Department of Biology

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The Department of Biology offers exceptional opportunities to learn, work, and collaborate across levels of biological organization and styles of research. Faculty research interests span the complete spectrum of biological phenomena and disciplines, from biochemistry to global environmental change. This breadth of research interests has led to development of two focused, yet overlapping, graduate training programs: Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology (MCEB) and Ecology Evolution and Organismal Biology (EEOB).


the 'far side' of science

August 14, 2017 - Since Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” cartoons hit newsstands in 1979, Dale Clayton, an evolutionary parasitologist at the University of Utah and appreciator of the wacky, has loved the comic’s tongue-in-cheek representation of the natural world and the scientists who study it. In “The Far Side” universe, anthropomorphic organisms and suburbanites in cat-eye glasses poke fun at all fields of study, from microbiology to astronomy, with wordplay and dark humor. When Clayton discovered a new species of feather louse as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in 1989, he knew exactly what to name it. So began the strange tale of a type of chewing louse that came to be known as Strigiphilus garylarsoni. See Full Story...

Excellence in earth and space science

July 20, 2017 - Please join in congratulating Thure Cerling and Jim Ehleringer, recipients of the American Geophysical Union's Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award. Jim and Thure were given this award for their sustained and pioneering efforts to train generations of students in stable isotope biogeosciences for over two decades. Their course in stable isotope biogeochemistry and ecology known as IsoCamp is a world renowned training experience. This year, the course welcomed 40 students from Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia, Mexico, Colombia, South Korea, Israel, Lebanon, Venezuela, Italy, the Phillipines, and the U.S. Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award

Grad student Anna Vickrey winner of the Fitch Award

July 18, 2017 - Congratulations to Anna Vickrey of the Shapiro Lab who has been awarded the 2017 Walter M. Fitch Award. The Fitch Award honors the best presentation at the Walter M. Fitch symposium, which provides a forum for young investigators to showcase their exemplary research at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution (SMBE). See Full Story...

Postdoc receives Childs Fellowship

July 12, 2017 - Congratulation to Emily Maclary of the Shapiro Lab who has been awarded the Jane Coffin Childs (JCC) Memorial Fellowship. The JCC was established in 1937 for the purpose of supporting research into the causes and treatment of cancer. The Fund has taken a broad approach to the study of cell growth and development, emphasizing the study of the basic biology and chemistry of the underlying processes.  See Full Story...

Congratulations to Jose Rojas

July 10, 2017 - The Biology Department Facilities Manager, Jose Rojas, has won the District Staff Excellence Award for 2017. The University Staff Excellence Awards (USEA) program was established in 1992 to recognize superior service and ongoing contributions by the University of Utah's full-time staff employees. The 5 DSEA winners are the pool from which the recipients of the University Staff Excellence Awards are chosen. All will be recognized in their respective areas and at the USEA luncheon hosted by President Pershing.

Spider mites synthesize their own carotenoids

July 6, 2017 - In a new report, University of Utah biologist Richard Clark and graduate students Andre Kurlovs and Robert Greenhalgh, along with collaborators in Europe and Japan, have shown that spider mites can synthesize their own carotenoids using genes acquired by horizontal transfer from fungi. Further, they found that mutations in one of the horizontally transferred genes abolishes the ability of spider mites to enter diapause, a physiological state associated with overwintering. Thus, a gene acquired by horizontal gene transfer underlies a key life history trait in spider mites of relevance to their status as notorious agricultural pests with a global distribution that includes regions with harsh winters. Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences See Full Article... (Photo credit: Jan Van Arkel)

Vanishing Vultures

June 29, 2017 - HawkWatch International has partnered with the University of Utah in 2017 to study and conserve vulture populations in the Horn of Africa. This study is being lead by Evan Buechely of the Şekercioğlu lab. They will work primarily in Ethiopia, a country that has the most diverse and abundant vulture community in the world and which is a critically important location to target research and conservation actions. All seven vulture species found in Ethiopia are threatened with extinction. See Full Story...

Is grEen the new flying car?

June 16, 2017 - What inspires our work? Why have we each chosen to pursue a vision of cities that incorporates and expands our views of nature? Was it a particular mentor, a class or school experience, time spent in wilderness, or a book or film that led us to think boldly about a green future for cities? See Nature of Cities Story...

Wasting water through overwatering

March 24, 2017 - In summer 2010, Los Angeles was losing about 100 gallons of water per person per day to the atmosphere through the evaporation and plant uptake of lawns and trees. Lawns accounted for 70 percent of the water loss, while trees accounted for 30 percent, according to a University of Utah study published in Water Resources Research. The water loss that Elizaveta Litvak and Diane Pataki of the Pataki Lab, measured is best described as “evapotranspiration,” a measurement that adds together the evaporation of water from soil and the release of water vapor, called transpiration, from plants. See NSF Story... See UNews Story...

Biology Professor publishes book

May 21, 2017 - It's a quiet Monday morning between terms, and Sylvia Torti casually, knowingly, points out birds as well as the ingenious hacks and inventions underlying the research in colleague Franz Goller's lab. Torti, dean of the U.'s Honors College, has spent years wandering through the university's biology labs, where she earned her Ph.D. in tropical biology in 1998. But instead of continuing to pursue tropical research, Torti, turned her curiosity to storytelling. And in the ongoing songbird research conducted in Goller's lab, she found fictional riches: It's the setting for "Cages," her new novel about language, communication and loss, as well as the complications of scientific ambition and the human urge to connect. See Trib Story...

2017 GSA President's Medal Awarded to Dr. Thure Cerling

May 16, 2017 - Congratulations to Dr. Thure Cerling who has been awarded the 2017 President's Medal of the Geological Society of America. This award, commissioned in 2007, is conferred only on individuals, groups, or entities whose GSA President's Medalimpact has profoundly enhanced the geoscience profession through: (a) supporting and contributing to the Society; (b) advancing geosciences, enhancing professional growth, and/or promoting geosciences in service of humankind; or (c) significantly enlarging the range of scientific achievement for the growth of our profession.

Endangered Species Day

May 15, 2017 - For Endangered Species Day, we celebrate the many University of Utah scientists who research endangered, threatened or vulnerable plants, animals and ecosystems in the United States and around the world. Phyllis Coley and Tom Kursar of the Coley/Kursar Lab on rainforest ecology, Dale Clayton and Sarah Bush of the Clayton/Bush Lab on invasive species in the Galapagos Islands, Jack Longino of the Longino Lab on ant ecology, Çağan Şekercioğlu of the Şekercioğlu lab on avian ecology. See Full Story...

The Making of a Friendly Microbe

May 10, 2017 - One day in October 2010, a volunteer firefighter named Thomas Fritz cut down a crab apple tree outside his house, and impaled his hand on one of the branches. His doctor gave him a course of antibiotics and sent fluid from the wound to the University of Utah for analysis. The technicians there tested the microbes in the fluid, and found that their DNA was a close match to a bacterium called Sodalis. By coincidence, the man who discovered SodalisColin Dale—was working at the university. Dale didn’t buy the results. He had only ever seen Sodalis in the cells of insects, and he assumed that it was permanently dependent on these animal hosts. After all, it lacked many of the genes that it would need to live independently. It couldn't possibly survive on its own, much less lurk on a tree branch, or successfully infect a firefighter’s hand. But the DNA wasn’t lying. The bacterium that had infected Fritz was a version of Sodalis, but a free-living one with a bigger, self-sufficient genome. Dale called it Sodalis praecaptivus—“Sodalis before captivity.”  See Full Story...

U biologists researching non opioid pain relief

May 4, 2017 - Scientists at the University of Utah say a better solution to pain than opiods may lie in a tank. Sean Christensen, a research specialist at the U. said, "The big guy in the sand here we named after the lounge singer Don Ho from Hawaii, but we call him Donny for short." Dr. Michael McIntosh with the University of Utah said, "They're called conus or cone snails, and they've been collected for centuries because of the beauty of their shells. But what we've found is that they're also beautiful on the inside as well." The same components the snail uses in its venom to capture fish can stop pain. "We purify those components, study them individually, chemically synthesize," McIntosh said. It's working in lab rats with no known side effects and is nonaddictive, unlike opioids. Studies indicate if the compound is given at the time of injury, it helps nerves regenerate preventing chronic pain. See Full Story...

Reading the genetic code triplet of triplets

April 17, 2017— The so-called central dogma of molecular biology states the process for turning genetic information into proteins that cells can use. “DNA makes RNA,” the dogma says, “and RNA makes protein.” Each protein is made of a series of amino acids, and each amino acid is coded for by sets of “triplets,” which are sets of three informational DNA units, in the genetic code. University of Utah biologists Fabienne Chevance and Kelly Hughes now suggest that connecting amino acids to make proteins in ribosomes, the cell’s protein factories, may in fact be influenced by sets of three triplets – a “triplet of triplets” that provide crucial context for the ribosome. Their results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How nature engineered the original rotary motor

April 14, 2017— The bacterial flagellum is one of nature’s smallest motors, rotating at up to 60,000 revolutions per minute. To function properly and propel the bacterium, the flagellum requires all of its components to fit together to exacting measurements. In a study published today in Science, University of Utah researchers report the eludication of a mechanism that regulates the length of the flagellum’s 25 nanometer driveshaft-like rod and answers a long-standing question about how cells are held together. Dr. Kelly Hughes’ graduate student Eli Cohen pursued the question of rod length control in Salmonella enterica using genetic tools. See Full Story...

"Badger buries cow" paper led by U undergrad goes viral

April 4, 2017 - While studying scavenger ecology in the Utah Desert, Ph.D. student Evan Buechley in the Şekercioğlu lab lab discovered camera trap photos of badgers burying the cow carcasses he left out for his experiment. The paper led by U senior Ethan Frehner and the video created by U senior Tara Christensen have gone viral and became a "Twitter moment". Evan, Ethan and Tara have been interviewed by Science, National Geographic, New York Times, NPR, USA Today and Newsweek. With 1 million views in 5 days, it became the U's most watched video and the National Geographic video has been viewed millions of times.


Distinguished Creative and Scholarly Research Award

March 7, 2017 - Dr. Kelly Hughes has been awarded a Distinguished Creative and Scholarly Research Award. The Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Awards were established as a means of recognizing University of Utah tenure track faculty members in all disciplines who have made significant scholarly contributions to their fields. No more than three awards are made for the following academic year and consists of a grant to pursue research or creative pursuits. Selection is made on the basis of the significance and quality of research or creative achievements. The award recognizes lifelong accomplishments by considering the extent to which they represent a major breakthrough or advance in the field, are intellectually distinctive or creative, and contribute to improvement and enrichment in the human condition. Recognition of one’s work by experts of national and international reputation is an indicator of its importance. Congratulations!

Rain Forest Tree Communities Across the Amazon Basin

Feb. 21, 2017 - Drs. Coley and Kursar of the Coley/Kursar Lab are receiving recognition for their work with rain forest ecosystems published in a current PNAS article. The rich diversity of trees in the Amazon could be the result of widespread dispersal over geological time, a study has suggested. Although the vast tropical area is now divided into regions, scientists suggest these areas did not evolve in isolation from one another. Modern fragmentation could be damaging the process that made the Amazon so important for plant biodiversity. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. See PNAS Article... See BBC Coverage...

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