Department of Biology

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 three focused, yet overlapping, graduate training programs: Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology (MCEB), Ecology Evolution and Organismal Biology (EEOB), and Microbial Biology.

Biology Development Brochure


Ecology on the Runway

August 8, 2016 - University of Utah ecologist Nalini Nadkarni is no fashion mogul. But she is a scientist actively engaged in public outreach, working to bring the wonder and curiosity of the natural world to people, even those who may have no interest in natural history museums, nature documentaries or natural history magazines. Those people probably care about clothes, though. On Aug. 8, Nadkarni and 14 other ecologists put on an unconventional fashion show at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Each showcased a custom-made garment that artistically depicted his or her own field of research, the organism or environment to which they’d devoted their life and careers — their hearts on their sleeves. See Full Story...

Frontiers of Science September 15, 2016

Thure Cerling Named AGU Fellow

August 4, 2016 - Dr. Thure Cerling has been named a 2016 AGU Fellow. Since the American Geophysical Union (AGU) established its Fellows Program in 1962, the organization has elected outstanding members as Union Fellows. This special honor recognizes scientific eminence in the Earth and space sciences. It acknowledges Fellows for their remarkable contributions to their research fields, exceptional knowledge, and visionary leadership. Only 0.1% of AGU membership receives this recognition in any given year. See Full Story...

Nitin Phadnis on KUED

July 22, 2016 - Dr. Nitin Phadnis, who was recently named one of 22 Pew Scholars in the country, is an evolutionary biologist.  He has created a lab that combines genetics and microbiology…two disciplines that for years were considered separate.  He has been published in the most prestigious science magazines in the world, and recently solved a genetics puzzle that had been identified over 100 years ago.  He prides himself on his ability to address fundamental biological questions with novel approaches and current technology. “Science is an incredibly creative Endeavor,” says Phadnis.  “I am not sure it is as widely appreciated as it should be.” KUED Video Interview...

Capecchi Endowed Chair in Biology

July 21, 2016 - Sophie Caron has been appointed as the next Capecchi Endowed Chair in Biology. This chair was established to honor the U’s first Nobellaureate,MarioCapecchi, through a generous gift from the Eccles Foundation. Knowing Capecchi’s commitment and passion for supporting young scientists, whom Eccles described as “the Nobel winners of tomorrow,” the foundation directors decided to establish an endowed chair to help recruit and retain some of the best and brightest young researchers. 

U of U Presidential Award

July 15, 2016 - Congratulations to Dr. Michael Shapiro on being selected as a University of Utah Presidential Scholar. This is a relatively new award given by the Vice President of Academic Affairs with funding from an anonymous donor to recognize excellence and achievement of mid-career faculty. Each college is permitted a single nominee for this award with a total of four awards made across the University. Mike was selected from a cadre of exceptional nominees. Kudos on this prestigious recognition!

To save water, throw some shade

July 13, 2016 - How much water does your lawn really need?  A University of Utah study re-evaluated lawn watering recommendations by measuring water use by lawns in Los Angeles. “The current method of estimating water use is very arbitrary,” says postdoctoral scholar Elizaveta Litvak, first author on the new study, published today in the Journal of Arid Environments. “And there has been no scientific ground for more precise recommendations.” Although turfgrass is the largest irrigated crop in the U.S., researchers aren’t certain how the ET model holds up in the fragmented urban landscape. Tall water vapor flux towers are not the answer. “You can’t use that method in urban lawns because they’re too small,” says U biology professor Diane Pataki. See Full Story... KSL Audio Interview...

World's First migratory brown Bears discovered

June 24, 2016 - University of Utah biologists working in Turkey discovered two surprising facts about a group of 16 brown bears: First, six of the bears seasonally migrated between feeding and breeding sites, the first known brown bears to do so. Second, and more sobering, the other 10 bears stayed in one spot all year long: the city dump. “Bears are an incredible species that can adapt to many different environments,” says graduate student Mark Chynoweth, a member of the research team along with U biologist Çağan Şekercioğlu and colleagues from Switzerland, Croatia and Turkey. Their work is published today in the Journal of Zoology. See Full Story...

Biology Professor named Pew Scholar

June 9, 2016 - The Pew Charitable Trusts today named 22 Exceptional early-career scientists as Pew Scholars in the biomedical sciences. The 2016 class of Pew scholars is drawn from prestigious institutions across the country, with each scholar receiving four years of flexible funding to pursue foundational, innovative research. Dr. Nitin Phadnis received this grant for his work in genetics and evolutionary biology. See Full Story...

Book Announcement

May 26, 2016 - Sylvia Torti, Sylvia Torti has won the third annual Nicholas Schaffner Award for Music in Literature, and her novel Cages will be published by Schaffner Press in 2017. "Cages reminds me of the novels of Richard Powers in its mix of real science and real people grappling with issues like the ethics of experimentation," said publisher Timothy Schaffner. "The novel brings up fascinating and important questions about the source of memory, and whether it can be located in the human brain." Sylvia's first novel, The Scorpion's Tail won the 2005 Miguel Mármol Prize.

Biology blitz

May 4, 2016 - The Biology Department pulled a “hat trick” this year, winning all three University of Utah Disintinguished awards. Dr. Leslie Sieburth received the Distinguished Teaching Award, Dr. Baldomero Olivera received the Distinguished Innovation & Impact Award and Dr. Dale Clayton received the Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award. Dr. James Ehleringer was elected to the National Academy of Science and received the Rosenblatt Prize. Dr. Çağan Şekercioğlu was named Ashoka Environment Fellow and Sabanci Foundation Changemaker. The award announcement for Dr. Nitin Phadnis is currently embargoed.

Why Vultures Matter

May 5, 2016 - Vultures. Cartoon characters in parched deserts often wish them to disappear, since circling vultures are a stereotypical harbinger of death. But, joking aside, vultures in some parts of the world are in danger of disappearing. And according to a new report from University of Utah biologists, Evan Buechley and Çağan Şekercioğlu, such a loss would have serious consequences for ecosystems and human populations alike.The primary threat to vultures, according to the report published today in Biological Conservation, is the presence of toxins in the carrion they consume. Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction. See Full Story...

Biology professor wins Rosenblatt

May 5, 2016 - Jim Ehleringer has received the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the University’s highest honor. This endowed award is given annually to one member of the faculty of the University of Utah to honor excellence in teaching, research and administrative efforts. Jim is the embodiment of this award with significant contributions in all three of these areas. Please join me in congratulating Jim once again this week for his numerous and creative contributions to the university, and especially our department!

biology professor wins Creative Research award

April 26, 2016 - Dr. Dale Clayton, an expert in host-parasite coevolution, has received the Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award. This award was established as a means of recognizing University of Utah faculty who have made significant scholarly contributions to their fields. Selection is made on the basis of the significance and quality of research or creative achievements and 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.

Which trees risk death

April 18, 2016 - Drought left 225 million trees dead in the U.S. Southwest in 2002. Nine years later, it killed 300 million trees in Texas. This past year, 12 million trees died in California. Throughout the world, large numbers of trees are dying in extreme heat and drought. Such mass die-offs can have critical consequences for the future of forests and Earth's climate. On Earth Week, scientists are trying to understand how a warming climate could affect how often tree mortality events occur -- and how severe they could become. A University of Utah biologist may be able to help. William Anderegg and his colleagues looked for patterns in previous studies of tree mortality and found some common traits that characterized which species lived and which died during drought. The results, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), can help chart the future of forests. See Full Story... More Coverage...

Biology professor receives award

April 19, 2016 - Distinguished Professor Baldomero Olivera has been selected to receive the U's Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award. The Distinguished Innovation and Impact Awards were established to recognize University of Utah tenure-track faculty members in all disciplines whose innovations have demonstrated impact beyond academia and have improved the lives of ordinary citizens. Congratulations to Dr. Olivera.

Biota Web series at the leonardo

The premier of the first episode of a science documentary web series BIOTA at The Leonardo is April 29th from 7:30 - 8:30pm. This science documentary web series features a former U Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental & Sustainability Studies alumni, Sabah Ul-Hasan. Sabah is currently a Ph.D. and Eugene Cota-Robles Fellow in Quantitative and Systems Biology at the University of California, Merced.

Broad diet helps birds in fast-changing world

April 8, 2016 - In 2000, biology professor Çağan Şekercioğlu began building a global database of bird traits that now contains 1.4 million entries covering all known bird species. The database is a rich and versatile resource for biologists. The latest study to draw on Şekercioğlu's database, “Omnivory in birds is a macroevolutionary sink”, was published Thursday in Nature Communications and examines the role of how birds’ diets affect how new species arise and how others fall to extinction. In a stable environment, being a jack-of-all foods is risky. Omnivorous birds lose out to birds with specialized diets, hence omnivory is generally associated with higher extinction risk and fewer new species. In our human-affected world with disappearing habitats and a changing climate, however, having a broad diet is an advantage and helps omnivorous birds survive while specialists face extinction. Şekercioğlu, a co-author on the paper, is available to discuss the work’s results and implications. See Full Story...

New species of Ethiopian Viper

March 28, 2016 - While driving through Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park in 2013, graduate student Evan Buechley of the University of Utah, and his colleagues, spotted a black-colored snake with pale-yellowish markings. The driver stopped the vehicle, and the team photographed the one-meter long snake. To date, these are the only known photographs of what scientists say could be a new species of venomous Bitis viper. Now, in a study published in Zootaxa, researchers have confirmed that the snake is most likely a novel species of Bitis viper. See Full Story...

Pigeon Foot feather Genes identified

University of Utah scientists identified two genes that make some pigeon breeds develop feathered feet known as muffs, while others have scaled feet. The same or similar genes might explain scaled feet in chickens and other birds, and provide insight into how some dinosaurs got feathers before they evolved into birds. The study found that in pigeons with feathers on their hindlimbs or feet, a hindlimb-development gene named Pitx1 is less active than normal, while a forelimb-development gene named Tbx5 is active in the feet, where it normally is not. In other words, “pigeons’ fancy feathered feet are partially wings,” says biologist Dr. Michael Shapiro, senior author of the study published today by the journal eLife. See Full Story...

Nurturing nature’s habitat on campus

Feb. 9, 2016 - We may have forgotten that the University of Utah campus is an ecosystem, an environment for student learning to take place and a habitat for other species to live and thrive. A small group of students are paying attention to the latter issue by working to increase the kestrel populations on campus and learn more about the species’ natural history. Colter Dye, a biology student at the U, is at the forefront of this initiative. He says the idea hatched after taking a biology class last spring. “I hope that the University of Utah will serve as a model for other colleges, on how to integrate campus wildlife research and habitat preservation into grounds activities,” says Amy Sibul of the Biology Department's Community Engaged Learning. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Sibul or attend the next Wildlife Society meeting. The Wildlife Society meets on the first and third Thursday of each month at 3:30 in ASB 304 and is open to students, staff, and faculty from all departments. See Full Story...

U Biologist wins Eppendorf Prize

Feb. 5, 2016 - Dr. Shigeki Watanabe of the Jorgensen lab has been awarded the 2015 Eppendorf and Science Grand Prize for Neurobiology. This prize acknowledges the increasingly active and important role of neurobiology in advancing our understanding of the functioning of the brain and the nervous system -- a quest that seems destined for dramatic expansion in the coming decades. This international prize, established in 2002, encourages the work of promising young neurobiologists by providing support in the early stages of their careers. It is awarded annually for the most outstanding neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology by a young scientist. See Science Story... See Science Video...

Dead or Alive-infrared cameras and beehives

Feb. 3, 2016 - The U of U Dept. of Biology, headed by Amy Sibul, using a grant from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, has loaned the Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food an infrared camera that allows inspectors to “see” into hives without opening the hives, which may expose living bees to freezing temperatures. The FLIR camera detects heat signatures in the hive. If the hive has a strong heat signature they will leave it alone. The infrared camera winter beehive health inspection program is among the first of its kind nationally and one of many free services available to registered beekeepers to help them better manage their colonies. "Some people imagine either that (bees) freeze and then thaw out in the winter or that they hibernate, but the bees are actually awake and alive through the winter and they stay in a cluster," said bee inspector Stephen Stanko in a Utah Agriculture video See KSL Story... See Demonstration Flyer...

What a moth's nose knows

Jan. 27, 2016 - Moths sniff out others of their own species using specific pheromone blends. So if you transplant an antenna – the nose, essentially – from one species to another, which blend of pheromones does the moth respond to? The donor species’, or the recipients’? The answer is neither. Moths with transplanted antennae responded instead to a similar yet novel pheromone blend not naturally produced by either species, according to University of Utah research published online Jan. 27 in PLOS ONE. The result, says biology professor Neil Vickers, reveals how the brain depends on the senses to construct an impression of reality, and how changing the sensory hardware can cause the moths’ brains to be fooled. See Full Story...

Biology Professor wins Distinguished Teaching Award

Jan. 21, 2016 - Dr. Leslie Sieburth has received the UofU Distinguished Teaching Award for 2016. The University Distinguished Teaching Award honors significant contributions to the teaching mission of the University of Utah. The awardee has maintained a consistent record of outstanding teaching performance and has implemented effective and innovative teaching methods which demonstrate exceptional abilities to motivate student learning and shows a concern for students and their wider education as well as their career preparation and also contributes to the educational process outside of the classroom. 

Poison Warmed over

Jan. 21, 2016 - UofU Dearing Lab experiments found that when temperatures get warmer, woodrats suffer a reduced ability to live on their normal diet of toxic creosote – suggesting that global warming may hurt plant-eating animals.  “This study adds to our understanding of how climate change may affect mammals, in that their ability to consume dietary toxins is impaired by warmer temperatures,” says biologist Denise Dearing , senior author of the research published online Jan. 13 in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  “This phenomenon will result in animals changing their diets and reducing the amount of plant material they eat, relocating to cooler habitats or going extinct in local areas,” says Dearing, a distinguished professor and chair of biology at the University of Utah, and Patrice Kurnath, a doctoral student in biology.  See PRS-B Article... See Full Story...

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