Department News

We invite you to read recent articles featuring news and noteworthy achievements by faculty, staff and students of the Department of Biological Sciences.  Also see past news highights, here.

Faculty in the news

  • UB faculty collaborate on research that reveals a novel role for recessive subgenomes of the pitcher plant genome
    “Our findings not only provide key insights into the adaptive landscape of the Nepenthes genome, but also broaden our understanding of how polyploidy — having multiple sets of chromosomes — can stimulate the evolution of new functions,” says Victor Albert, Empire Innovation Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. He is co-senior author of the study, published in Nature Plants. Other contributors from UB include Charlotte Lindqvist, professor of biological sciences, and PhD students Emily Caroll and Michaela Richter. The work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. Read article in UB Research News.
  • Krabbenhoft Aquatic Ecology Lab testing how freshwater mussels may improve water quality of Niagara River
    According to Dr. Corey Krabbenhoft (Department of Biological Sciences), “Freshwater mussels feed by filtering things like bacteria and contaminants out of the water. A great way to help our waterways become healthier is to invest in freshwater mussels." UB Research News published an article about the work of Krabbenhoft, and Dr. Isabel Porto-Hannes (Department of Environment and Sustainability). They are conducting a pilot study to determine if the water and sediment quality of the upper Niagara River is acceptable for a possible large-scale reintroduction of freshwater mussels to naturally clean the waterway. Read the article by Jackie Hausler
  • Research by Scott Santos reveals the effects of climate change
    UB Research News published an article about Dr. Scott Santos, Maui native and Biological Sciences Empire Innovation Professor. Santos has been studying Halocaridina rubra for nearly two decades. He believes the tiny shrimp provide a window into how ocean life is changing due to climate change. At UB, the Santos Lab utilizes a variety of molecular tools, computational approaches and field- and laboratory-based studies to examine the ecology, evolution, genetics, physiology and symbiosis biology of a range of terrestrial and aquatic — both freshwater and marine — organisms, including host- and environmentally associated microbiomes. Santos earned his PhD here in 2002, and joined our faculty two years ago. Read the article by Meredith Forrest Kulwicki. 
  • Wang Lab discovers key enzyme in foxglove
    The Wang Lab's  breakthrough discovery, described in a paper published July 8 in Nature Communications, builds upon knowledge of the compounds, known as cardiac glycosides. It also could help speed up production of the plant-based drug, which is among the oldest medications used in the field of cariology, and help researchers create less toxic alternatives. Read the news.
  • Cullen, Hutson and Strobel honored with university awards
    Three faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences were recently honored with university awards: the Exceptional Scholars Award for Sustained Achievement to Dr. Paul Cullen; the Teaching Innovation Award to Dr. Lara Hutson; and the Exceptional Scholars — Young Investigator Award to Dr. Eric Strobel. The Department is proud to recognize these faculty among its ranks, as they contribute to our core missions of excellence in research and teaching.
  • Lindqvist studies paleogenome continuity in Southeast Alaska
    The peer-reviewed, open-access journal, iScience, has published a paper by UB evolutionary biologist Charlotte Lindqvist and collaborators, “A paleogenome from a Holocene individual supports genetic continuity in Southeast Alaska." Their findings show, using ancient genetic data analyses, that some modern Alaska Natives still live almost exactly where their ancestors did some 3,000 years ago. In addition to Lindqvist, authors of the new paper include Alber Aqil, Stephanie Gill, Omer Gokcumen, Ripan Malhi, Esther Aaltséen Reese, Jane Smith, and, Timothy Heaton. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation. Read more.
  • SFARI supports Soo-Kyung Lee's research on FOXG1 Syndrome
    A $1.5 million grant from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) has been awarded to Professor Soo-Kyung Lee to support research on the rare neurodevelopmental disorder FOXG1 Syndrome. SFARI’s mission is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance. The grant could help benefit people suffering from the rare genetic brain disorder. Read the article by UB Research News.
  • NSF Research News features Aqil and Gokcumen's study of genetic variation in balancing selection
    The NSF News features a story about the research of Alber Aqil, PhD candidate,  and Professor Omer Gokcumen. Their study investigates a key question in biology: why genomic variation persists in a population for extended periods. According to Rebecca Ferrell, NSF Biological Anthropology program director, "the project demonstrates the value of an expanding genomic toolkit for studying human evolution, revealing new details about the complex variation and relationships among hominins." Visit NSF News.
  • eLife publishes research paper by Alber Aqil and Omer Gokcumen
    Alber Aqil, PhD candidate,  and Prof Omer Gokcumen are co-authors of a research paper that examines a key question in biology: why genomic variation persists in a population for extended periods. Recent studies have identified examples of genomic deletions that have remained polymorphic in the human lineage for hundreds of millennia, ostensibly owing to balancing selection. Nevertheless, genome-wide investigation of ancient and possibly adaptive deletions remains an imperative exercise. Their research demonstrates an excess of polymorphisms in present-day humans that predate the modern human-Neanderthal split (ancient polymorphisms), which cannot be explained solely by selectively neutral scenarios. The eLife paper is here. Read the research news article by Corey Nealon.
  • Paul Cullen excels in mentoring postdoctoral scholars
    Paul Cullen, professor and director of graduate studies, is the recipient of the 2021-22 Distinguished Postdoctoral Mentor Award, which recognizes UB faculty members who excel in the mentoring of postdoctoral scholars. The award is bestowed on faculty members who not only teach their mentees, but also serve as an advocate, adviser and positive role model. Read the news story by Charles Anzalone.
  • Gunawardena 's research suggests that HTT is involved in neuronal injury and regeneration
    UB Now published a feature story about Dr. Shermali Gunawardena's research. “We show that the huntingtin protein is involved during neuronal injury,” Gunawardena says. “When neurons in fruit fly larvae were injured, we see that HTT moves from the injury site to the cell body. It likely carries components that are necessary for survival of the neuron toward the cell body, where the nucleus is and where proteins are made." Experiments suggest that this HTT package may carry signaling molecules that are essential for activating the production of proteins needed for neuron regeneration.
  • UBNow features Heather Williams and REU success
    UB News columnist Charlotte Hsu presents an interview with Heather Williams about the success of the department’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). From June to July, UB biologists hosted seven undergraduates from various institutions working in labs focused on a broad range of topics within biology. The eight-week program, funded by proceeds from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, covers students’ travel and living expenses, and also includes a stipend for participants. Undergraduate students are invited to apply for REU Summer 2023.

  • ScienceAdvances publishes new study: A mechanism of gene evolution generating mucin function
    The interdisciplinary journal, ScienceAdvances, has published a study on mucins. The study demonstrates how a long-time partnership between evolutionary biologists and dental researchers at UB is yielding new insights into genes and proteins that are also important to human health. Senior authors are Omer Gokcumen (UB associate professor of biological sciences) and Stefan Ruhl (interim dean of the UB School of Dental Medicine and a professor of oral biology). The first author is Petar Pajic, UB PhD student in biological sciences.  “My team has been studying mucins for many decades, and my collaboration with Dr. Gokcumen has brought this research to a new level by revealing all these exciting novel insights into their evolutionary genetics,” Ruhl says. “At this advanced stage of my career, it is also immensely gratifying to see that the flame of scientific curiosity is being carried on by a new generation of young investigators like Petar Pajic.”
  • UBNow features the work of Zhen Wang
    Dr. Zhen Wang's research project aims to pinpoint the genes that plants use to produce medicinal compounds could enable scientists to explore faster, more efficient methods of manufacturing these substances. This could include genetically engineering microbes to synthesize the drugs. One goal of the project is to decipher how the foxglove plant Digitalis lanata makes compounds called cardenolides, which have pharmaceutical relevance. See feature by UB Now.
  • David Hoekstra's passion for teaching honored by Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools
    Dr. David Hoekstra, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, was awarded the 2022 Graduate Faculty Teaching Award by the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) at the Master’s level. NAGS is comprised of all graduate schools across the Northeast and also includes graduate schools in the Canadian southeast. 
  • NSF grant supports research project by Charlotte Lindqvist and team
    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant, totaling $2,945,234., to support a UB Biological Sciences study on the impacts of climate change. The study's principal investigator is Charlotte Lindqvist. Co-principal investigators are Jason Briner, Elizabeth Thomas, and Corey Krabbenhoft. 
  • Vincent Lynch co-authors paper on expression phylogenies and ancestral transcriptome reconstruction
    “Knowing which genes are active among different species during pregnancy tells us about how evolution works,” says senior author Vincent J. Lynch, associate professor of biological sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. “But it also tells us about what makes a healthy pregnancy, and how things might go wrong. We’re finding the genes that establish the right kind of environment for healthy human pregnancies. If those genes are not expressed in the right way, that might give rise to problems.” Read article by Charlotte Hsu.
  • Spectrum News profiles FOX G1 Center of Excellence led by Soo-Kyung Lee and Jae Lee
    Spectrum, the leading source of news and expert opinion on autism research, reports on the work of UB Biological Sciences Professors Soo and Jae Lee in "portraits of scientists who are making a mark on autism research". Read the Spectrum News/Profiles, here.
  • Poulin and McCabe receive SUNY Chancellor’s Awards
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Dr. Jessica Poulin, Clinical Associate Professor, and, Barbara McCabe, Instructional Supoort Staff, have each received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence. The Chancellor’s Awards acknowledge and provide system-wide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement and the ongoing pursuit of excellence. See UB Now story, here.   The awards were presented October 27  during UB's 2022 Celebration of Faculty and Student Excellence.
  • PBS cites research by Vincent Lynch to better understand elephantoid genome
    The Wolly Mammoth always attracts attention, which is why PBS Digital Studios features the episode, How To Build A Woolly Mammoth (But Should We?) Presented by PBS Eons, host Blake de Pastino is on a "quest to understand how evolution basically built the woolly mammoth, we may have found the blueprints for building them ourselves." The segment cites Vincent Lynch's research on elephantoid genome.
  • Omer Gokcumen interviewed by WNYC Radiolab: Neanderthal's Revenge
    Omer Gokcumen's work on evolutionary genomics was featured on Radioshop, in a segment entitled Neanderthal's Revenge. The program's co-host, Latif Nasser,  reported on his own "medical journey that made him not only question what was going on in his body, but also dig into the secret genetic story of how we became human."  While looking into the origins of Crohn's Disease, Nasser came upon a research article by Gokcumen. The full podcast is here
  • Lindqvist provides insight into the evolutionary history of bears
    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study led by Charlotte Lindqvist that analyzed the genomes of 64 modern polar and brown bears, including several new genomes from Alaska, a state where both species are found. The team also produced a new, more complete genome for a polar bear that lived 115,000 to 130,000 years ago in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. DNA for the ancient polar bear was extracted from a tooth attached to a subfossil jawbone, which is now housed at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo. Read the news story by Charlotte Hsu.
  • Lynch Lab uses evolutionary genomics and comparative cell biology to study Peto’s paradox
    “Understanding how some animals evolved to be relatively cancer-free despite having giant bodies and living a really long time is all about understanding how evolution works,” says Vincent Lynch, associate professor of biological sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. “If you can figure out how it is these animals evolved to be relatively cancer-free, we can learn something about evolution and maybe that can teach us something about how we can treat cancer in humans.” Read more.
  • Jessica Poulin wins MAC Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Dr. Jessica Poulin, Clinical Associate Professor, has won the 2022 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success.  She is among the twelve institutional winners recognized for their outstanding efforts to support and develop students both inside and outside of the classroom. She is past recipient of the Milton Plesur Excellence in Teaching Award, and, the UB Teaching Innovation Award.
  • Lee Lab research concludes Kdm6b helps control motor neurons’ fate
    Research at the Lee Lab has uncovered new details about the process through which motor neurons develop into subtypes that connect the spinal cord with different target muscles and help to activate different body parts. The findings have been published in the journal, Nature Communications. Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu.
  • Gunawardena study finds GSK3β can act as a stop switch for the motor protein, kinesin 1
    “Our publication details how GSK3β attaches a molecular tag to kinesin 1 motors, which causes the motors to stop without detaching from microtubule tracks. We are super excited, since now we know how to control the ‘engine’ while it is moving on a track,” says senior author Shermali Gunawardena, PhD,  associate professor of biological sciences. The findings — based on laboratory experiments, including some in the neurons of fruit fly larvae — could open the door for future research on pausing motors as a mechanism for treating diseases. Read the news article by Charlotte Hsu.
  • Victor Albert analyzes “reference genome” to trace evolutionary traits of Litchi chinensis
    Victor A. Albert, PhD, Empire Innovation Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, along with a large international team from China, the U.S., Singapore, France and Canada, are co-authors of a study recently published in Nature Genetics. Their research not only adds new chapters to the history of the lychee, it also provides an in-depth look at flowering time, a hugely important trait in agriculture. “Early-maturing lychees versus late-maturing lychees came from different places and were domesticated independently,” says Dr. Albert, “This, by itself, is an interesting story, but we also wanted to know what causes these differences. Why do these varieties fruit and flower at different times?” By comparing the DNA of many lychee varieties, the team identified a genetic variant that could be used to create a simple test for identifying early- and late-blooming lychee plants. Read the news story by Charlotte Hsu.
  • Zhen Q. Wang examines ways of transforming sugar into hydrocarbons found in gasoline
    "Making biofuels from renewable resources like glucose has great potential to advance green energy technology," says biochemist Zhen Q. Wang, assistant professor of biological sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. "Glucose is produced by plants through photosynthesis, which turns carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into oxygen and sugar. So the carbon in the glucose — and later the olefins — is actually from carbon dioxide that has been pulled out of the atmosphere.”  The research project, led by Wang at UB and Michelle C. Y. Chang at UC Berkeley, marks an advance in efforts to create sustainable biofuels. “We combined what biology can do the best with what chemistry can do the best, and we put them together to create this two-step process. Using this method, we were able to make olefins directly from glucose." Read the news story by Charlotte Hsu.

Student Spotlight

  • Announcing Senior Fellowship Awardees 2023
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the winners of this year's Senior Fellowships Awards. The fellowships aim to provide financial support for our students entering their senior year. The awards are made possible by generous alumni and friends who establish endowments for academic programs aimed at enhancing the educational experiences of our students.
  • Ethan Tong wins $2,300 award for Undergraduate Research Fellowship
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to name Ethan Tong as the 2023 Philip G. Miles Undergraduate Research Fellow based in the lab of Dr. Michael C. Yu. The undergraduate fellowship includes a stipend of $2,300. The award aims to provide financial support for our students entering their senior year. The amount of each award depends on the application and available funds. Learn how to apply for our undergraduate fellowships.
  • Kevin Greeley wins Dean's Outstanding Senior Award for Biological Sciences
    Kevin Greeley of Williamsville, NY, has received the 2023 Dean's Outstanding Senior Award for Biological Sciences. Greely will be graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Greeley is a member of the university Honors College and the Biological Sciences Honors Research program. He has been performing research in Dr. Stephen Free's laboratory on Neurospora Crassa and received the Knobloch Endowment Fellowship. Greeley, a teaching assistant for BIO 200 and BIO 315, serves on the junior board of directors for the Miracle League of Western New York.
  • Christopher Osborne, PhD student, wins 2023 SUNY GREAT Award
    The UB Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Christopher Allen Osborne, PhD candidate, has won the 2023 SUNY Graduate Research Empowering and Accelerating Talent (GREAT) Award. Osborne is among 33 SUNY students selected as recipients of the awards recognizing outstanding students who are conducting innovative research tackling some of society’s most pressing issues. Osborne receives $5,000 in flexible funding for research expenses, professional development and stipend supplements. 
  • Emily Mehle wins UB Graduate School’s 2023 Excellence in Teaching Award
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Emily Mehle has won the UB Graduate School’s Excellence in Teaching Award for the year 2023. This prestigious award recognizes the skill and dedication of graduate students as a teacher. Emily is currently a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Denise Ferkey and was nominated for the award by Dr. Nitasha Sehgal, Clinical Assistant Professor.
  • Announcing Senior Fellowship Awardees 2022
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce the winners of this year's Senior Fellowships Awards. The fellowships aim to provide financial support for our students entering their senior year. The awards are made possible by generous alumni and friends who establish endowments for academic programs aimed at enhancing the educational experiences of our students.
  • Pia Schwarz wins SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Pia Schwarz, a current MS student, was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence in April, 2022. In addition to her excellence in her courses, Schwarz has worked with Dr. Trevor Krabbenhoft, studying evolutionary genomics, speciation, and hybridization in North American stream fish. She has presented her work at local, national, and international conferences. Schwartz also acted as TA for Evolutionary Biology.
  • BIO Major Paul Dewan, Jr., wins Goldwater Fellowship
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Paul Dewan, Jr, has won the prestigious Goldwater Fellowship for 2022. Dewan, a junior majoring in biological sciences, participates in the department’s Honors program, and conducts research in the lab of Dr. Priya Banerjee, Department of Physics. 
  • BIO Major Katherine Camper named Furnas Scholar-Athlete

    Congratulations to Katherine Camper on being named UB's Furnas Scholar-Athlete of 2022. Learn more.

  • Holly O’Shea wins UB Graduate School’s 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award
    The Department of Biological Sciences is proud to announce that Holly O’Shea has won the UB Graduate School’s Excellence in Teaching Award for the year 2022. This prestigious award recognizes the skill and dedication of graduate students as a teacher. Holly is currently a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Soo Lee, Empire Innovation Professor and was co-nominated for the award by Dr. Jae Lee, Professor, and Dr. Jessica Poulin, Clinical Associate Professor.
  • Campbell Vogt wins grant from Rochester Academy of Sciences
    The UB Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Campbell Vogt, a student in our Honors program, has won a grant from the Rochester Academy of Sciences to carry out research with Dr. Laura Rusche. Vogt’s research focuses on the evolutionary history of the yeast protein Sir3, which blocks gene expression, and is a major focus of the Rusche lab.
  • BIO major Monique Kapur-Mauleon graduates in just one year
    Recent graduate Monique Kapur-Mauleon had her pick of dental school offers, but has chosen to stay at UB. Monique’s highly inquisitive approach to learning immediately stood out to her Developmental Biology professor, Dr. Ferkey, who looks forward to keeping in touch with Monique as she progresses through her master’s and doctoral degrees. Read the UB News story.

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