Faculty Research Programs
The Department has specific research strengths in Molecular/Cell Biology, Molecular Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, Plant Insect Interactions, Conservation Biology, and Evolutionary Ecology and Morphology of Animals. The research themes below are listed from most molecular to most behavioral. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of biology, several faculty are listed under multiple themes.
Research within this theme answers questions about the biochemical and genetic underpinnings of cell physiology. Using DNA technology, several faculty focus their research goals on the regulation of gene function by chromatin in eukaryotes, the cellular basis of pathogenicity in the mosquito-borne LaCross Virus, the molecular genetics of development in C. elegans, and the structure and regulation of cell signaling proteins.
Research in this theme is complementary to the College-wide interdisciplinary program in neuroscience. Research questions include mapping the structure and function of the neurosteroid binding site on the GABA A receptor, understanding the mechanism of action of kava in the central nervous system, and the function of nuclear receptors in the transcriptional regulation of neuron development.
An emerging research question in biology is understanding how cells learn or acquire their final fate during development. Labs in this theme are examining the regulation of nuclear hormone receptors in C. elegans, developmental processes that serve as a model for cancer research, and using electron microscopy to understand cell fate choice in marine invertebrates.
A strong subsection of the students and faculty in the Department are broadly interested in public health issues. Departmental research has examined the spread of HIV and AIDS in the Lehigh Valley and has worked toidentify risk factors in disadvantaged populations (such as migrant farm workers and frequent substance abusers) that contribute to the spread of infectious diseases. Faculty and students are also involved in ethnobotanical research on how various communities use and define herbal medicines to treat disease.
Four faculty from across the Science Division collaborate to examine plant-insect interactions. The goal of this interdisciplinary project is to explore why plants of a given type vary in the degree to which they are eaten by insects. The study focuses on Lindera benzoin (spicebush) and the Tulip Tree Beauty caterpillars that make these plants their primary food source. The scientists involved in the project have differing specialties, including plant ecology, molecular biology, analytical chemistry and statistics.
The Department has distinctive research strength in conservation biology which is complementary to the College program in Environmental Science. Research in this theme has examined the success of sustainable development in Guatemala and Costa Rica, Armenian ornithology, and human-related wildlife mortality. Conservation biology has benefited from strong collaborative ties with the department of Sociology. Research facilities include a state-of-the-art GIS (Geographic Information Systems) laboratory on campus.
The Department has outstanding and historical strength in understanding the ecology and behavior of animals in the field. Research in this theme seeks to understand the social and reproductive behavior of frogs (Rana sylvatica) and woodchucks (Marmota monax), the feeding ecology and kleptoparasitic behavior of marine snails ( Trichotropis cancellata ) , and defense in stream insects and snails. Students have also pioneered projects examining the gross and histological anatomy of the avian alimentary tract.