UMass Boston

Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative & Evolutionary Biology

Applications are now closed for summer 2024.

The summer REU program in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to:

  • Carry out an independent research project in biology.
  • Work closely with a faculty advisor and research group.
  • Develop research skills, including laboratory, analytical, and computational skills.
  • Explore issues related to research such as science communication and responsible conduct of research.
  • Exchange ideas with students at weekly workshops and other activities in and around Boston and Boston Harbor.

Program Dates: This program runs from June 3 to August 9, 2024.

Location: The campus is south of downtown Boston on a peninsula extending into scenic Boston Harbor.

Stipend: Participants will receive $11,000 for the 10-week period, which includes a stipend of $7,000, plus a room and board allowance of $4,800. 

Eligibility: Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States and must be enrolling in college for the fall of 2024. Students who will graduate by June 2024 are not eligible to apply. Applicants should have completed at least one semester of college-level biology. Students from minority groups underrepresented in science and students from primarily undergraduate institutions are especially encouraged to apply.

Application due date:  Rolling admission until all positions are filled.

Research Topics:

  • Ecology and evolution of birds in urban environments
  • Immune cell development
  • Virus ecology and evolution
  • Regulation of meiosis
  • Circadian rhythms, mRNA regulation, and metabolism
  • Ecological genomics of plants
  • Neurobiology of vision
  • Developmental genetics in zebrafish
  • Cell signaling in Drosophila
  • Ecology & evolution of insect herbivores
  • Marine coastal ecology
  • Collective behavior in animals
  • Regeneration in amphibians

The Program:  The University of Massachusetts Boston, located on Boston Harbor, offers a 10-week summer program for majors in the biological sciences, sponsored by the National Science Foundation: Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology. Students carry out exciting research projects and participate in a variety of enrichment activities. Each student works as part of 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.

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, learn valuable skills, and develop independence in scientific thinking.

Students also participate in 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. The program ends with a research poster symposium. The program stimulates and supports interest in biological research and prepares students for advanced study to pursue research careers.

Stipend:  Participants receive $11,000 for the 10-week period, which includes a stipend of $7,000, plus a room and board allowance of $4,800. 

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 Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The UMass Boston Biology Department consists of about 28 full-time faculty, graduate students working toward MS and PhD degrees, and undergraduate students. The Department is housed in the 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 REU participants.

The following research opportunities are available in summer 2024. 

Marine Coastal Ecology and Data Science: As the oceans continue to warm, sea level rises, and invasive species continue to increase in abundance, we face a critical need to understand how these changes will alter the structure and function of life in the sea. In Jarrett Byrnes’ lab, we are running projects examining 1) how and why kelp forests have changed around the planet, using data-driven approaches to time series, 2) the distribution of kelp forests in the Gulf of Maine, using imagery analysis, machine learning, and novel field data collection, 3) how urban structures shape the biodiversity of marine life in Boston Harbor, and 4) the intertidal ecology of the Boston Harbor Islands. The projects involve field work, data science, or combinations of the two. If you are AAUS certified for research diving, please indicate so on your CV and application.

Ecology and evolution of birds in urban environments: Human disturbances are influencing patterns of biological diversity in unprecedented ways. This is particularly relevant in the face of urbanization where large swathes of natural environments are being altered by human development. Luis De Leon’s lab studies how urbanization affects evolutionary processes in bird populations. REU students will conduct field surveys and molecular analyses to explore the ecological and evolutionary consequences of urbanization in Red-winged Blackbirds in New England.

Immune cell development:  Juliet Girard’s lab studies the molecular mechanisms that govern blood cell development (hematopoiesis) using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. Insights into the molecular mechanisms that underlie blood formation are necessary to understand the causes of blood diseases such as leukemia. Drosophila blood cells are immune cells with functional similarities to human myeloid cells such as macrophages, and despite the vast evolutionary distance that separates these two organisms, their blood cells employ some of the same molecular pathways for their development. The Girard lab investigates the process by which undifferentiated blood progenitor cells differentiate into a variety of specialized blood cell types, both under normal conditions and a during an immune response. Their approach to this research combines the power of Drosophila genetics and microscopy with newer single cell and molecular techniques.

Virus evolution and transmission in wild animal reservoirs:  Our planet is increasingly urbanized altering the evolution of organisms that live in cities and creating niches for virus emergence. Nichola Hill’s lab explores how viruses jump, hop and spill over from animal reservoirs to novel hosts. We focus on urban-adapted animals that thrive in cities including birds and rodents to identify the natural and anthropogenic drivers of disease transmission and spillover. Students will gain experience with field work, high-throughput molecular screening and viral culture to characterize viruses at the human-animal interface, coupled with serological assays to characterize host immunity to infection. In addition, students can gain experience with quantitative methods such as bioinformatics and statistical modelling of infectious disease data. We specifically target viruses that are important to animal and human health, including Influenza A Virus, SARS-CoV-2 (ie Covid-19), and morbilliviruses such as Phocine Distemper Virus with the goal of finding solutions to the control of disease.

Regulation of meiosis:  Linda Huang’s research focuses on regulation of meiotic cytokinesis. In particular, the lab investigates how the events of meiosis are properly coordinated so that cytokinesis takes place at the appropriate time in the cell cycle. These studies utilize budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which undergoes meiosis and gamete production through the process of sporulation. Students will participate in research projects examining how the timing of meiotic cytokinesis is regulated by signal transduction and how the events of spindle disassembly affect cytokinesis.

Social decision-making in fish schools: Many animals are able to expand their sensory and decision-making abilities by living in a group. In a sense, by sharing information with groupmates, animals in a group can function as a “superorganism.” Albert Kao’s lab studies the conditions under which such collective intelligence can emerge (and when it fails). In the lab, we are conducting experiments on fish schools, utilizing technology to automatically record and track the movements of individual fish. REU students will participate in these experiments, and, if they are interested, develop mathematical models to simulate the behavior of the fish.

Circadian rhythms, mRNA regulation, and metabolism:  Almost every organism on the planet uses a circadian clock to tell time and align behaviors with the 24-hour light/dark cycle. Tina Kelliher’s lab studies how the circadian clock functions under different nutrient environments using the fungal model system Neurospora crassa, including how mRNAs and proteins are directly modified to maintain the ~24-hour circadian cycle period length. REU students will have the opportunity to develop molecular biology experimental design and/or bioinformatic skillsets, including Neurospora crassa culturing, PCR, construct cloning, RT-qPCR, Western blots, RNA-Sequencing, and/or untranslated region (UTR) transcriptome annotation.

Regeneration in amphibians:  The ability to regenerate complete tetrapod limb structures is conserved among urodele amphibians including newts and salamanders. Catherine McCusker’s lab studies limb regeneration in the amphibian model, the Mexican axolotl. The lab integrates molecular and classical embryological biology and next generating sequencing technologies to study changes that occur in adult amphibian cells as they contribute to the regenerating limb structure. REU students will study the mechanisms that regulate the behavior and function of the cells contributing to the regenerating limb.

Ecological genomics of plants:  How do we ensure that we have plentiful food and healthy ecosystems? One solution is to study plants! Brook Moyers' lab studies the genetic basis of plant adaptation to stressful environments, including drought in crops, heavy metals in salt marshes, and habitat loss in wild plant populations. To do this, the lab uses techniques from the fields of molecular genetics, plant physiology, evolutionary biology, engineering, and computer science. REU students will develop projects that integrate across these fields and develop skills in experimental design, plant cultivation, genetic analysis, and bioinformatics.

Neurobiology of vision and vitamin A deficiency:  Vitamin A is essential for vision, and vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness. However, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Jens Rister’s group uses transcriptomics, proteomics, and genetics in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster to elucidate how vitamin A deficiency affects the eye. Recently, the group has identified proteins that respond to vitamin A deficiency and stabilize damaged photoreceptors. REU students will use genetics as well as molecular techniques to analyze the function of these proteins and will visualize their expression using confocal microscopy.

Evolution of mRNA regulation in stem cells:  Animals that have the ability to regenerate their entire body maintain populations of stem cells capable of replacing any lost tissue throughout their lives. Research has shown that germline stem cells (those that give rise to sperm and ova), and adult stems cells of invertebrates that regenerate particularly well, share specific mechanisms that regulate gene expression at the mRNA-level. The laboratory directed by Labib Rouhana uses planarians and anemones to investigate the evolutionary conservation of mRNA regulation pathways between germline, embryonic, and somatic stem cells during animal evolution.

Developmental genetics in zebrafish:  Kellee Siegfried’s lab is focused on understanding the establishment and maintenance of fertility through investigating the genetic control of germ cell development, using the zebrafish model. The germ line undergoes unique developmental processes in order to produce highly specialized haploid gametes – sperm and eggs. To identify genes that are necessary for germ cell development, we are investigating zebrafish mutant lines with germ cell defects. These mutant lines exhibit defects in renewal of the germ line stem cell population and progression through meiosis in the testis. Our analysis of these mutants will reveal mechanisms that are important for germ cell development and to promote and maintain robust fertility. Projects that REU students will participate in will use techniques such as Crispr/Cas genome editing, PCR, molecular cloning, analysis of next generation sequence data, histology, microscopy, and zebrafish husbandry.

Cell signaling in Drosophila Alexey Veraksa's lab uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model to investigate mechanisms of cell signaling during development. The group utilizes genetic, biochemical, and cell biological approaches, as well as proteomics, to characterize the functions of protein complexes participating in signaling events. REU students will participate in current studies that focus on how the Hippo and receptor tyrosine kinase signaling pathways control organ growth and tissue patterning.

Ecology and evolution of insect herbivores:  One-third of all multicellular species on Earth are insects that eat plants. These insect herbivores are key to environmental health, being food for other trophic levels, pollinators, or agricultural pests. Thus, to conserve natural habitats and our food supply, we must know how insect herbivores are affected by their food plants and by the animals that eat them. But after decades of research, we still do not know why insect herbivores feed on particular plants, most of them being considered dietary specialists. Mayra Vidal’s lab explores how natural enemies and host plant quality can influence the diet of generalist herbivores. REU students will participate in experiments that focus on the performance of caterpillars on different host plant species, in field surveys of natural populations, and potentially in genetic analyses of generalist populations.

Eligibility and Application Details:

Eligibility: Applicants must be U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents and must be enrolled in college for fall 2024.  Students who will graduate by June 2024 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.
  • Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, that is, first-generation college students and/or students from low-income families.
  • Students with disabilities.

Please note that you will be asked to upload the following:

  • Names and contact information of two people who have agreed to write letters of recommendation. These people should be professors, if possible. (Each reference will be sent an email with instructions for submitting his or her letter.)
  • Resumé or CV
  • College transcript (The transcript can be unofficial.)
  • Responses to specific questions about your interests and goals. 

Questions regarding REU or the application process?  Contact Dr. Leslie McClain, REU Program Coordinator 

Please note that we are using a common NSF REU application. This application includes certain questions that we don’t need and won’t consider, specifically SAT scores. You can leave that section blank.

Applications are now closed for summer 2024.  

Research Experiences for Undergraduates Application