REU Program

Summer REU Program: Re-IMAGiNE Life, Exploring Function through Adaptation

photo collage of students conducting research


  • Final day to submit an application is February 10, 2023.
  • Reference letters are accepted until February 17, 2023.
  • Application review starts on February 18, 2023 and will continue until all positions are filled.
  • REU program dates: May 22 – July 28, 2023

The UA REU application site is open, complete the REU Application here!

Applications require one reference letter from a professor to be complete. Letters are to be sent to Dr. Julie Olson ( and Dr. Michael McKain ( by February 17, 2023.

Understanding how genomic and environmental variation are integrated to give rise to complex traits via adaptation is one of the key challenges in biology. Although a wealth of genotypic and phenotypic data regarding how organisms respond under varying environmental conditions is now available, integrating this information into functional and predictive models of evolution continues to be challenging.

The focus of this REU site is Re-IMAGiNE Life, Exploring Function through Adaptation. This topic encompasses a wide variety of subdisciplines within biology and creates opportunities for lab and/or field-based, hands-on research by undergraduate students to explore the interplay of genomes, phenotypes, and environments at all levels of biological organization.

a panel of three photos showing researchers in a lab

Program Highlights

  • 10-week research training opportunity
  • Students conduct individual research projects designed by faculty within the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Alabama
  • Weekly academic and professional development programs
  • $6,250 stipend
  • Paid on-campus housing
  • $150 weekly food allowance
  • Up to $600 relocation stipend

Students Who Benefit From This Experience

  • Motivated students interested in learning more about what can be done with a degree in the life sciences
  • Students considering graduate school
  • Students within historically underrepresented groups, those with non-traditional backgrounds and academic paths, veterans, and first-generation college students are encouraged to apply

Requirements For Eligibility

  • No prior research experience is needed but priority will be given to students who have completed at least one course in biology or a related discipline
  • Undergraduates who will be enrolled at a 2- or 4-year college or university in Fall of 2023
  • United States citizens or permanent residents (requirement of NSF)
  • Applicants should be 18 years of age by May 23, 2023

What Should Students Expect?

  • Robust training in modern and integrative scientific techniques
  • Full time work commitment for the 10-week period
  • Professional development, trips to local research centers, and networking with peers and faculty
  • Opportunities to present and/or publish their findings
  • Experience working in the labs of UA faculty

Faculty Mentors and Projects

Dr. Carla Atkinson

Adaptation of freshwater mussels to varying water temperatures

Carla Atkinson

Freshwater mussels are filter-feeders, so their feeding improves water quality and clarity. However, how mussels may adapt to changes in stream temperature and chemistry as a result of global climate change is not known. The REU student will measure filtration rates in multiple native species in temperature-controlled laboratory trials. In addition, they will assist with an in-stream transplant experiement to examine how growth rates and gut microbial communities respond to varying abiotic conditions. The student will collect mussels from local rivers, tag and measure mussels, grow and maintain algal cultures, perform thermal acclimations and data analyses, and will have the opportunity to interact with local and European collaborators.

Visit Dr. Atkinson’s faculty profile.

Dr. Lukasz Ciesla

Phytochemical profile changes of edible plants in response to environmental changes

Lukasz Ciesla

Compelling evidence suggests that diet rich in vegetables, fruit and herbs can prevent or delay the onset of numerous chronic diseases. These beneficial effects are often ascribed to plant phytochemicals, which are often produced in response to environmental factors such as drought, UV radiation or pesticides. Using techniques such as high-performance liquid chromatography, high-resolution mass spectrometry, and cryogenic nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, the REU student will evaluate the molecular mechanism of action of phytochemicals and their profiles under varying environmental factors.

Visit Dr. Ciesla’s faculty profile.

Dr. Ryan Earley

Ryan Earley

Deep in the mangroves of Florida, the Caribbean and Central America, there’s a fish that defies all odds and exhibits some truly remarkable characteristics. Mangrove rivulus fish live in some of the most challenging conditions on Earth and can tolerate dramatic fluctuations in oxygen levels, salinity, temperature, and water availability, as well as infiltration of pollutants into their natural environment. They are highly plastic and exist predominantly as self-fertilizing hermaphrodites, which allows (effectively) for production of clones. They can also change sex from hermaphrodite to male, live on land for 2 months, navigate terrestrial environments using Olympic jumps, and engage in intense combat. We have combined field and laboratory studies to examine a host of questions related to how genetic and genomic variation relate to variation in performance in the tumultuous mangrove swamps.

Visit Dr. Earley’s faculty profile.

Dr. Melanie Higgins

N-glycan degradation in Actinobacteria

Melanie Higgins

Microbes have evolved many mechanisms to utilize glycans, the most abundant and diverse natural biopolymers, as sources of carbon and energy. Recently, it was discovered that certain gut- and soil-dwelling Actinobacteria have distinct polysaccharide utilization loci likely dedicated to degrading diverse N-glycan structures.  Although these loci share common core genes, they differ in genes that encode for auxiliary glycan degrading enzymes. The REU student will learn and apply in vitro protein biochemistry and structural biology studies of the different auxiliary enzymes to better understand if and how they contribute to distinct N-glycan metabolism profiles between gut- and soil-dwelling bacteria.

Visit Dr. Higgins’ faculty profile.

Dr. Matthew Jenny

Molecular mechanisms of tolerance and adaptation to environmental pollutants

Matt Jenny

As a result of climate change, aquatic organisms are routinely being exposed to warmer temperatures that results in significant cellular stress.  Freshwater unionid mussels are one of the most imperiled group of aquatic organisms and a better understanding of how mussel species respond and adapt to environmental changes will greatly improve conservation and restoration efforts.  To compare the different responses to thermal stress among unionid species with different life-history strategies, the REU student will participate in mesocosm studies this summer in which up to four different unionid species will be exposed to a gradient of thermal challenges over the course of six weeks. During this time, metabolic and physiological measurements will be performed on the mussels. At the completion of the six-week thermal challenge, the REU student will have the opportunity to participate in the collection and analysis of several cellular and molecular biomarkers, including those for energy storage, changes in aerobic versus anaerobic respiration, cellular antioxidant assessment and changes in gene expression.

Visit Dr. Jenny’s faculty profile.

Dr. Nate Jones

Nate Jones

Over half of streams and rivers go dry on a regular basis and in many parts of the world, this drying is increasing due to climate change and anthropogenic activities. However, we don’t know how stream drying impacts downstream ecosystems. Our lab is tackling this challenge by studying nine streams across the US. The REU student will gain extensive field work skills, entailing maintaining sensors throughout the stream network, collecting water chemistry, gas, and sediment samples, and learning how to process and download high frequency aquatic and terrestrial data; acquire analytical skills running instruments and processing data; and learn about graduate school and what to know before applying.

Visit Dr. Jones’ faculty profile.

Dr. Brandon Kim

Analysis of microbial gene networks at the blood-brain interface

Brandon Kim

Group B Streptococcus and Neisseria meningitidis are pathogenic bacteria that are able to cross the highly specialized blood-brain barrier and cause bacterial meningitis. To date, little is known about how these pathogens adapted their transcriptomes to interact with the blood-brain barrier. Using RNAseq data from the transcriptomes of both pathogens, the REU student will identify potential targets for gene knockout prior to performing allelic exchange mutagenesis and screening. Cell based assays to test the ability of the mutant(s) to interact with the blood-brain barrier will follow.

Visit Dr. Kim’s faculty profile.

Dr. Michael McKain

Impacts of polyploid genome diploidization on the invasive potential of a grass species

Michael McKain

Polyploidy is a common phenomenon in flowering plants and has been identified as a potential promotor of invasiveness. After polyploidy, genomes undergo diploidization that includes the loss of duplicated genes, reorganization of chromosomes, changes in expression patterns and other processes. The patterns of diploidization are likely a combination of stochastic and predetermined factors that, when coupled with natural selection, lead to lineage-specific variation. The REU student will use field work, genomics, and computational biology to investigate how diploidization has varied across populations and lineages of the allotetraploid species Sorghum halpenese as it spread across the US.

Visit Dr. McKain’s faculty profile.

Dr. Julie Olson

Factors that increase the expression of secondary metabolites in environmental bacteria

Julie Olson

Many species of bacteria produce secondary metabolites, providing an advantage to the producing organism. However, other than entering stationary phase or exhaustion of a required nutrient, the environmental conditions that induce secondary metabolite formation in these organisms are not well understood. The REU student will investigate the effect of different environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, pH) on the production and diversity of secondary metabolites using a combination of microbiological cultivation methods, bioassays, and molecular genetic techniques.

Visit Dr. Olson’s faculty profile.

Dr. Laura Reed

Examination of the evolutionary processes shaping metabolic regulation of homeostasis

Laura Reed

Using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, the REU student will use bioinformatics and genomics to analyze the molecular evolution of gene regulation in the insulin signaling pathway. Additional laboratory experiments will be performed to test how the evolution of gene regulation relates to the robustness of metabolic regulation across diets, exercise, or other dimensions of environmental variation.

Visit Dr. Reed’s faculty profile.

Dr. Arial Shogren

Arial Shogren

My lab does stream ecology research, meaning that we collect surface water samples, use data from sensors, and measure water quality on lab instrumentation to understand how stream ecosystems function. The REU student will utilize these methods for an independent project, based on their interests, which would most likely be conducted at one of my lab’s existing field sites. I would help the student develop a plan to conduct simple in-situ biogeochemistry experiments, which is fully attainable during an REU timeline.

Visit Dr. Shogren’s faculty profile.