Biology Graduate Faculty Research

▼   Algal Biology and Plant Physiological Ecology - Kelly Major
Under the broad umbrella of “physiological ecology”, research in her lab has focused on photosynthetic physiology, physiological compensation, and mechanisms of stress tolerance in algal and plant model systems. They are particularly interested in:
  • algal and plant responses to abiotic and/or biotic environmental pressures,
  • the underlying mechanisms associated with these responses (e.g., physiological compensation), and
  • how the ability to respond to environmental change [or the lack thereof] relates to the ecology of these organisms and long-term native plant community resilience.
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▼   Bird Physiology - Jonathan Pérez

My research group is broadly interested in understanding how organism detect, integrate and respond to environmental information. More specifically, we have been focusing on how animals use light and other environmental cues to time major seasonal transitions. We seek to understand the physiological mechanisms underlying these processes in order to be better able to predict how individuals, populations and ultimately species will or will not be able to respond to rapid global change.

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▼   Evolutionary Genetics - Jason Strickland

My lab group is interested in understanding how changes in the genome modify the phenotype and ultimately effect fitness. We use a combination of field work, lab work, and computation to identify changes in gene sequence and regulation to understand how selection shapes trait evolution. We use venom as our model system because of the near 1-to-1 match from gene to toxin, high intra- and inter-specific variation, and ecological importance in feeding and defense. Using genomic sequencing technologies and approaches, it is possible to examine the functionality of phenotypes
down to single mutations in the genome. We take these data and places them in a meaningful ecological and evolutionary framework by accounting for variability within species across the landscape and controlling for shared evolutionary history to understand how biodiversity is generated through adaptation. To accomplish our research goals, we draw from many fields including biogeography, bioinformatics, ecological modeling, molecular genetics, phylogenetics, phylogeography, and population genetics.

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▼   Freshwater Ecology & Entomology - John McCreadie

His research interests lie in all areas of insect ecology and biology. Current work includes studies in community structure, biodiversity, faunistics and symbiosis. My major current research projects are as follows

Community ecology of insects: This research focuses on establishing empirical and theoretical relationships between habitat parameters and species distributions. Of particular interest is the relationship between the determinants of distribution and scale (from habitat patch to continent).

Symbiotic interactions: Parasitism, mutualism and commensalism can be view as a continuum of effects that two species experience when living in close association with one another, i.e., symbiotic interactions are dynamic. Using a trichomycetes (fungus)-larval black fly (dipteran) model, He is investigating the dynamic nature of this symbiotic association in aquatic habitats. In collaboration with Audi Byrne (University of South Alabama), models are being developed to explain this dynamic. Research also focuses on the ecology, host specificity, and faunistics of other insect symbiotes including nematodes and microsporidians.

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▼   Fungal Biology - Juan Luis Mata
Three activities occupy most of my research:
  • His research interests are on taxonomy, systematics and ecology of the Agaricales (mushrooms and allies). Most of my work has focused on neotropical and subtropical fungi, particularly those from Costa Rica.
  • He is working with the American Shiitake (Lentinula raphanica). An edible species like the commercial strain, this mushroom in not well-known and there are no genetic or physiology studies.
  • Because of the proximity to mayor water bodies –the Mobile River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico- he is involved in a collaborative effort to document fungi associated to seagrasses.
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▼   Global Change & Microbiomes -Jeremiah Henning

Broadly, my group is interested in the biotic and abiotic contexts that shape the composition of ecological communities and the functioning of ecosystems. We use a combination of microcosm experiments, manipulative field experiments, and global-scale observational experiments to explore: 1) the drivers of biodiversity at local and global scales, 2) how fine-scale changes in plant-microbiomes scale to influence community interactions and ecosystem function, and 3) how global change will re-shape interactions among microbial communities, plant communities, plant microbiomes, and ecosystem function.

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▼   Marine Microbial Ecology - Sinead Ni Chadhain

Her research is focused on understanding how microbes (bacteria in particular), both individually and as communities, respond to various contaminants. She takes two different approaches to this problem. The first involves isolating pure cultures involved in the degradation of specific chemical compounds and characterising the genes and enzymes involved in the degradation pathway. The second approach uses molecular biology techniques to study microbial communities. Many studies have illustrated that greater than 99% of the bacteria found in nature have yet to be cultured in the laboratory. Our challenge is to figure out what these microorganisms are doing in the environment. Molecular tools such as PCR, gene probing, mRNA transcript analysis, and DNA sequencing can aid in this endeavour.

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▼   Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions  - Tuan Tran

The main focus of our lab lays at the intersection of plant immunity and bacterial pathogenesis. Plants depend on their surface receptors to sense the presence of pathogens. Pathogenic microbes, on the other hand, have evolved a plethora of strategies to overcome defense responses mediated by plant immune receptors. We use a diverse range of molecular biology and advanced microscopy approaches to dissect the detailed molecular interactions between host plants (Arabidopsis, tomato, Nicotiana benthamiana) and bacterial pathogens (including but not limited to Ralstonia solanacearum, Pseudomonas spp., Xanthomonas spp.). We are particularly interested in how plasma membrane composition mediates the subtle changes in membrane compartmentalization and the dynamics of surface immune receptors in plants, as well as how bacterial virulence factors could compromise plant defense responses by interfering with plant membrane properties and dynamics.

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▼   Muscle Structure and Function - Ryan Littlefield

His research interests include:

  • Hypothesis-driven research on self-organization and dynamics of  striated muscle and other contractile structures.
  • High-resolution microscopy and structural modeling
  • Visualization techniques using physical models
  • Bioengineering of muscle scaffolds
  • Nebulin does not specify actin lengths
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▼   Plant Systematics - Laura Frost

Plant systematics, phylogenomics, herbariomics, biogeography, tropical plant diversification, Gulf Coast community phylogenetics

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