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.
The Brodl laboratory investigates the Unfolded Protein (or ER Stress) Response in plant secretory cells. Protein secretion is vital for key steps in plant growth and development such as germination, fertilization, wound repair, and fruit and seed maturation. But high temperature and other stresses lead to the targeted destabilization of the mRNAs that encode secretory proteins and also the disorganization of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a key secretory pathway organelle. The lab uses genetic transformation, in vitro transport assays, real-time PCR, and electron microscopy to better understand the mechanisms of the responses. Former students in the Brodl research group have pursued careers in fields such as agriculture, medicine, health sciences, forensics, and biotech industries.
Students in the Healy 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.
The Johnson 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. Johnson lab researchers 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. Researchers 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 the Johnson 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. 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.
The Livingstone lab is interested in the relationships between genes and evolutionary pressures. The lab has standard molecular genetics equipment for looking at DNA sequences, and researchers have used these tools to examine how the genes that lead to pepper color have been influenced by bird fruit consumption. The lab also has computational resources that researchers 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 the Livingstone 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.
Research in the Martinez lab focuses on the unwanted side effect associated with the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Dopamine replacement therapy with L-DOPA initially alleviates the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. However after prolonged use, L-DOPA treatment results in abnormal involuntary movements known as L-DOPA-induced dyskinesias. The lab is currently using a rat model to identify potential pharmacotherapies to decrease the unwanted side effect while preserving L-DOPA’s beneficial effect of treating the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The Murphy lab focuses on whole-organism questions in animal behavior and evolutionary ecology, with an emphasis on animal communication. Most of our research focuses on understanding the evolutionary processes that select for female ornamentation. We generally work on birds because they are wonderful model organisms, and we combine the study of evolutionary history with field- and aviary-based behavioral research. This research is heavily driven by student initiated projects that are designed and implemented by students.
Students in the Ribble lab are engaged in understanding the distribution and abundance of vertebrates, usually from central Texas. The lab take a variety of approaches including theoretical mathematical modeling, geographic information system (GIS) analyses, population genetics, and good old fashioned field work. Students in the Ribble research group gain skills and expertise important for conservation biology, wildlife management, and vertebrate ecology and evolution.
The Roberts lab studies the biochemical mechanisms by which astrocytes protect neurons from oxidative stress and how this changes during the aging of the organism, be it male or female. Research students culture astrocytes and neurons and utilize biochemical assays and image analysis by microscopy to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved.
The Sinkle lab studies how plants sense their light environment. The lab is in search of a photosensor (like the kinds found in the human eye) that detects a specific part of the ultraviolet light spectrum. The lab also measures physiological and biochemical responses of plants in the field and in controlled light environments. 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.