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Faculty Mentors

Doug Cole, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Molecular biology and adaptations of unicellular protozoans

The Cole lab studies the cell and molecular biology of the photosynthetic unicellular protozoans known as Euglenids. One of the evolutionary projects in the lab compares Euglena mutabilis isolated from pristine lakes and extreme environments (e.g. volcanic or mining sites). Extremophilic E. mutabilis can flourish in acidic environs contaminated with heavy metals. Although the lake E. mutabilis can grow at low pH (pH 3), they are sensitive to heavy metal poisoning. Questions to address include (1) how distantly related are these two strains, (2) does the extremophile possess molecular machinery absent from the lake strain and (3) can the lake strain evolve, in a laboratory setting, to become resistant to the presence of heavy metal ions.

Dr. Cole's Website

Faculty Profile

Doug Cole

Larry Forney, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Prokaryote community diversity and evolution

Research in the Forney lab centers on the diversity and distribution of prokaryotes. Both field and laboratory studies are done to explore the temporal and spatial patterns of community diversity, as well as factors that influence the dynamics of inter– and intra–species competition. In addition, research is done to understand how spatial structure and the resulting environmental gradients influence the tempo and trajectory of adaptive radiations in bacterial species and the maintenance of diversity. Most of these studies are highly interdisciplinary in nature. Undergraduate students in his research group conduct research to understand the structure and composition of microbial communities in the microbiomes of humans and animals, the nature of interspecies interactions in these communities, and to compare the tempo of genetic divergence in bacterial populations grown in well–mixed and spatially structured environments. All of these projects are well suited for summer REU interns.

Dr. Forney's Websites

Faculty Profile
Forney Lab

Larry Forney

Peter Fuerst, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Development of the nervous system

The Fuerst lab studies how our neurons are wired into a brain. This process involves a huge number of different neuron cell types being able to find and make connections with the correct target. To study this the Fuerst lab use wild type and transgenic mice and zebrafish that allow them to manipulate the genome to study different genes and to label different parts of the brain using fluorescent proteins, such as the brainbow transgenic mice. They also perform cell culture experiments and live imaging experiments wherein they image living brain tissue under a fluorescent microscope to assay how the brain develops over time. REU student projects could easily build upon a large number of ongoing projects involving work with zebrafish, mice, computer modeling and cell culture.

Dr. Fuerst's Websites

Faculty Profile
Dr. Fuerst's Lab

Peter Fuerst

Jill Johnson, PhD.

Research Focus:  Regulation of protein folding by the molecular chaperone Hsp90.

The Johnson lab studies the function of the molecular chaperone Hsp90, which is required for the function of hundreds of cellular proteins.  Most notably, Hsp90 is required for the function of proteins that promote cancerous cell growth and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.   The Johnson lab uses yeast as a model system to understand how Hsp90 and its team of interacting cochaperones mediate the folding and activity of client proteins.  The long-term goal is to develop strategies to alter selectively alter Hsp90 or cochaperone function to combat disease.  Potential projects REU students could participate in are studies to learn how fine-tuning of Hsp90 function affects the function of a protein involved in DNA repair or studies to investigate how Hsp90 directly interacts with a client protein using purified proteins.

Dr. Johnson's Websites

Faculty Profile

Jill Johnson

Adam Jones, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Genomics of sexual selection

Research in the Jones Lab uses techniques from genomics, computational biology and bioinformatics to study sexual selection and other evolutionary processes. Our main animal models are fishes of the family Syngnathidae (pipefishes, seahorses, and seadragons) and the African turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri). The pipefishes, seahorses and seadragons are interesting from a sexual selection standpoint because the males carry the developing offspring on or in their bodies. This “male pregnancy” results in strong reproductive competition among females for access to non-pregnant males, a reversal of the usual sex roles in sexual selection. We are currently using comparative genomics to study the genome-level effects of this sex-role reversal. The African turquoise killifish is useful to us because it has a very short generation time (the shortest lifespan of any lab vertebrate) and it is an emerging model system with a growing functional genomics toolkit. We are using this species to examine the roles of specific genes in the sexual selection process. Undergraduate projects in the lab range from comparative genomics, with a large computational component, to functional genomics, where the goal is to study the phenotypic effects of particular genes.

Faculty Profile
Jones Lab Page

photo of Adam Jones
Adam Jones

Shirley Luckhart, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Malaria parasite development, innate immunity, and disease biology of host-parasite infection

The Luckhart lab investigates malaria, including innate immunity in the mosquito and mammalian hosts and interventions to block both disease and transmission. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium.  Malaria contributes to significant social and economic burdens in 91 countries – in 2017, there were 219 million cases and 435,000 deaths due to malaria. Eradicating malaria is a major world health priority. Our lab has supported many undergraduate researchers who have continued on in graduate programs, medical school, veterinary school, and to professional programs in health sciences. Potential projects REU students could participate in include analyses of mutations that control malaria parasite development in both mosquitoes and mammals, disease pathogenesis in animal models and analyses of novel insecticides and antimalarial compounds. These types of projects use skills in biochemistry, molecular biology, and disease biology of host-parasite infection.

Dr. Luckhart's Websites

Faculty Profile

Shirley Luckhart
Shirley Luckhart

Scott Nuismer, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Coevolutionary genetics

Research in the Nuismer lab focuses on the ecology and evolution of species interactions. The overall aim of his research team is to better understand how coevolution shapes patterns of biodiversity and the geographic distributions of interacting species. Some of the key questions being addressed include: Can interactions between species drive the evolution of assortative mating and potentially speciation? How do interactions between host and parasites alter patterns of gene expression? Do interactions with parasites mediate phenotypic divergence? Work in the Nuismer lab addresses these issues through a combination of mathematical modeling and empirical studies. Projects will be geared towards REU students with a foundation in mathematical or modeling skills and will place them in a research environment with other undergraduate researchers and graduate students.

Dr. Nuismer's Websites

Faculty Profile
Nuismer's Lab

Scott Nuismer

Christine Parent, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Adaptive radiation; Intraspecific competition in diversification

Research in the Parent lab centers on the evolutionary process of diversification in lineages exposed to novel environment. Adaptive radiation, defined by ecological diversification in a rapidly multiplying lineage, is possibly the single most important source of biological diversity in the living world. The variation is the result of evolution in novel and geographically fragmented environment, and is the focus of the research conducted in Dr. Parent’s lab. The general approach of her lab is to (1) observe present– day patterns of biodiversity to infer past evolutionary processes, and (2) test those processes with manipulative experiments in laboratory populations. The Parent lab uses field observations, comparative analyses, laboratory experiments, molecular phylogenetics, and integrates them with theoretical modeling. REU students in the Parent lab could work on projects involving experimental evolution (using Tribolium beetles or fruit flies), molecular phylogenetics, morphometrics, and/or comparative analyses.

Dr. Parent's Websites

Faculty Profile
Parent's Lab

Christine Parent

Paul Rowley, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Characterization of antifungal “killer toxins” produced by yeasts

Yeasts used for brewing and baking have the ability to secrete proteins called “killer toxins” that are lethal to disease-causing fungi.  One unique feature of killer toxins is that they are often encoded upon double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) molecules that are replicated by viruses in the yeast cytoplasm.  Despite the advantages of killer toxin production, different killer toxins vary in their ability to inhibit the growth of certain strains and species of yeasts.  The current research focus of the Rowley lab is to better understand the diversity, specificity, and potency of killer toxins and use this information to design potent antifungal drugs against pathogenic fungi.  Undergraduate students in the Rowley lab are involved in (1) the discovery of novel viral dsRNAs that encode killer toxins, (2) the determination of the genetic sequence of dsRNAs by next generation sequencing, and (3) the assaying of purified killer toxins against pathogenic fungi in vitro and in vivo.

Dr. Rowley's Websites

Faculty Profile
Rowley's Lab

Paul Andrew Rowley
Dr. Paul A. Rowley

Deborah Stenkamp, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Development of the vertebrate retina

The Stenkamp lab studies how the specific neuronal and glial types of the vertebrate retina are generated and differentiated during development, and how they are regenerated after retinal damage. We use the zebrafish as our primary animal model, because teleost fish such as zebrafish develop as many as nine spectrally distinct types of retinal photoreceptors, and have the capacity for functional retinal regeneration. Our experiments involve developmental and genetic manipulations and the use of live and static imaging, and molecular analyses including RNA-seq. REU students would join projects that investigate the differential expression and evolution of tandemly-replicated visual pigment genes in teleost fish and primates. In many cases these tandem replications are very recent evolutionary events. REU students may also participate in collaborative projects with the Fuerst lab in which we investigate retinal structure and regenerative capacity in the gar, a fish that did not experience the genome-wide gene duplication event of teleosts and has a genome structure more similar to mammals.

Dr. Stenkamp's Websites

Faculty Profile
Stenkamp's Lab

Deborah Stenkamp

David Tank, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Molecular plant systematics; Phylogenetics

The Tank lab is broadly interested in the investigation of the patterns and processes that shape plant biodiversity. In general, research of the Tank lab is focused on the use of molecular methods to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships in plants and the application of phylogenetic methods to understand plant evolution. The evolutionary causes and consequences of processes such as hybridization, polyploidy, pollination biology, biogeography, rapid diversification, and niche evolution can only be understood in light of a robust phylogenetic hypothesis, and these hypotheses are a necessary component of modern taxonomic treatments and classification systems. Research in the Tank lab is directed at multiple levels of plant phylogeny and current projects range from comparative phylogeography of the Pacific Northwest inland rainforest communities, to the study of species boundaries and diversification among very closely related species, to patterns of diversification among some of the major lineages comprising the plant tree of life. In addition, successful applicants would also have the opportunity to take Dr. Tank’s Advanced Field Botany course — an intensive, two–week field course taught out of the University of Idaho McCall Field Campus.

Dr. Tank's Websites

Faculty Profile
Tank's Lab

David Tank

Eva Top, Ph.D.

Research Focus: Bacterial plasmid evolution

The Top lab investigates the ecology and evolution of bacterial plasmids. Plasmids are mobile genetic elements that are found in most bacteria, where they replicate separately from the chromosome and often confer resistance to multiple antibiotics or encode other host–beneficial traits. Because plasmids readily transfer between different bacteria, they play a major role in the rapid spread of antibiotic resistance in pathogens. To limit the spread of drug resistance among human pathogens, we urgently need to better understand the diversity and evolutionary history of resistance plasmids and the mechanisms by which they evolve to successfully persist in bacterial populations. The Top lab actively engages undergraduates in research all year round. Potential projects REU students could participate in include experimental evolution studies to determine the evolutionary mechanisms by which plasmids adapt to their host, host adapt to plasmids, or plasmids and hosts co–evolve. These types of projects entail traditional bacterial culturing techniques, plasmid DNA extraction methods, PCR amplification and DNA sequencing.

Dr. Top's Websites

Faculty Profile
Top's Lab

Eva Top


Department of Biological Sciences

Physical Address:
Life Sciences South 252

Mailing Address:
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3051
Moscow, ID 83844-3051

Phone: 208-885-6280

Fax: 208-885-7905


Web: Department of Biological Sciences