Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology


  • The 2016 REU program in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at UMass Boston is now open for applications. The application deadline is February 15, 2016.

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 6 to August 12, 2016.

The Campus: The University of Massachusetts Boston is located south of downtown Boston on a peninsula extending into scenic Boston Harbor. The 17,000-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 Sciences 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 U.S. citizens or permanent residents and must be enrolling in college for fall 2016.  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 U.S. Armed Forces

The application deadline is February 15, 2016. Note that unofficial transcripts are acceptable for the application.

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. 

Marine Community Ecology: Research in Ron Etter’s lab is exploring how benthic (competition, predation, etc.) and pelagic (oceanography, dispersal) processes interact to control the structure, dynamics and function of marine communities. We are currently investigating how ocean currents influence larval dispersal and connectivity among populations in the Gulf of Maine. Understanding how populations are connected through dispersal is vital to address a variety of contemporary questions in marine ecology, evolution, coastal management and conservation, and will play a crucial role in predicting how organisms might respond to ongoing anthropogenic stressors such as climate change. Students could be involved in any aspect of this research, which includes species discrimination through genetic analysis, trace-element fingerprinting using laser ablation mass-spectrometry, laboratory algal culturing, bivalve rearing and field experiments. REU students will have an opportunity to explore a variety of ecological questions at different geographic scales in both laboratory and field settings.

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.

Organ regeneration in amphibians: Why can some organisms regenerate complicated body parts, while adult humans lack this ability? Can a regenerative response be stimulated in humans? The research in Catherine McCusker’s laboratory is aimed at answering these questions by studying the process of limb regeneration in the amphibian model, the Mexican axolotl. The lab uses a variety of classical embryological and molecular biology experiments to study the changes that occur in adult amphibian cells as they contribute to the regenerating limb structure, and how cells communicate information about the “blueprint” of the missing structure. REU students will have the opportunity to work on projects that include techniques such as PCR, cloning, mutagenesis, western blots, immunolabeling, fluorescence microscopy, and fluorescence flow cytometry.

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 in one of two areas: 1) the microbiome of the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, or, 2) 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) 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.