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Biology Research

Current Department Research

Dr. Ruth Conley

Dr. Conley’s research focuses on the brain and behavior, with an emphasis on sensory systems.

Dr. Jonathan Gilkerson

Dr. Gilkerson’s research focuses on plant cell and molecular biology, specifically how plant cells communicate with one another to coordinate growth, development, and environmental responses.  His current projects involve the model species Arabidopsis thaliana and Physcomitrella patens (moss) to investigate the molecular mechanisms of a signaling peptide called Rapid Alkalinization Factor (RALF).

Dr. Sher Hendrickson

Dr. Hendrickson is a molecular biologist with a strong interest in adaptive selection. She has explored a number of different fields including genomics, population genetics, taxonomy, conservation biology in mammalian and avian species (Andean condors, feral Andean horses, felids), and statistics and genetic epidemiology in human AIDS cohorts while at the National Institutes of Health [2003-2012].  Dr. Hendrickson’s current work involves the genomics of high altitude selection in the Andes.  Additionally  she is collaborating with several groups on genetic associations to disease in non-human models.

Dr. Carol Plautz

Dr. Plautz conducts research on the molecules and processes involved in the development of the vertebrate eye. Additionally, she and her students study the effects of environmental contaminants on development, reproduction, and behavior in aquatic organisms such as the pond snail Lymnaea.

Dr. Laura Robertson

Dr. Robertson is a molecular biologist and geneticist who has done extensive research in fungi, fish, amphibians, and other aquatic organisms.  Dr. Robertson has developed molecular techniques to investigate the effects of contaminants on the immune systems and reproduction of aquatic organisms.  Her current projects include investigation of human impacts on soil microbial communities and molecular and microscopic characterization of fungi.

Dr. John Steffen

Dr. Steffen is a herpetologist and integrative biologist with interests in ecology, animal behavior and physiology. With the help of undergraduate students, he uses field and lab techniques to answer questions about how and why carotenoids are used to color patches in reptiles. His current research examines the physiology and function of carotenoid-based color stripes in Testudinid turtles.

Dr. David Wing

A number of genetic and molecular biology projects are being done in Dr. Wing’s laboratory.  Students are characterizing a mutant fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) that has long narrow misshapen wings.  By crossing the mutant to normal flies and vestigial wing flies, students found the mutant allele to be recessive to the wild-type allele, but dominant over the vestigial wing allele.  Other students now seek to discover how the mutant allele influences wing formation and possibly fly behavior.  Still others are working to isolate the allele and sequence it.  In the field of plant molecular biology, students are working to generate a genomic DNA library of the endangered shale barren rock cress (Arabis serotina).  Others are studying a mutant of mouse ear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) where the first leaf pair displays necrotic yellow tips.

Former Department Research

Dr. John Landolt

Dr. Landolt is interested in the biology of slime molds, most particularly cellular slime molds or dictyostelids. He has a continuing project to discover the variety, the distribution and occurrence of cellular slime molds world-wide. To this end, he has made collections of dictyostelids from many parts of the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico as well as Canada, the Bahamas, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil, Guinea and Ecuador in the new world and from the Russian Far East, Thailand, Guam, Tahiti, New Zealand and Macquarie Island in Asia and the Pacific. He endeavors to understand more about the natural history and ecology of slime molds. An excellent guide to the dictyostelid slime molds of the Eastern U.S. can be found at: