Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology


  • The 2015 REU program in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at UMass Boston is now open for applications. The application deadline has been extended to January 23.

The Program:  The University of Massachusetts Boston, located on Boston Harbor, offers a 10-week summer program for biology majors, sponsored by the National Science Foundation: Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology. Students carry out exciting research projects and participate in many enrichment activities.  Each student works on a research team under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Close mentoring relationships and participation in a community of scientists engaged in research are key parts 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 an array of biological problems, and students are paired with faculty mentors based on mutual scientific interests.  The program helps students learn how research is done—students learn valuable skills and develop independence in their projects.

Students also participate in enrichment activities that promote a sense of community among students and faculty, teach scientific 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 3-day retreat at our Nantucket Island Field Station.  The program ends with a research poster symposium. The program stimulates and supports interest in biological research, prepares students for advanced study, and equips students to pursue research careers.

Stipend:  Participants receive a $7,600 for the 10-week period, which includes a stipend of $5,000, plus a room and board allowance of $2,600. Students can also apply for reimbursement for travel expenses to and from Boston.

Program Dates: The program runs from June 1 to August 7, 2015.

The Campus: The University of Massachusetts Boston is located south of downtown Boston on a peninsula extending into scenic Boston Harbor.  The 16,000-student campus shares the peninsula with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.  The UMass Boston Biology Department consists of 28 full-time faculty; graduate students working toward MS and PhD degrees; and undergraduate students.  The Department is housed in the newly built, state-of-the-art Integrated Science Complex. The resources of the Department and the University—recreational facilities, library, computer facilities, and Campus Center are available to participants.

Eligibility: Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents and must be enrolling in college for Fall 2015.  Students who will graduate before then 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, complete the online application available here.
The application deadline has been extended to January 23.

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.

Questions regarding the program and application process should be sent to: 
Ericka Gonzalez
Administrative Assistant
Department of Biology
University of Massachusetts Boston
Boston, MA  02125-3393
Tel 617-287-6600, Fax 617-287-6650

The following research opportunities are available:

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. Jennifer Bowen’s 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.  REU projects in her laboratory involve field and laboratory experiments that explore the interface between microbes and the environment in a variety of coastal and marine habitats.

Marine community biodiversity and ecosystem function: Our oceans provide a wide variety of valuable ecosystem services. Jarrett Byrnes’ lab seeks to understand how human activities have changed the diversity and function of ocean ecosystems.  The lab works in intertidal salt marshes and subtidal kelp forests. Students will either work in 1) marshes attempting to understand the role of different species in regulating salt marsh ecosystem health and function, or 2) kelp beds in Salem Sound attempting to understand the forces that structure subtidal ecosystems. Work in the salt marsh project will require extensive time outdoors in salt marshes as well as travelling to sites ranging from Cape Cod to Maine.  Students interested in subtidal work must have AAUS scientific diver training or equivalent.

Growth control in plants: Plants have evolved highly regulated cellular mechanisms, primarily cell division and elongation, to modify root and shoot growth patterns. Adán Colón-Carmona’s research examines the contribution of cell division to the regulation of organ growth during seedling development. Specifically, the lab is studying the role of the motor proteins kinesins in regulating checkpoints during the cell cycle. The lab also utilizes molecular methods to identify genes that could potentially be used to bioengineer plants to biodegrade petroleum-based pollutants. REU students will use cellular, molecular and genetic tools applied to either of these projects related to growth control. 

Evolution in the deep sea: Ron Etter’s lab explores the evolutionary origins, radiation, and geographic spread of deep-sea organisms.  The deep sea supports a surprisingly rich and highly endemic fauna, yet virtually nothing is known about how evolution unfolds in this environment.  Etter’s group uses 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.  Geographically referenced phylogenetic analyses are also used to test hypotheses about how the deep ocean was colonized.  Students will explore basic evolutionary questions at different geographic, bathymetric and taxonomic scales. 

Bacterial cell cycle and signal transduction: Katherine Gibson’s lab studies regulation of the bacterial cell cycle.  The model organism is a nitrogen-fixing symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti, which is able to infect plant roots. It carries out a different cell cycle program once it has invaded its eukaryotic host compared to when it is free-living. The lab group seeks to understand why the cell cycle is different inside the host: How does it help symbiosis happen? And how does the bacteria know how to change its cell cycle once it is inside the host? The lab uses the tools of microbiology, molecular genetics, cell biology and biochemistry to understand a signal transduction pathway that regulates the cell cycle.  REU students will create cell cycle mutants using molecular genetics tools such as PCR, DNA cloning, and conjugation; or characterize mutants using bacterial motility assays, RT-PCR, Western blots, microscopy, and fluorescence flow cytometry.

Control of cellular shape, size and organization: The shape, size, and organization of a cell type is characteristic and reflects the specific properties of the cell, and Linda Huang’s group explores how cells establish and regulate these properties. The Huang lab focuses on understanding the regulation of cellular architecture in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, including how membrane shape and cell size are regulated, and how signal transduction processes control the complex morphological changes that occur during spore morphogenesis.  REU students are involved in ongoing projects, which typically exposes students to various molecular biological, biochemical, genetic, and/or microbiological techniques.

Genome Organization and Molecular Evolution: Rick Kesseli’s lab combines field and greenhouse experiments with molecular biology and genetics to investigate rapid evolutionary changes, aka “genetic revolutions” and epigenetic alterations that influence the adaptation and fitness of species. Comparative genomic approaches identify the genes and the footprint of natural selection or epigenetic patterns within genomes, adaptive traits, the underlying genetic and molecular bases of phenotypic changes, and the drivers of these changes. Analysis of recent shifts in breeding systems, host-microbe (both pathogenic and commensal) interactions, and biological invasions are examples of REU student projects in this lab.

Dysfunctional intercellular interactions consequent to aging:  Organs are comprised of tissues which, in turn, are composed of diverse cell types that influence each other's activity and organ function. Jill Macoska's lab group studies how cell types change consequent to aging, and how those changes negatively affect organ function. Students will use human cells in culture and mouse models to examine cellular changes in the context of aging, and will use molecular biology techniques to understand how these changes alter intercellular communication. 

Computational and systems biology, cancer genomics, and molecular biophysics: Todd Riley's research group focuses on understanding the mechanisms of transcriptional and translational gene regulation in the cell. In addition, the lab studies how those mechanisms go awry in gene regulatory diseases such as cancer. Another focus is on biophysical sequence-to-affinity models of protein-DNA and protein-RNA interactions using high-throughput microarray and sequencing data. These affinity models are used in a systems biology approach to find markers of cancer phenotypes. Projects that REU students will participate in will include computer analysis of human single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to find functional binding sites, RNA-seq data to find differentially expressed genes, and protein-DNA binding data to build protein specificity models.

Molecular microbial ecology: Michael Shiaris’ lab group studies genetic diversity and the roles of bacteria and yeast in the environment.  REU fellows will conduct research on the ecology of Enterococcus bacteria in the environment.  Enterococci are normal residents of the healthy human gut, but they can also thrive outside the intestines in nature.  Because of their ability to readily exchange genes with other bacteria, they can also cause serious diseases by adding functions such as virulence and multiple antibiotic resistance to their repertoire of activities.  Students will design experiments for the laboratory or field to answer questions about the genetic diversity and function of enterococci in the environment.  They will learn and use microbiological, molecular, and bioinformatics methods to address these questions.

Developmental Genetics in Zebrafish: Kellee Siegfried’s lab uses the zebrafish to uncover genes and signaling networks important for germ cell development and function.  To identify such genes, the lab studies mutant zebrafish that lack germ cells.  By characterizing how these mutations lead to loss of germ cells, they are dissecting the genetic regulation underlying germ cell development.  A second project focuses on sex determination.  The group studies genes that guide development of either ovary or testis, thereby controlling the sexual fate of the animal.  They are working towards understanding how these genes regulate this critical fate choice. Projects that REU students will participate in will include techniques such as PCR, molecular cloning, analysis of next generation sequence data, histology and zebrafish husbandry.

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. Rob Stevenson’s 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, students are developing information technologies to enable scientists and naturalists to make their own digital field guide (Electronic Field Guide project (see and archive their data for education and citizen science applications.

Cell signaling in Drosophila: Alexey Veraksa’s lab uses a model genetic organism, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, to investigate the mechanisms of cell signaling during development.  Students in this lab will participate in genetic and 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 PCR, DNA cloning, Western blotting, Drosophila embryo microinjection, and fluorescent immunolocalization.

Probiotics and amphibian disease ecology:  Emerging infectious diseases of amphibians are causing extinctions and population declines of amphibians on a global scale.  Research in the lab of Doug Woodhams focuses on probiotic therapy, or beneficial bacteria, as a method to counteract skin infections by the chytrid fungus.  REU projects in this laboratory explore the interactions between amphibian host immunity, symbiotic bacteria, and pathogens with a combination of field sampling and laboratory experiments.