacteria that compose the human microbiome, essentially anything on Earth that is inhabited by bacteria and microorganisms. And while most of the nearly 40-person team is still working on COVID-19 research — including the study of coronavirus variants in positive test samples — a few have shifted back to other research studies.

No matter the project, Humphrys says his team is up to the challenge, and he appreciates MSL’s recognition as a UMB Champion of Excellence.

“Everybody has worked tirelessly and selflessly to get this done, and I’m proud of them all,” he said. “Robotics and molecular biology are familiar to us, because we are all researchers. This clinical component was very new to us, but we basically shed our previous lives and switched over to combat this virus. And that’s pretty remarkable.”

— Lou Cortina


Mike Humphrys

Mike Humphrys, MSc, Technical Director

Lisa Sadzewicz

Lisa DeShong Sadzewicz, PhD, Director

Luke Tallon

Luke Tallon, Director

Lindsay Rutt

Lindsay Rutt, MS, Manager

Anup Mahukar

Anup Mahurkar, MIM, Informatics Director

Nicholas Birckner

Nick Birckner, Lab Helper

Jack Boylan

Jack Boylan, Research Specialist

Alexandra Carrigan

Alexandra Carrigan, Research Assistant

Jack Cliffford

Jack Clifford, Research Assistant


Li Fu, Research Specialist

Brittany Neimann

Brittany Niemann, Research Assistant

Sandra Ott

Sandra Ott, Shift Supervisor

Melanie Quain

Melanie Quain, Research Specialist


Holly Roussey, Research Specialist in COVID

Alex Sadzewicz

Alex Sadzewicz, Lab Assistant

Adam Shahal

Adam Shahal, Lab Helper

Lorelie Soriano

Lorelie Soriano, Research Assistant

Sierra Spindler

Sierra Spindler, Research Specialist

Tiffany Stevenson

Tiffany Stevenson Yuen, Shift Supervisor

Tara Tadimalla

Tara Tadimalla, Research Assistant

Anthony Wiggan

Anthony Wiggan, Lab Helper

Hongqiu Yang

Hongqui Yang, Research Specialist

Logan Yates

Logan Yates, Informatics Assistant

Lisa Bilski

Lisa Bilski, College Project Manager

Bob Carter

Bob Carter, Project Manager

D. Shoemaker

David Shoemaker, Informatics Support

Aditya Mehta

Aditya Mehta, Informatics

Kranthi Vavikolanu

Kranthi Vavikolanu, Informatics

Dustin Olley

Dustin Olley, Informatics

Mike Schor

Mike Schor, Software Development

Theresa Hodges

Theresa Hodges, Informatics

Jonathan Lim

Jonathan Lim, Informatics

Evan Lombardo

Evan Lombardo, Research Assistant

Eric Robins

Eric Robins, Research Assistant

Amy Wardett

Amy Wardrett, Lab Assistant

Tamunoseledia Brown

Tamunoseledia Brown, Lab Assistant



Jacques Ravel, PhD Associate Director, IGS; Associate Director for Genomics, IGS
Lori McKay College Coordinator
Angela Qian  Lab Helper
Sean Ravel Lab Assistant
Charlotte Ravel Lab Helper
Toni Ann Wiggan Shift Supervisor
Victor Felix Informatics
Pooja Shah Lab Helper