Department News

On this page your will find special announcements and recent articles featuring news and noteworthy achievements by faculty, staff and students of the Department of Biological Sciences. Also see highights of past news, here.

New & Noteworthy

  • Research led by Vincent Lynch uses gorilla genome as a discovery tool
    5/15/24
    In a study published in eLife, UB-led researchers identified 109 reproductive-related gorilla genes that are often mutated when present in infertile men. There are likely even more yet to be identified. “We have a set of genes that are involved in sperm biology and have the signatures of harmful mutations when in gorillas. We can then look at those same genes in infertile men and see if they have mutations,” says the study’s lead author, Vincent Lynch, associate professor of biological sciences, College of Arts and Sciences. “Here the gorilla genome essentially acts as a discovery tool for finding candidate genes for human male fertility that we previously wouldn’t have been able to identify.”
  • Sehgal and Arnavu named outstanding leaders
    5/2/24
    Nitasha Sehgal and Selin Arnavut are winners of the Pillars of Leadership Awards. The awards are designed to recognize individuals and organizations who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership, service, and the University at Buffalo.
  • Sarah Chang and Robert Ditter win Art of Research competition
    4/25/24
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that Sarah Lu Chang and Robert Ditter have each won cash awards in the Art of Research. The competition took place April 16, 2024, in Hamlin Hall at the Buffalo Museum of Science. The event recognizes the extraordinary research of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars by showcasing original imagery inspired by the beauty inherent in research, scholarship and creative activities.
  • Faculty investigate coffee’s origin story
    4/16/24
    Published in Nature Genetics, researchers have created what they say is the highest-quality reference genome to date of the world’s most popular coffee species, Arabica, unearthing secrets about its lineage that span millennia and continents. Their findings, suggest that Coffea arabica developed more than 600,000 years ago in the forests of Ethiopia via natural mating between two other coffee species. The large international team was co-led by Victor Albert, Empire Innovation Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Other contributors from the department include Trevor Krabbenhoft and Zhen Wang, both assistant professors of biological sciences; PhD student Steven Fleck; PhD graduate Minakshi Mukherjee; and former research scientist Tianying Lan. “Our work has not been unlike reconstructing the family tree of a very important family,” Albert says.
  • FOXG1 Research Center (FRC) to be established at UB
    1/19/24
    On the path to finding a cure for FOXG1, the work of Professors Soo-Kyung Lee and Jae Lee is leading to the foundation of the FOXG1 Research Center (FRC) at UB. The FRC aims to translate new discoveries from the lab to clinical trials and, ultimately, develop a cure for FOXG1 syndrome, as well as related autism spectrum disorders. 
  • UB faculty collaborate on research that reveals a novel role for recessive subgenomes of the pitcher plant genome
    11/28/23
    “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
    7/19/23
    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
    7/19/23
    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
    7/19/23
    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
    6/28/23
    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
    5/3/23
    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
    4/4/23
    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
    3/21/23
    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
    3/21/23
    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
    2/3/23
    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
    10/13/22
    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
    10/3/22
    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
    8/30/22
    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
    1/31/23
    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
    4/20/22
    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. 

Student Spotlight

  • Sehgal and Arnavu named outstanding leaders
    5/2/24
    Nitasha Sehgal and Selin Arnavut are winners of the Pillars of Leadership Awards. The awards are designed to recognize individuals and organizations who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership, service, and the University at Buffalo.
  • Alber Aqil wins $1,000. in Three-Minute Thesis competition
    3/11/24
    BIO PhD student Alber Aqil's presentation, “Echoes from the Past", earned third place in UB's 2024 Three Minute Thesis competition. Aqil, a PhD student with Dr. Omer Gokcumen, presented a research project that he conducted with Dr. Charlotte Lindqvist. The work examines the relationship of DNA from ancient bone fragments found in a cave in Alaska to modern-day humans living nearby. Their research shows that the Tlingit people, indigenous to Southeast Alaska, have been living in basically the same location for at least 3,000 years. Upon winning the award of $1,000, Aqil calculated he earned $333 for each minute of his presentation.
  • Mahmud Amin wins PEARL grant awarded by the UB Experiential Learning Network
    4/20/22
    The Department of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce that UB's Experiential Learning Network (ELN) has awarded a new grant of up to $2,500. to Mahmud Amin, a junior biological sciences major. Amin is one of the first recipients of the PEARL Award (Prepare, Engage, Add value, Reflect and Leverage). The award recognizes UB undergraduate juniors and seniors who have partnered with a faculty mentor and completed a necessary digital badge for their project. Read UBNow.
  • Senior Fellowship Awardees 2023
    4/20/22
    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
    5/16/23
    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
    4/26/23
    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
    4/21/23
    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
    3/30/23
    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.
  • Senior Fellowship Awardees 2022
    4/20/22
    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
    4/20/22
    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.

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