Faculty Mentors Accepting Undergraduate Researchers

Dr. Carey Pope, Center for Veterinary Health Sciences-Physiological Sciences

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Available labs researching in: Cholinesterase biology and toxicology, Endocannabinoids and endocannabinoid-like metabolites, and Neurotoxicology

Dr. Estele Arrese, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

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Dr. John Gustafson, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

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Dr. Patricia Rayas-Duarte, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

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This research project involves studying the ecology of fermented grains and exploring the potential use of microbes as probiotics for farm animals. 

Dr. Alejandro Penaloza-Vazquez, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 

Lab Member of Dr. Patricia Rayas - Profile and CV
I am interested in study the interaction between pre and probiotics under stress factors including diseases by animal and human pathogens and environmental factors. To accomplish these goals is necessary to mastering basic microbiology techniques under BSL-2 label practices e.g. Dilutions, plate counting, media preparation, isolation of bacteria by four quadrant streak, etc. 

Dr. Ming Yang, Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Research in my lab focuses on plant cell and molecular biology. Currently there are two major investigations going on in my laboratory: one is on the reproductive processes regulated by SCF ubiquitin ligases and the other on the cell growth and division processes regulated by A-type cyclins. In addition, smaller projects mostly related to other reproductive processes are also being pursued.

Dr. Janette Steets, Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Research in my lab elucidates the ecological and evolutionary factors that control phenotypic variation in plants.  In particular, my lab is interested in how ecological interactions between species as well as the abiotic environment influences plant reproductive success and shapes trait evolution.  LSFRS students could engage in one of the following research projects within my lab: (1) field-based research examining the role of invasive plants for the pollination and reproductive success of native co-flowering species; (2) field and laboratory studies examining the role of predispersal seed predators and their wasp parasitoids for reproductive trait evolution in the native prairie plant, Ruellia humilis (fringeleaf wild petunia); and (3) manipulative laboratory experiments investigating the ecological consequences of a plant virus for native tallgrass prairie plants and common Oklahoma crops. 

Dr. Mark Fishbein, Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Milkweeds (Asclepias) are common and ecologically important perennial plants of North American grassland and forest ecosystems. They are the only host plants of the monarch butterfly, a species of significant conservation concern. Because milkweed species diversified over a short evolutionary time span, reconstructing their relationships is exceedingly difficult and requires examination of a large amount of data from across their genomes and powerful computational techniques. This research will contribute to the development of new methods for more accurately determining evolutionary relationships when many species have been formed in rapid succession. The results will have implications for better understanding the coevolution between milkweeds and monarch butterflies and the evolution of plant defense, as well as provide a robust evolutionary context for understanding the results of other scientific studies exploring aspects of plant reproduction, genome evolution, and other areas using milkweeds. The project will train postdoctoral fellows and graduate student in the latest phylogenetic and bioinformatics methods thereby training the next generation of phylogenetic biologists.

This research will demonstrate the feasibility of solving difficult phylogenetic problems at the species level in plants by employing improvements in next-generation sequencing techniques. The work combines methods for targeted sequencing of hundreds of specific regions of the nuclear genome applied to unusually large within-species sampling. The project applies nuclear gene probes developed directly from Asclepias genome and transcriptome sequences to effectively target 768 genes and substantial amounts of their non-coding flanking regions. Phylogenetically useful off-target sequences, (e.g., complete chloroplastgenomes) are also obtained. By sampling 20 individuals per species, the approach will distinguish common causes of gene tree discordance:incomplete lineage sorting and introgression. An analytic workflow will be applied that incorporates simulation of incomplete lineage sorting and a combination of species tree inference methods that are effective even when introgression has occurred. Because current species tree approaches are constrained by a computational tradeoff between the number of loci and number of alleles that can simultaneously analyzed, the project will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of alternative methods. The large sample of loci will also validate the recognition of species not currently accepted in Asclepias. Undergraduate and graduate student training in genomics, bioinformatics, and phylogenetics will target participants from underrepresented groups. Project outcomes will reach the broader scientific community and the general public through workshops held at scientific meetings, K-12 education modules focused on milkweed ecology and evolution, and demonstration exhibits at a public botanic garden.


Andrew Doust, Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Dr. William Henley, Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Dr. Bill Henley’s lab (Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution) studies the physiology, ecology, and biofuels potential of algae.  Depending on student interests, possible projects may include, for example, isolating and characterizing algae, physiological experiments, testing ways to improve content of useful compounds such as lipids, developing new measurement protocols, development of low energy input mixing mechanisms, etc. 


Dr. Gerald Schoenknecht,  Plant Biology, Ecology & Evolution

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Dr. Schoenknecht’s lab studies ion transport in plants and how plants adapt to extreme environments. Available undergraduate research projects include phylogenetic work, data analysis, or bioinformatics.

- A phylogenetic analysis of two-pore calcium (TPC) channels. TPC channels occur in higher plants as well as in mammals, seem to be missing, however, from algae and many protists.
- pH regulation in plant roots: Arabidopsis plants lacking certain proton pumps were acidified with acetate and cytosolic pH was recorded. Analysis of these cytosolic pH recordings will give insight, which proton pumps are responsible for pH regulation in plant roots.
- The thermoacidophilic red alga Galdieria sulphuraria lives in volcanic areas tolerating up to 56°C and pH 0.5. To investigate how a thermophilic organism adapts to different temperatures Galdieria was shifted from 42°C to 28°C (and back), total mRNA was isolated and sequenced (RNAseq) at different time points. Bioinformatics analyses of RNA sequence frequencies will provide insights into the molecular mechanisms of temperature adaptation in a photosynthetic extremophile.


Dr. Wouter Hoff, Microbiology & Molecular Genetics/Genomics

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Research program 1: Photoreceptors as model systems with powerful applications. We use photoreceptor proteins as model systems for studying protein folding, function, signaling, and energy transduction, and have started to explore biotechnological applications for these proteins. We study photoreceptors and their biological functions in a wide range of organisms, including extreme halophiles, marine organisms, and opportunistic pathogens. Our long-term goal is to uncover fundamental principles in these processes, and to develop medically and biotechnologically relevant proteins and bacterial strains and with useful applications. This research uses a wide range of approaches, from genomic studies to molecular genetics, protein biochemistry, protein spectroscopy and biophysics. We discovered that the activation of photoactive yellow protein (PYP), a bacterial blue-light receptor from the halophilic purple sulfur bacterium Halorhodopsira halophila, involves partial unfolding, providing an unexpected link between signaling and protein folding. We are analyzing the genome and halophilic adaptations of H. halophila, and are using genomic approaches to identify the signal transduction chain associated with PYP. We use infrared spectroscopy and other spectroscopic measurements to unraveling the fundamental mechanisms in the activation of PYP and have developed novel high-throughput protein biophysics approaches. Our single-molecule force spectroscopy measurements allow us to apply a force to unfold the protein along a specific axis, determined by the position of introduced Cys residues. In addition, we are interested in developing novel highly sensitive, specific, and fast biodetection devices based on engineered chromophoric proteins that allow a direct optical readout.

Research program 2: Robustness and evolvability: linking genomics, biophysics, and evolution. We study how proteins and genomes evolve by combining robustness, in which mutations retain functionality, and evolvability, in which mutations alter functionality. Using photoreceptor model systems, we experimentally study how proteins combine a high degree of both robustness and evolvability. For studies at the genome level, we explore halophilic adaptations in bacteria that involve genome-wide modifications of amino acid composition. This provides a direct link between genome analysis and the biophysics of proteins (particularly surface hydration effects). Currently, we are developing new bridges between the areas of genome science and biophysics.

Also co-mentoring with: Dr. Aihua Xie, Physics (Profile) - available as individual or group project (3 members)
Project title: Fourier transform infrared characterization of amino acid side chains for Infrared Structural Biology of proteins 
This project aims to involve a collaborating team of three Life Science Freshman Research Scholars to perform an interdisciplinary project at the interface of biology and physics. The scholars will measure infrared spectra of synthetic 8-mer peptides of all 20 amino acids using the new state-of-the-art infrared FTIR instrument available at OSU in the HBRC biophysics user facility. Analysis of these data will yield the pure infrared spectra of side chains of the set of 20 amino acid side chains in biology free from contributions of the protein backbone, N-terminus, and N-terminus. The spectra will be measured in both H2O and D2O to account for exchangeable protons in NH and OH groups, and at various pH values for ionizable side chains such as His and Asp. The resulting library of side chain spectra will be of general value for the rapidly growing field of protein infrared structural biology. The applicability of this dataset to analyzing the infrared spectra of various proteins will be determined.



Dr. Jeff Hadwiger, Microbiology & Molecular Genetics

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Eukaryotic cells respond to a wide variety of external signals that can regulate cellular growth, division, differentiation, migration, and function. Many of these signals are detected by G protein coupled receptors stimulate specific cell responses. The goals of Dr. Hadwiger's research program are to identify the molecular components of G protein mediated signal transduction pathways and to elucidate how these components act together to transmit signals important for developmental processes such as cellular migration and differentiation. Dr. Hadwiger's laboratory has investigated signaling pathways that regulate the foraging and development of Dictyostelium. This model organism provides an excellent system for the genetic and biochemical characterization of cell movement, cell differentiation, and cell-cell signaling. The research in Dr. Hadwiger's lab has provided insight into proteins and mechanisms that are important for signal transduction pathway specificity.

Dr. Scott McMurry, Integrative Biology

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Has available projects on amphibian and snails as related to toxicology and behavior

Christopher Goodchild & Ashley Love, Integrative Biology
Potential mentors: Jen Grindstaff, Jason Belden, Matteo Minghetti, & Polly Campbell

Contact Christopher Goodchild at: christopher.goodchild@okstate.edu 

The DuRant Lab group at OSU is interested in how environmental stressors influence the physiologies of animals. Animals encounter numerous natural and anthropogenic stressors simultaneously, and must adaptively respond to these stressors in order to survive. In our lab, our primary research interest is investigating how stressors affect hormones, metabolic rate, and immune function in birds. Because a bird's physiology can affect its behavior, we also investigate whether a bird's environment influences mate courtship, offspring provisioning, and other behaviors. Currently, we are investigating the effects of 3 common environmental stressors: disease, predation risk, and pollution. In order to assess the physiological effects of these stressors, we have colonies of zebra finches and canaries. Students interested in joining our lab should be excited to interact closely with birds, and have a general interest in animal behavior and animal physiology. 

Dr. Jen Grindstaff, Integrative Biology

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There are two potential projects for motivated undergraduates in the Grindstaff lab this year. The projects for the upcoming year involve either hands-on work with a captive population of zebra finches or laboratory analyses of previously collected samples.

  1. What effects do parental pair bond disruption and paternal absence have on offspring behavior? Zebra finches are socially monogamous, form lifelong pair bonds, and provide extensive bi-parental care to their offspring. These traits make zebra finches ideal for studying how disrupted family environments early in life affect the growth, behavior, and physiology of offspring. A student working on this project would run behavioral assays to quantify the effects of the early life environment on subsequent behavior.
  2. Does exposure to a stressor early in life impact the rate of senescence by accelerating telomere attrition? Telomeres form the terminal caps of chromosomes and enhance genome stability, but shorten during each round of cell replication. In zebra finches, telomere lengths measured at one month post-hatch are predictive of longevity. In previous experiments, we have manipulated zebra finch exposure to stressors in early life and documented effects on growth, behavior, and physiology. Our next step is to test if early life stress exposure affects the rate of telomere shortening, and potentially longevity. A student working on this project would analyze previously collected samples to quantify telomere lengths.

Dr. Punidan D. Jeyasingh, Integrative Biology 
2-3 Openings

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Dr. Jeyasingh's lab concentrates on Daphnia/lakes. You can find out more information about the project at the links below: 
- Lab Info: 

Dr. Kristin Baum, Integrative Biology

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Research in the Baum lab focuses on the effects of land use and management practices on species of conservation and/or management concern.  Current projects focus on monarch butterflies, unexpected cycnia, and native bees in grasslands and/or crop lands.  For example, we are studying the effects of prescribed fire and mowing on the abundance and parasitism rates of monarch butterflies and unexpected cycnia, as well as the implications of different insecticides for native bees and canola production.  Most of this research is field based with research occurring from April through October, although there are sometimes opportunities during other times of the year.  

Dr. Stanley Fox, Integrative Biology 

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Currently conducting field and laboratory studies of the Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), especially in regards to the possibility of the adaptiveness of early sexually dichromatic characters and sexually different behavior among reproductively immature hatchlings, a phenomenon I call precocial sexual selection.

Dr. Andy Dzialowski, Integrative Biology

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Research in our lab explores how biotic interactions, resource availability, and disturbance influence the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems.  We combine laboratory, observational, and experimental studies to address several major themes including metacommunity dynamics, the ecology of invasive species, zooplankton community structure, the ecology and management of cyanobacterial blooms, and reservoir and wetland ecology.  Please visit our website for additional information:  http://zooplankton.okstate.edu.  

Dr. Daniel Moen, Integrative Biology

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In the Moen lab we have three potential projects for enthusiastic undergraduate students. All three involve working with museum specimens of frogs and images of their hands and feet, and all three projects address evolution of body form and function and how that relates to habitat use. Future projects in the lab will involve fieldwork and laboratory measurements of jumping and swimming in frogs.

The first project looks at the evolution of frog toe pad size and shape. Distantly related groups of frogs have independently become arboreal (living in trees) over 13 times, and in this project we ask: do the adhesive toe pads in frogs always evolve the same way? Or is there diversity in toe pad size and shape? A student working on this project will mostly measure frog toe pad size and shape from images of hands and feet, and future work in this area will involve testing the adhesive abilities of live frogs in the lab.

The second project examines the evolution of the relationship between body form (morphology) and habitat use in frogs. Frogs use many different types of habitats (trees, ground, burrows, water) and their body form seems to fit this habitat use – for example, aquatic frogs have pointed snouts, webbed feet, and muscular legs. Yet few studies have explicitly studied the relationship between morphology and ecology in frogs. In this study a student will measure the morphology of museum specimens of frogs (e.g. leg length, body size) and take photos of hands and feet of the frogs. She/he will then measure the size of toe pads and webbing from the photos. Finally, we will analyze the data to understand the relationship between habitat and body form. Future work in this area will involve testing the jumping and swimming abilities of local species of frogs and toads.

The third project will examine the patterns of evolution of habitat use in frogs and toads ("anurans"). There have been many transitions to different habitat types (trees, water, ground, burrows) throughout the history of anurans, yet some groups change much more than others.  For example, most of the 950 species of hylid frogs (the typical tree frogs of Oklahoma) around the world live in trees. Yet in Australia this group has diversified to use many different habitats. Why is this? This project will involve gathering much literature data on habitat use in frogs, and then we will analyze the evolution of habitat use across all frogs around the world, trying to understand (1) which groups show many changes, (2) where these frequently evolving groups occur, and (3) how these patterns of change relate to the evolution of morphology and species diversity. Future work in this area will involve statistical evolutionary analyses and bioinformatics.

Dr. Karen McBee, Integrative Biology

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This opportunity will introduce the HHMI Life Sciences Freshman Research Scholar to the exciting world of mammalian research. The student will learn about and participate in a unique experiment conducted on live, small mammals. He or she will conduct fieldwork and learn techniques used by mammalogists in live-trapping small mammals. The project is focused on the use of a prototype device called a y-maze that is typically used to gauge behavioral responses of animals to stimuli. This student will use the y-maze to investigate limits of visual responsiveness to light of a small woodland mouse species called the White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). Additional studies on light pollution affecting small rodents may also be explored. 1 opening available.


Additional available research opportunities can be found here: http://www.vpr.okstate.edu/research-communications/top-research-picks