Robert Shields - Assistant Professor

I earned my PhD in Microbiology at Newcastle University (United Kingdom) in Nick Jakubovics lab, where I worked on extracellular DNA in microbial biofilms, and potential control of biofilms with eDNA-degrading enzymes. In August 2014 I moved to the USA where I worked in the lab of Bob Burne (University of Florida) on cell-cell communication and regulation of gene expression in Streptococcus mutans. I was hired as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Oral Biology at UF in July 2017 and moved to Arkansas State to start my own lab in August 2021.

Staff Members

Shawn King - Research Technician/Lab Manager

Since graduating Arkansas State University in December 2021 with my degree in Biological Sciences I have been working in the Shields research lab. I have gained many skills working in research, setting me up to apply to future career jobs. My current project is investigating the function of an integrative and conjugative element (ICE) TnSmu1 located in Streptococcus mutans when exposed to DNA damaging agents such as Mitomycin C. In my spare time my hobbies include cooking, reading, drawing, and PlayStation 5.

Graduate Students

Courtney Dover - M.S. Biology

My research involves the functional characterization of hypothetical essential genes in samples of Streptococcus mutans that have been modified using CRISPRi. When I’m not in the lab, you can find me crocheting, reading, or playing video games. After I graduate, I plan to pursue a PhD in Microbiology.

Karen Solano - M.S. Biology

I am currently working in the Shields Molecular Microbiology Laboratory, constructing an ordered Tn library as a resource for the S.mutans community. This project was funded by the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (Arkansas INBRE). After graduating in December 2025, I am planning to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of microbiology.

Medical Students

Erica Lee - DO (NYIT at A-State)

I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Washington—Seattle in 2019. As an undergraduate student researcher, I joined Dr. Olivia Bermingham-McDonogh’s lab, studying the regeneration and development of mice’s inner ear, and Dr. Mary Lidstrom’s lab, studying molecular and metabolic manipulations of methylotrophic bacteria. In 2022, I joined Nanostring Technologies Inc. in developing their technology and assay for studying spatial genomics. In August 2022, I joined the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University to pursue a career as an osteopathic physician. In November 2022, I joined Dr. Troy Camarata’s lab to study the regeneration and development of the kidney. In June 2023, I joined the Shields lab. Currently, I’m studying virulence factors within conjugative elements (ICEs and IMEs) in Streptococci species.

Undergraduate Research Students

Sangam Chudal - B.S. Biotechnology

I am a B.S. Biotechnology major in my sophomore year at Arkansas State University. My research involves bypassing essential genes in Streptococcus mutans to discover potential gain-of-function mutants. I joined The Shields Lab as an undergraduate research student in June 2023. Apart from research, I love watching movies, TV shows and listening to music. My all-time favorite movie is Dead Poets Society.

Manushi Pandey - B.S. Biotechnology

I’m a B.S. Biotechnology major, stepping into my junior year come Spring 2024. The world of research has always captivated me, and I’m thrilled be a part of it. I love rewatching my all-time favorite series, The Big Bang Theory. My family is my biggest motivation, and I really enjoy spending time with them. I’m excited for the adventures ahead in both my academic and personal journey!


Erin Pruitt (Spring 2023) - B.S. Biology - Working on microbial bioinformatics using the tool ICEfinder to detect ICE/IMEs in S. mutans genomes
Seth Woods (Fall 2022) - B.S. Biology - Working on microbial bioinformatics using the tool ICEfinder to detect ICE/IMEs in S. mutans genomes
Allison Quick (Spring 2022) - B.S. Biology - Working on microbial bioinformatics using the tool ICEfinder to detect ICE/IMEs in S. mutans genomes
Makenzie Rone (Spring 2022) - B.S. Biology - Testing Arkansas soils for antibiotic producing bacteria, as well as testing Tiny Earth protocols
Bryant Reed (Spring 2022) - B.S. Biotechnology - Investigated the inhibitory effects of stilbenes (natural products produced by plant roots) on S. mutans
Jackson St. Pierre (Fall 2021) - B.S. Biology - Worked on TnSmu1 conjugation efficiency assays and lab chemical organization
Shawn King (Fall 2021) - B.S. Biology - Screened antimicrobial pyrazole compounds against S. mutans
Kalee King (Fall 2021) - B.S. Biology - Worked on TnSmu1 conjugation efficiency assays