Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology
The Program: The University of Massachusetts Boston, located on Boston Harbor, offers a 10-week REU program in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program provides opportunities to 10 undergraduate participants each summer to become immersed in a positive research experience and other enrichment activities. Each student carries out an independent research project under the close guidance of a faculty advisor. Close mentoring relationships and participation in a community of students engaged in research are key components of the experience.
The program stresses the integration of diverse fields of biology, demonstrating common themes across the biological sciences and especially the connections between cell and molecular biology on the one hand, and ecology and conservation biology on the other. Student research projects span a array of biological problems, and students are paired with faculty mentors based on mutual scientific interests. The program helps students gain an understanding of how research is done and develop independence in research.
In addition to research, students participate in enrichment activities that promote a sense of community among students and faculty, teach communication skills, and explore broader issues concerning the practice of science. These experiences occur during weekly discussions and workshops that focus on practical, personal, and ethical aspects of research. The program also features social activities and field trips in and around Boston Harbor, including a retreat at our Nantucket Field Station. The program ends with a research poster symposium. The program is designed to stimulate and support interest in biological research, prepare students for advanced study, and equip them to pursue research careers.
Stipend: Participants receive a stipend of $5,000 for the 10-week period, plus a room and board allowance of $2,600. Students can also apply for reimbursement for travel expenses.
Program Dates: The program runs from June 3 to August 9, 2013.
The Campus: The University of Massachusetts Boston is located south of downtown Boston on a peninsula extending into scenic Boston Harbor. The 12,000-student campus shares the peninsula with the John F. Kennedy Library. The Biology Department consists of 25 full-time faculty; graduate students working toward MS and PhD degrees; and undergraduate students. The resources of the Biology Department, University recreational facilities, library, computer facilities, and Campus Center are available to participants.
Eligibility: Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States and must be enrolling in college for the fall of 2013. Students who will graduate by June 2013 are not eligible to apply. Applicants should have completed at least one semester of college-level biology. The program is a 10-week, full-time experience.
We aim to recruit a diverse student group. Individuals from the following groups are especially encouraged to apply:
- Members of minority groups underrepresented in science.
- Students from colleges and universities with limited opportunities for research.
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, that is, first-generation college students and/or students from low-income families.
- Veterans of the US Armed Forces
To Apply: Click the application link at the bottom of this page.
Deadline EXTENDED to March 8, 2013.
Applications should be sent to: (Also contact for questions.)
Alexa MacPherson, REU Program Assistant
Department of Biology
University of Massachusetts Boston
Boston, MA 02125-3393
Tel 617-287-6600, FAX 617-287-6650
Housing: Participants will be responsible for making their own housing arrangements. While there is no on-campus housing, apartments and rooms are widely available near the campus. Assistance in finding housing is available through the REU Program Assistant.
The following research opportunities are available:
Professor Steven Ackerman. Mechanisms of gene regulation: My lab investigates gene regulation in plants and animals, specifically the initiation event of RNA synthesis. Our work addresses the biochemistry of transcription and the regulatory mechanisms governing this process. We purify wheat transcription proteins and use model in vitro transcription systems from plants and animals to characterize plant general transcription proteins. The plant components are substituted with their congeneric human protein in a homologous human transcription system, forming a heterologous wheat/human system. The gene(s) for proteins of interest are molecularly cloned for further studies. We also investigate transcription mechanisms in vivo using transgenic wheat. Our biochemical studies also include wheat chromatin remodeling and its effects on transcription, how activator proteins affect transcription initiation via their interaction with wheat TAFs, and transcript families for the general transcription factors of wheat.
Professor Jennifer Bowen. Marine microbial and ecosystem ecology: Bacteria are critically important components of marine ecosystems because they regulate the fluxes of carbon and nitrogen that are key to the sustainability of these habitats. Our research is focused on the diversity of microbes in aquatic systems and how these communities evolve in the face of human–induced disturbances such as ocean acidification and eutrophication. Students will carry out field and lab work that combines biogeochemistry with modern molecular techniques.
Professor Solange Brault. Population ecology and demography: Our project is a study of the food web of a coastal fish community through the use of stable isotope analysis as well as fatty acid analysis. At this stage we will mostly focus on the trophic structure by determination of carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios, which are tools for identifying the regional source of carbon and the trophic position of a species in the community. Several species occur in the same habitat as juveniles and adults; can we identify a diet shift concurrent with growth in these species? Are there fish species that use the coastal habitats sporadically, and can we detect whether they are at a high trophic level (i.e. top predators)? Is there evidence of habitat partitioning among species of comparable trophic level? These and other issues will be studied through laboratory analysis of fish samples from this habitat and statistical analysis of their stable isotopic signatures in relation with habitat characteristics.
Professor Adán Colón-Carmona. Growth control in plants: Land plants are sessile organisms. Because they cannot move to avoid harsh environmental conditions, plants have evolved highly regulated cellular mechanisms, primarily cell division and elongation, to modify growth patterns of root and shoot organs. Our studies use cellular, molecular, and genetic tools to understand the contribution of cell division to the regulation of organ growth during seedling development. Specifically, we are studying the role of the motor proteins kinesins in regulating checkpoints during the cell cycle. Additionally, we are utilizing molecular methods to search for genes that can be utilized in the bioengineering of biosensors and biodegrading organisms for petroleum-based pollutant sensing and removal. Summer students will have the opportunity to be involved in one of several projects related to growth control.
Professor Ron Etter. Evolution in the deep sea: We are exploring fundamental questions about the evolutionary origins, radiation and geographic spread of deep-sea organisms. The deep sea is a vast and complex ecosystem that supports a surprisingly rich and highly endemic fauna, yet virtually nothing is known about how evolution unfolds in this remote environment. We use molecular genetic techniques to quantify geographic and bathymetric patterns of genetic variation, and to test hypotheses about gene flow, dispersal, population differentiation, speciation and the nature and scale of isolating mechanisms. We also use geographically referenced phylogenetic analyses to test hypotheses about how the deep ocean was colonized. For example, we are exploring whether the deep-sea molluscan fauna evolved from numerous independent colonizations from coastal progenitors, or from in situ radiation. Students could be involved in exploring basic evolutionary questions at different geographic, bathymetric and taxonomic scales.
Professor Katherine Gibson. Bacterial cell cycle and signal transduction. The cell cycle is a fundamental process required for growth, reproduction and developmental differentiation in all living organisms. This process is organized as a dependent pathway in which progression through each stage requires the completion of previous steps: cell growth, chromosome replication and segregation, and finally cytokinesis. How do cells reproducibly carry out an orderly progression of complex cell cycle events? And how is the cell cycle of invasive bacteria customized to promote host colonization? The nitrogen-fixing symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti is a powerful model organism for characterizing molecular requirements for host colonization. This bacterium also represents a critical link between cell cycle regulation and host colonization since it commences a modified cell cycle once it has invaded the tissues of its host. The central aim of my lab is to use the tools of genetics, cell biology and biochemistry to dissect the signal transduction requirements for regulating cell cycle progression in S. meliloti.
Professor William Hagar. Pollutants in aquatic systems: My laboratory group is interested in maintaining the quality of our environment and understanding interactions within aquatic ecosystems. Naturally-occurring stable isotopes are used to evaluate food webs and their structure in sensitive water systems. We are particularly interested in the effects of anthropogenic inputs on the quality of aquatic systems. We have developed computer-based, on-site, remote sensing devices for monitoring water systems. These devices continually gather on-site environmental information and transfer these data back to the laboratory. The focus of our current work is to follow the input of mercury into the food web. The experiments, which include monitoring water systems and aquatic organisms, are a continuation of our over ten-year acid rain study. Students focus on the relationship between acid rain, transient pH changes, mercury input and pond biota.
Professor Linda Huang. Control of cellular organization: Although most cells contain the same basic set of organelles, the internal architecture of a particular cell type is characteristic and reflects the specific properties of the cell. The work in my laboratory seeks to answer questions of how signal transduction processes are used for spatial and temporal regulation of cellular organization. Our studies utilize molecular, genetic, and biochemical methods to understand the regulation of cellular architecture in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We are specifically examining how evolutionarily conserved signal transduction pathways are utilized to control the complex cell morphological changes that occur during spore morphogenesis in S. cerevisiae.
Professor Rick Kesseli. Genome Organization and Molecular Evolution: Our studies combine components of field work, greenhouse experiments, and molecular biology to characterize the genetic and molecular bases of rapid evolutionary changes, aka “genetic revolutions.” We use quantitative approaches to identify adaptive traits, the underlying genetic basis of phenotypic changes in populations and the drivers of these changes. At the genome level, we study the evolution of suites of selectively critical, interacting genes that affect the genetic structure and fitness of species. Genes responsible for shifts in breeding systems in plants, those that mediate host-microbe (both pathogenic and commensal) interactions or those that increase competitive or reproductive success are examples. We use whole genome approaches to screen for evidence of natural selection and to document genome organization changes during speciation.
Professor Kenneth Kleene. Gene Expression: Research in my laboratory focuses on two interrelated topics, the mechanisms of translational regulation and the evolutionary basis of the atypical patterns of gene expression in spermatogenic cells in mice. In the main project in my lab, we are using transgenic mice and RNA electrophoretic mobility shift assays to delineate the functions of the 5' UTR, 3'UTR and RNA-binding proteins in regulating the developmental timing of translation of the sperm-mitochondria cysteine-rich protein mRNA in haploid spermatogenic cells. However, all of our work is shaped by the conviction that differences in the selective pressures on somatic cells and spermatogenic cells, natural selection vs. sexual selection, create atypical patterns of gene expression in spermatogenic cells, which result in novel regulatory mechanisms and intriguing evolutionary phenomena. Our work uses comparative genomics to identify examples of novel selective pressures and regulatory mechanisms.
Professor Liam Revell. Evolutionary Biology. The work of my lab is in two main areas. First, we develop computational methods for evolutionary biology, focusing on phylogenetic comparative biology. Second, we study the evolutionary ecology of lizards, particularly members of the diverse neotropical genus Anolis. Anolis is a species rich group of arboreal lizards found throughout the Caribbean, as well as in Central and South America. We are interested in all aspects of the diversification, contemporary evolution, and ecology of this group, as well as tropical reptile and amphibian ecology and evolution generally. REU students working in my lab can, depending on their interests and prior experience, develop a computational project with me, or conduct a field or laboratory project working with tropical and subtropical Anolis lizards.
Professor Kellee Siegfried. Developmental Genetics in Zebrafish: The germ cells are the only cell type that will give rise to future generations. To carry out this role, they have unique developmental programs compared to the rest of our body. We use the zebrafish to uncover genes and signaling networks important for germ cell development and function. To identify such genes, we study mutant zebrafish that lack germ cells. By characterizing how these mutations lead to loss of germ cells, we can uncover the genetic regulation underlying germ cell development. A second project in the lab is focused on sex determination. We study genes that guide development as either ovary or testis thereby controlling the sexual fate of the animal. We are currently working towards understanding how these genes regulate this critical fate choice.
Professor Michael Shiaris. Molecular microbial ecology: Our lab group studies genetic diversity and the roles of bacteria and yeast in the environment. Bacteria, Archaea, and yeast make the world go ‘round. Students will examine the abundance, distribution, and/or dynamics of specific microorganisms in coastal waters, sediments, or on plant roots. They will design experiments for the laboratory or field to answer questions about genetic diversity and bacterial function in the environment. Students will use microbiological and molecular methods including DNA fingerprinting tools to address these problems in microbial ecology.
Professor Rachel Skvirsky. Chemical interactions among bacteria: The native microflora of the mammalian gastrointestinal system consists of a diverse array of microbes existing in dynamic relationship with each other. How this tremendous diversity is maintained is poorly understood. It is known, however, that the various bacterial strains have chemical arsenals at their disposal that are believed to function in chemical communication and contribute to diversity. Colicin V, an anti-bacterial peptide antibiotic synthesized by certain E. coli strains, is an example of such a chemical defense and/or communication mechanism. We have been analyzing the interactions among colicin V-producing, resistant, and sensitive bacterial strains, to develop a model for these population dynamics and to better understand the role of this molecule in maintaining gut diversity.
Professor Rob Stevenson. Biodiversity and Ecoinformatics: Biodiversity studies are inherently important in ecology and play a central role in conservation biology for issues such as climate change and invasive species. Our lab works on a variety of organism groups including plants, turtles, alewives, ants, butterflies, and other invertebrates. In addition to the basic observational and survey data, we are developing information technologies to enable scientists and naturalists to make their own digital field guide (Electronic Field Guide project (see http://www.electronicfieldguide.org) and archive their data for education and citizen science applications.
Professor Alexey Veraksa. Cell Signaling in Drosophila: My laboratory is studying the regulation of intercellular communication, or cell signaling. We are using a model genetic organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, to investigate the mechanisms of cell signaling during development. Students in my lab will participate in genetic or molecular biology experiments to characterize the functions of different protein complexes that participate in signaling events. The intensive nature of the REU program will allow a student to carry out a meaningful project, using such techniques as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA cloning, DNA and protein electrophoresis, Western blotting, Drosophila embryo microinjection, and whole-embryo fluorescent immunolocalization.