Raising the Biology Research Profile

Raising the Biology Research ProfileThank You NSF

A number of faculty in Biological Sciences have recently secured prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study wide-ranging biological phenomena.


The bees knees

Drs. Jeff Lozier (associate prof.) and Janna Fierst (assistant prof.) were recently awarded a grant entitled “Bumble bee cold tolerance across elevations–from epigenotype to phenotype across space, time, and levels of biological organization” through the recently established NSF “Rules of Life” program. The project is a collaboration with faculty at University of Wyoming and Ohio State University and will use bumble bees from mountainous habitats to examine how organisms adapt to cold temperature extremes. Data ranging from genome and epigenomic sequence to physiological thermal tolerance limits obtained from bees in different environments, social castes, and generations, will be used to obtain a holistic picture of how these organisms adapt to temperature extremes. The project will support at least two PhD students and a postdoctoral researcher at UA.


More on the aplacophores 

Dr. Kevin Kocot’s (assistant prof.) research program studying the biodiversity, systematics and genomics of invertebrates recently got a major boost through an NSF CAREER award. Dr. Kocot and a number of his laboratory members will sample the Antarctic coastal waters for new species of worm-like molluscs known as aplacophorans. These creatures exhibit highly diverse calcium carbonate scales or spine-like structures. The Kocot lab will spend the next five years uncovering their ecological and evolutionary significance and whether they are patterned by the same genetic mechanisms that other molluscs use to make shells.


Avoid the polyploid

Dr. Michael McKain (assistant prof.) and his collaborators across four institutes were recently awarded NSF funding through their Consortium for Plant INvasion Genomics (CPING) to better understand how plants become invasive and provide insights into the management and prevention of invasive species. Dr. McKain’s lab will focus on Johnsongrass, Sorghum halepense. Named for an Alabama land owner, this pest is one of the world’s most noxious weeds and is found on all continents, except for Antarctica, and major islands. The McKain lab will use genomic techniques to understand how being polyploid (having more than two copies of its genome) has impacted the invasive capacity of the species since its introduction into the United States. This work will contribute to the overall goal of understanding the genomic factors of invasiveness over the course of an invasion.


Pharmacology technology

Dr. Lukasz Ciesla (assistant prof.) and his collaborator in Chemical and Biological Engineering, Dr. Yupin Baio, recently obtained NSF funding to improve the technology used to screen natural products for drug discovery. They will use nanotechnology to encapsulate iron oxide superparticles in a cell membrane. Why? So they can use the cell membrane as a “fishhook” to fish out only the bioactive compounds that specifically bind to the cell membrane. The iron oxide superparticles act as a “fishing line” to pull these compounds out of the extract they are testing. This technology will greatly streamline our ability to identify and separate bioactive compounds, thereby increasing the rate of drug discovery.