The biology department is located in the north wing of the Center for the Sciences and Innovation (CSI). In addition to its rooftop greenhouse, animal facilities, and walk-in, controlled environmental chambers, the CSI's glass-walled laboratories, classrooms, and offices aim to put science on display.
CSI supports teaching and research in biochemistry, botany, cell biology, developmental biology, ecology, evolution, genetics, immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, physiology, and systematic biology.
Undergraduates have the opportunity to learn and perform a variety of modern research techniques such as chromatography, electrophoresis, gene sequencing, phase contrast and fluorescent microscopy, tissue culture, and ultracentrifugation.
Biology teaching labs in the CSI are hubs for experiential learning. The settings for laboratory classes, the teaching labs are fully equipped with high-tech tools for study and experimentation. All teaching labs have access to microscopes, tissue culture facilities, specimens, controlled environmental chambers, and safety equipment.
Open to the professors who teach the laboratory courses as well as the students enrolled in the courses, the teaching labs bustle with activity. Students may use the facilities outside of class time for "come-back labs" where they monitor or wrap up experiments or tests. Students and faculty also use teaching labs for some specialized research.
Teaching labs include a genetics/microbiology lab, a cellular/developmental lab, an ecology/behavior lab, a physiology/neuroscience lab, a biochemistry/molecular biology lab, and a vertebrate/biodiversity/evolution lab.
Biology research labs are run by faculty focused on specific research. Students and faculty work together in research labs to discover solutions to biological issues. The labs are equipped with sophisticated instrumentation and machines, and much of the research done in these labs is published in leading scientific journals. Students are invited to contribute to this research, give presentations, and lead discussions on the research issues at hand.
My lab studies the effects of drugs of abuse on the synaptic connections controlling dopamine neurons, the brain’s reward circuitry. We assess synapses using functional and structural neuroscience techniques combining molecular genetics, electrophysiology, molecular biology and confocal imaging to examine effects of cocaine on synaptic plasticity. Specifically, we can control individual synapses in mice using optogenetics, in which a light-operated, depolarizing ion channel is used to label and control one synaptic input to dopamine neurons. The students in my lab drive the research projects relying on collaboration and mentorship by myself and the other students. Your growth as a scientist is guided by one-on-one meetings, lab meetings and attendance at local and national conferences.
My lab focuses on a fascinating aspect of the innate immune system, antiviral proteins, utilizing a transcription and replication competent Ebola virus-like particle system. We specifically study the ability of human myxovirus resistance protein B (MxB) to restrict Ebola virus replication and the mechanisms by which this activity is mediated. In addition, we are interested in how the ability of MxB to restrict Ebola virus has changed throughout primate evolution. Projects provide an opportunity for students to utilize a suite of contemporary molecular biology techniques to investigate viral replication and assess the contribution of antiviral proteins to the control of infection.
Students in my lab work on a variety of projects related to the biology of prokaryotes. Examples of projects include the assembly of natural products such as antibiotics and the regulation of their biosynthetic enzymes, understanding processes related to cell differentiation such as sporulation and the formation of biofilms, and developing microorganisms for production of biofuels. Students gain skills using the tools of microbiology, molecular biology/genetics and biochemistry, which are valuable in, e.g., biotech and pharmaceutical industries or clinical microbiology.
My laboratory studies the diversity of social behavior in lizards. Behavior is the process by which an animal’s nervous system responds to its ecosystem, and work in my lab examines both of these components of behavior. We do extensive fieldwork, both in central Texas and in the Caribbean, to address questions about how a lizard’s environment influences how it interacts with other lizards. We combine these field data with measures of muscles, hormones, and the brain to determine how these factors interact to produce different behaviors in different species. Students in my lab design behavioral research projects around their interests in conservation, physiology, evolution, and neuroscience.
The King lab is interested in understanding how cells interact with their neighbors. Specifically, the research group is investigating the role of protein structures known as tight junctions. Our studies focus on molecular mechanisms that lead to the disruption of tight junctions using contemporary cellular and biochemical methods. Long-term goals are to understand how cells control these structures thereby minimizing the detrimental effects caused by stressors on cellular junctions. Recently, we have participated in a collaborative project with local neonatologists and are examining epigenetic patterns and body composition in newborns. Students gain valuable experience in both the theoretical and practical aspects of conducting research. Former students in my research group have pursued careers in biomedical research, medicine and numerous other meaningful ventures.
I am interested in the relationships between genes and evolutionary pressures. My lab has standard molecular genetics equipment for looking at DNA sequences, and we have used these tools to examine how the genes that lead to pepper color have been influenced by bird fruit consumption. My lab also has computational resources that we use to create and test mathematical theories about how genetic barriers form to isolate species from close relatives (think horses, donkeys, and their sterile mule offspring). The interplay between math and biology that you’ll find in my lab is part of a growing trend towards interdisciplinary studies in the sciences that gives students some great problem solving skills.
Research in the Lyons laboratory is focused at the intersection of biodiversity loss, novel species introductions, and restoration of grassland ecosystems. We investigate the role of biotic and abiotic factors as determinants of species establishment and persistence. Specifically, we endeavor to discover how grassland plant species interact each other, soil resources and microbes. At the heart of these endeavors is a deep appreciation of natural history and a desire to be outside. Our lab is a dynamic place where students are encouraged to pursue their scientific curiosities, engage with the scientific community, and operate as research colleagues.
The Murphy lab focuses on whole-organism questions in animal behavior and evolutionary ecology, with an emphasis on animal communication and the ways in which conflicts are resolved among highly social species. Most of our research focuses on understanding the evolutionary processes that select for aggression and ornamentation among females. Research on female social behavior has been neglected historically, and so our lab’s work is filling important gaps in our understandings. My lab is currently investigating fitness costs associated with female aggression, with focus how aggression in females can lead to poor maternal care, and how female aggression can lead to negative maternal effects, where offspring suffer from reduced investment in egg and offspring development. We are also studying bidirectional feedback between a female’s social competitive environment and the dynamics of signal expression. A third project focuses on the ways in which animals discriminate between kin, and whether, during competition for limited resources, individuals are less aggressive towards kin of higher relatedness. We generally work on birds because they are tractable for experimentation, and because bird social behavior parallels human behavior -- making birds a wonderful model organisms to learn about ourselves. Our general approach is to combine the study of evolutionary history with field- and aviary-based behavioral research. All research in my lab is heavily driven by student projects that are student-designed, -executed, and -written up for publication.
Students in my laboratory are engaged in understanding the distribution and abundance of vertebrates, usually from central Texas. We take a variety of approaches including theoretical mathematical modeling, geographic information system (GIS) analyses, population genetics, and good old fashioned field work. Students in my research group gain skills and expertise important for conservation biology, wildlife management, and vertebrate ecology and evolution.
My lab studies how plants sense their light environment. We are in search of a photosensor (like the kinds found in the human eye) that detects a specific part of the ultraviolet light spectrum. We measure physiological and biochemical responses of plants in the field and in controlled light environments. Students regularly design experiments and adapt protocols as part of their work. Working with light means combining the disciplines of physics and biology. Students also get to see direct connections between lab experiments and field studies of the same processes. And because the lightlocks (think airlocks) in the controlled light spaces keep out all unwanted photons, students can find themselves truly completely in the dark.