Ilana L. Brito
Assistant Professor

Mong Family Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Biomedical Engineering

Haiyun Yu




Department of Biomedical Engineering
Cornell University
289 Kimball Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853


Web Sites

Department Profile


Ilana Brito joined the BME faculty in July 2016. She uses systems biology approaches to study the transmission of bacterial and genetic components of the human microbiome. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, she double majored in Biology and Government. Given her long-standing interest in infectious disease, she traveled abroad to perform field and lab research on malaria in Mali. She then earned a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Genetics. She received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Earth Institute at Columbia University where she began studying the transmission of viral pathogens and emerging infectious disease. Ultimately, she shifted her focus to the transmission of the multitude of bacteria inhabiting the human body. To this end, she launched a large field research project in the Fiji Islands. In Eric Alm's lab at MIT, she developed methods to examine signatures of transmission in metagenomic whole genome shotgun sequencing data. She has worked with the Broad Institute and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies.

Research Description

Daily exposures to microbes from people we interact with and our environments may impact the composition and function of our microbiomes in profound ways. Most notable is the colonization of bacterial pathogens, but other subtle, yet important, changes may also affect human health, in terms of our physiological development, access to metabolites, and the antibiotic resistance genes each of us carry. Professor Brito aims to answer fundamental questions about the transmission of bacterial members of the human microbiome: to what extent is the microbiome or the genetic contents of the microbiome transmissible? What factors drive transmission of microbiome components? What are the consequences of this transmission? Professor Brito wants to use microbial transmission and horizontal gene transfer studies to engineer microbial therapeutics or deliver genetic cassettes to the microbiome to enhance human health. Her lab uses a wide variety of sample types and methodologies to target these questions from different perspectives. Professor Brito has ongoing collaborations at Weill Medical School. She also has ongoing projects in the developing world to study how differences in the microbiome in contribute to health in resource-poor settings.

Selected Publications

Brito, Ilana Lauren, S. Yilmaz, K. Huang, M. Tamminen, C. S. Smillie, S. D. Jupiter, W. Naisilisili, A. P. Jenkins, Birren BW Wortman, R. Xavier, A. K. Singh, D. Gevers, E. J. Alm. 2016. "Mobile genes in the human microbiome are structured from global to individual scales." Nature 535, 435-439.

Xu, L., Ilana Lauren Brito, E. J. Alm, P. B. Blainey. 2016. "Virtual Microfluidics' for digital quantification and single-cell sequencing." Nature Methods 13, 759-762.

Brito, Ilana Lauren, E. J. Alm. 2016. "Tracking Strains in the Microbiome: Insights from Metagenomics and Models." Frontiers in Microbiology 7, 712.

Spencer, S. J., M. V. Tamminen, S. P. Preheim, M. T. Guo, A. W. Briggs, Ilana Lauren Brito, D. A. Weitz, L. K. Pitkänen, F. Vigneault, M. P. Virta, E. J. Alm. 2015. "Massively parallel sequencing of single cells by epicPCR links functional genes with phylogenetic markers." ISME Journal 10, 427-436.

Cleary, B., Ilana Lauren Brito, K. Huang, D. Gevers, T. Shea, S. Young, E. J. Alm. 2015. "Detection of low-abundance bacterial strains in metagenomic datasets by eigengenome partitioning." Nature Biotechnology 33, 1053-1060.