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Current Faculty Research Print

The faculty of the Department of Biology are nationally recognized for their research programs and publications in prestigious journals. Faculty research is regularly supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, or similar state and national organizations. Research and teaching facilities are equipped with such state-of-the-art equipment as liquid scintillation and gamma counters, spectrophotometers, a digitized HPLC system and a single-side band light microscope. We also have access to a FEI environmental scanning electron microscope, a FEI transmission electron microscope, an Olympus confocal microscope and Reichart ultramicrotome.

The Biology Department also manages a USDA certified (NIH approved) animal care facility, the 20,000 specimen William Darlington Herbarium, and 100 acre Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies.

Research opportunities for graduate students are particularly strong in three areas:

(1) Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology;

(2) Physiology, Development, and Cell Biology; and

(3) Molecular Genetics, Immunology, and Microbiology.

Faculty in each of these programs have ongoing research projects and welcome serious student investigators into their laboratories.


Dr. Josh Auld (1)
Dr. Auld's research focuses on the evolutionary ecology of mating systems and life-history traits, primarily in hermaphroditic freshwater snails. He studies the expression and evolution of reproductive traits and the role of intra- and interspecific interactions such as competition and predation in these processes. Research projects are motivated by trying to understand how reproduction takes place under natural (variable) environmental conditions.  Thus, the role of phenotypic plasticity in these processes is major theme of study. Research opportunities typically involve field, experimental and analytic work.

Dr. Sharon E. Began (1)
Dr. Began's research focuses on comparative developmental studies designed to analyze the patterns underlying the morphological features of early land plants, particularly the bryophytes (liverworts, mosses, and hornworts). Information gathered from these investigations is utilized to provide clarification of the systematic and evolutionary relationships among land plants. Methodologies employed include light and electron microscopy as well as experimental culture techniques. In addition, Dr. Began is involved in national and regional floristic studies intended to catalog and identify rare and endangered bryophyte populations.

Dr. John T. Beneski (1)
Dr. Beneski's research emphasizes the evolution and adaptations of primitive terrestrial vertebrates. Current projects under investigation include the ontogeny, kinematics and functional morphology of prey capture and intra-oral transport, the biomechanics of tail autotomy, the evolution and functional significance of tooth shape, and the ecomorphology of amphibian populations. Primary analytical techniques include scanning electron microscopy, image analysis, and computer modelling. Suggested areas for student research include problems involving evolutionary mechanisms, herpetology, systematics, or image analysis.

Dr. S. Anne Boettger (2)
Research in Dr. Boettger's lab examines environmental effects, whether they are biological (disease), physical (hydrodynamic pressure) or chemical (anthropogenic pollutants) on the anatomy, physiology and development of invertebrate animals. Research projects typically utilize marine animals or biomedical models and involve field experiments, laboratory maintenance of experimental animals, cell and molecular techniques and microscopy to examine positive and detrimental environmental impacts.

Dr. Steven Broitman (3)
Research in Dr. Broitman's laboratory focuses on the relationship between specific DNA novel structures and the regulation of gene expression. He is studying the conversion of regions of DNA double helix into unique three-stranded ("triplex") DNA structures, and the effects of these structural transitions on RNA transcription and gene regulation. Specific projects include: a) cloning a region of bacteriophage control DNA which also contains putative target regions for DNA triplex formation. This construct will later be used to test the ability of triplex formation along this control region to regulate RNA syntheses both in vitro and in vivo; b) use of radio-labeled RNA precursor nucleotides to monitor RNA synthesis in vitro off of natural and synthetic DNA template helices. This system will be used to quantitatively study the effect of triplex DNA formation on the efficiency of RNA transcription; c) physical, chemical and spectroscopic analysis of DNA triple helices investigating the relationship between DNA length and sequence on triplex stability; and d) the development of new diagnostic procedures (HPLC, PAGE, DNA footprints) to monitor DNA triplex formation.

Dr. Giovanni Casotti (1)
Dr. Casotti's research examines how birds osmoregulate in different environments. His research focuses on the functional morphology and physiology of the avian kidney and the lower gastrointestinal tract. He has conducted research in arid and mesic environments on different bird species, and is particularly interested in how birds handle nitrogenous waste. Projects with Dr. Casotti would include use of transmission and scanning electron microscopy and light histology.

Dr. Winfield Fairchild (1)
Dr. Fairchild's research emphasizes the response of aquatic organisms to key habitat features of lakes, streams and wetlands. He has worked extensively on Pocono Mountain lakes, evaluating the impact of lake acidification on the growth and nutrient limitation of attached algal communities. Ongoing research examines the assembly rules for aquatic invertebrate communities in constructed wetlands of SE Pennsylvania. Dr. Fairchild also maintains interests in fish communities as bioindicators of water quality, and most recently completed a collaborative study of fish assemblages in the Schuylkill River drainage. Students working in his laboratory thus have wide latitude in designing research projects in aquatic ecology. Dr. Fairchild teaches undergraduate courses in Limnology, Aquatic Biology, Biometrics and Population Biology.

Dr. Xin Fan (3)
Dr. Xin Fan's research examines pathogen-host interactions. Her current research focuses on using and Listeria monocytogenes as model systems to study virulence mechanisms of pathogenic bacteria. Cutting edge molecular microbiology tools and animal experiments are involved in the research to unravel virulence factors and their contributions in the disease processes. Dr. Fan hopes that by understanding bacterial virulence strategies during the infections will help develop effective treatment and vaccines against pathogen infections.

Dr. Frank E. Fish (1)
Dr. Fish uses the fields of functional morphology and ecological physiology in the study of the dynamics of locomotion in animals. His focus has been on the energetics and hydrodynamics of vertebrate swimming, with particular regard to propulsive modes and the evolution of aquatic mammals. This research is accomplished by examination of biomechanics with motion analysis and computer digitizing, and by measurement of metabolic performance though oxygen consumption. Dr. Fish is responsible for a course in Functional Animal Morphology (Bio 457). Specific projects open to students as thesis research include dolphin swimming, morphology and kinematics, energy conservation by formation swimming, biomechanics of maneuverability, jet propulsion in fish, and functional design of propulsive structures in aquatic mammals.

Dr. Erin E. Gestl (3)
Dr. Gestl's research focuses on the mechanism and regulation of DNA polymerases on a molecular level.  He combines current molecular technology with cell culture systems and the model organism, Zebrafish (Danio rerio) to help address questions related to cancer.  Current projects include: (a) In vitro analysis of polymerases switching which is currently hypothesized to occur when one polymerase can synthesize past damaged DNA, (b) In vivo analysis of expression levels of various DNA polymerases in Zebrafish and their altered expression levels when exposed to chemotherapeutics, and (c) Ex vivo analysis of alternative splicing of DNA polymerases in human breast epithelial cell lines.  Some of this work and future research is in collaboration with the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.  Dr. Gestl also teaches upper level courses in Molecular and Cell Biology (Bio421) and Gene Expression (Bio443).

Dr. Judith J. Greenamyer (2)
Dr. Greenamyer is the manager and attending veterinarian for West Chester University's NIH approved animal facility. In addition to her training in general veterinary medicine and the sub-discipline of laboratory animal medicine, she has postgraduate training in cell and metabolic physiology. Her current research interests deal with erythrocyte structure and metabolism, and how they are affected by exposure to irreversible cholinesterase inhibitors. This research employs both in vitro and in vivo techniques, using rabbits as a model for humans. In the past, Dr. Greenamyer has been involved with attempts to evaluate insulin binding by canine blood cells to better understand mechanisms of canine Diabetes mellitus.

Dr. Maureen T. Knabb (2)
Dr. Knabb's research interests include clinically relevant topics such as the biochemical mediators of arrhythmogenesis in ischemic heart disease and viral myocarditis. She is also interested in signal transduction pathways, membrane permeability, and mechanisms of aging and disease. Techniques utilized in her laboratory include intracellular recording, tissue culture, spectrophotometry, and electrophoresis. She has received external funding from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association. Dr. Knabb prioritizes collaborative research with students and has received funding for undergraduate research programs.

Dr. Gustave M. Mbuy (3)
The research program of Dr. Mbuy's laboratory in molecular virologyi and immunology has two main areas of interest. One area is concerned with the discovery of antivirals compounds fgrom ethnomedicinal plants. To this end, several biological products are isolated from medicinal plants and tested for their antiviral effect, using herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 as indicator viruses. the second reseaarch area is focused on on understanding in greater detail the molecular mechanisms of virus replication. Dr. Mbuy is actively studying the mechanism by which herpes simplex virus type 2 establishes latency in infected animals and in infected tissue culture cells. Students in this laboratory are exposed to a wide range of modern techniques in virus.

Dr. Oné R. Pagán (2)
Planarian flatworms show a lot of promise in neuropharmacological research; they have a well-developed nervous system, including a rudimentary brain, which use every major neurotransmitter system described in mammals, including humans.  Additionally, its nervous system shares many structural similarities with vertebrate nervous systems.  Many abused drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine affect this organism; interestingly, in a way reminiscent of their effects on humans.  In our research, we use planaria as a model organism to screen for naturally-occurring or synthetic compounds capable of reversing acute and long-term effects of abused drugs.  Our eventual objective is to discover substances capable of preventing the behavioral and toxic effects of abused drugs in humans.

Dr. John Pisciotta (3)
Dr. Pisciotta's primary research aims to develop microbial platforms for converting wastes and abundant natural energy sources, like sunlight, into useful fuels and electricity. He is currently investigating electrically-directed CO2 fixation in microorganism. Systems and methods used include photobioreactors, bioelectrochemical systems, optical and light microscopy, molecular biology and experimental culture techniques. Dr. Pisciotta is also interested in pathogenic microbiology and antibiotic drug discovery.

Dr. Jessica Schedlbauer (1)
Dr. Schedlbauer’s research interests are in the areas of ecosystem ecology and plant ecophysiology, with a focus on carbon storage and cycling.  Her past research has been conducted in forest and wetland ecosystems, examining topics including ecosystem responses to tropical forest fragmentation, secondary forest recovery on abandoned pastures in the tropics, and carbon exchange in Florida Everglades wetlands.  Dr. Schedlbauer’s research occurs principally in ecosystems affected by human activities, and she is interested in research questions related to climate change, land use change, and ecosystem management.  Students working in her lab will have the opportunity to work across scales, from the leaf to the ecosystem level, to examine topical ecological questions.

Dr. Leslie B. Slusher (3)
The functional role of a given cell within a tissue is defined by the subset of genes that are expressed within that cell. Understanding the selective expression of given proteins and their influence on cellular function is the unifying theme of the ongoing projects in my laboratory. One of these projects examines the expression of the class I and class IV medium chain alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH) in human breast parenchyma. We found that normal human breast tissue can catalyze NAD+ dependent oxidation of ethanol. We expect that function of ADH in breast tissue is to detoxify the ethanol produced as a by-product of normal cellular metabolism. We have, however, determined that the expression of class I ADH is dramatically reduced or abrogated in invasive breast cancers. The loss of ADH function in cancer suggests that the enzyme has some 'tumor suppressor' function in the mammary epithelium. The one property of class I ADH fitting this designation is its potential to catalyze the oxidation of the micronutrient retinol to retinal, the first step in the biosynthesis of retinoic acid, the principal known mediator of the actions of retinoids important for maintaining epithelia in a differentiated state.

Dr. Jessica Sullivan-Brown (3) 
Dr. Sullivan-Brown is interested in studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms of embryonic development and how defects in development result in disease. Her current focus is analyzing the genetic and environmental factors underlying neural tube defects. Neural tube defects, like spina bifida, are common and severe congenital defects affecting about 1 in 1000 live births each year. She uses different animal model systems to study neural tube defects including the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the frog Xenopus laevis. Research projects in her lab include: 1) studying how folic acid and folic acid metabolism genes affect early developmental processes, and 2) analyzing the expression of neural tube defect genes during neural tube closure. She enjoys mentoring students, and hopes that students will have active roles in designing research projects in her lab. In addition to her interests in research and teaching, she enjoys communicating science to a broad audience through science outreach activities.

Dr. Harry M. Tiebout III (1)
Dr. Tiebout is a vertebrate ecologist whose primary research interests include foraging behavior and energetics, community structure and dynamics, ecotoxicology, and conservation biology. His current research projects are (a) investigating the impact of timber production on the herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) of the endangered Florida Sand Pine Scrub ecosystem, (b) developing standardized methods for using articifical refugia to monitor herpetofauna biodiversity, and (c) theoretical issues in ecotoxicology and ecological risk assessment. Potential areas for student research include field-oriented studies of (a) terrestrial vertebrate ecology and (b) the impacts of human disturbance on native vertebrate assemblages.

Dr. Greg Turner (1)
Dr. Turner's research focuses on mycorrhizal fungal responses to anthropogenic factors and natural variability in soils and topographic features. In particular, the effects of nitrogen and heavy metals on ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal communities, associated with oak and pine hosts, are being explored. Dr. Turner is also interested in how exotic plant species affect native plant communities and will be conducting a research project next summer examining the 'invasibility'of exotic grass and tree species into a Virginia Natural Heritage Area. Dr. Turner is also interested in invasive plant effects on fungal communities and plans to initiate a project to assess the community structure of ECM fungi associated with exotic plant hosts in West Chester University's Robert B. Gordon Natural Area. Students, both undergraduate and graduate, can focus on these projects or related projects that they may wish to design.

Dr. Jack Waber (2)
Dr. Waber's research interests lie in the general area of physiological effects of environmental stress. His work has recently concentrated on the metabolic responses of cyanobacteria to osmotic shock induced by high concentrations of NaCl. Using radioactively labeled precursors, stress-induced changes in protein and RNA synthesis have been studied. On-going research will attempt to identify and characterize the specific protein(s) and RNA molecules associated with the adaptation process, as well as to determine the specificity of the effect (i.e., is it specific for NaCl or is it a general response to osmotic stress?). The techniques used in this research include spectrophotometry, liquid scintillation counting, and electrophoresis. Dr. Waber is also interested in the application of computer technology to teaching.

 

 

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