School of Biological Sciences

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The School of Biological Sciences 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).


Fighting Leaf and Mandible

March 14, 2019 - Researchers have been baffled by tropical rainforest diversity for over a century; 650 different tree species can exist in an area covering two football fields, yet similar species never grow next to each other. It seems like it’s good to be different than your neighbors, but why?  To grow in a tropical rainforest is to engage in constant warfare. Related trees share the same pests and diseases—if one gets it, the infestation can spread. Scientists have asked, “What is the primary driver in tropical forest diversity–competition for resources, or herbivore pests?”  For the first time, University of Utah biologists in the Coley/Kursar Lab compared the two mechanisms in a single study. “Despite state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, there’s no substitute for spending months and months in the rainforest,” said Dr. Phyllis Coley, Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, research affiliate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and co-author of the study. “It took us several years to collect data, and samples of leaves and herbivores. It’s hot, humid and buggy, but attempting to understand the diversity of species is a biologist’s dream.”See UNews story... See Science Article...

Cells under stress

March 14, 2019 - A new article has been published in the Journal of Cell Biology by Dr. Julie Hollien and members in her lab. "Cells respond to stress in the ER by initiating the widely conserved unfolded protein response. Activation of the ER transmembrane nuclease IRE1 leads to the degradation of specific mRNAs, but how this pathway affects the ability of cells to recover from stress is not known. Here, we show that degradation of the mRNA encoding biogenesis of lysosome-related organelles 1 subunit 1 (Blos1) leads to the repositioning of late endosomes (LEs)/lysosomes to the microtubule-organizing center in response to stress in mouse cells". See JCB Article...


March 11, 2019 - University of Utah alumna Reshma Shetty is now an executive of growing Boston biotech firm Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc., which she co-founded in 2008. Ginkgo Bioworks engineers biological organisms for a variety of commercial and industrial uses, including engineering organisms to manufacture specified chemicals and enzymes. The company has been called “the future of” industries from fragrances to pharmaceuticals. But her road to becoming a biotech pioneer began as a high school student in the laboratory of U biology professor  Baldomero “Toto” Olivera. That’s where she met the snails. See full story...

U Biologists trigger adaptive radiation

March 5, 2019 - University of Utah biologists experimentally triggered adaptive radiation; they used host-specific parasites isolated on individual pigeon "islands." Lead authors Sarah Bush and former U PostDoc Scott Villa showed that descendants of a single population of feather lice adapted rapidly in response to preening, the pigeons' main defense. "People have been trying to bridge micro- and macro- evolution for a long time," said Dale Clayton, professor in biology at the U and co-author of the paper. "This study actually does it. That's a big deal." Co-authors include U biologists Michael Shapiro and Juan Altuna. Story in AAAS EurekAlert... See full article... Story in The Atlantic...

Conservation of Old World Vultures

January 15, 2019 - Evan Buechly, alumnus of the U Biology Şekercioğlu Lab and HawkWatch International, now with the Smithsonian, has published an article in Conservation Biology. "The prosperity and well-being of human societies relies on healthy ecosystems and the services they provide. However, the biodiversity crisis is undermining ecosystems services and functions. Vultures are among the most imperiled taxonomic groups on Earth, yet they have a fundamental ecosystem function. These obligate scavengers rapidly consume large amounts of carrion and human waste, a service that may aid in both disease prevention and control of mammalian scavengers, including feral dogs, which in turn threaten humans". See full article...

Critter cams in the news

January 2, 2019 - Outdoor recreation and wildlife cohabit in a big way along the Central Wasatch Mountains and the foothills that tumble into Utah’s largest urban area, yet scientists have only a vague idea of how animals respond to all the athletes, picnickers and hikers traipsing through their living room.  Now biologist Austin Green, from the Şekercioğlu lab hopes to find firm answers using dozens of trap cameras. But his research has generated more information than he and his team can handle: 50,000 critter images recorded during a 105-day study period last spring and summer. Story in SL Tribune...

Biology Newsletter - Our DNA

December 20, 2018 - Just released Fall 2018 Our DNA. Our DNA presents the stories of the School of Biological Sciences. Check out the stories on Mario Capecchi, Ofer Rog and Ole Jensen. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please email David Pace, Alumni/Advancement Director for the School of Biological Sciences. See Fall 2018 Newsletter

Academic Advising Excellence

December 18, 2018 - Congratulations to Denise Brenes, Director of Undergraduate Advising for the School of Biological Sciences who has been awarded the NACADA Excellence in Advising-Advising Administrator Award. NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) is an association of professional advisors, counselors, faculty, administrators, and students working to enhance the educational development of students.

Head in the clouds: Climate change heights

December 16, 2018 - An article published in The Guardian features Nalini Nadkarni's work in the Cost Rican cloud forest. For four decades, Nadkarni has studied cloud forest in the Costa Rican town of Monteverde. In that time, global warming has wrought big changes – and now threatens to dry out the area’s lush hanging gardens for good. “The tropical cloud forest is a very particular type,” Nadkarni says, reflecting on the fact that only about 1% of the planet’s woodlands are cloud forest.“When I climb into the forest, when I get away from the dark, damp, windless forest floor – well, you really enter kind of a different world.” The Guardian Article

In our hearts forever

Thomas A. Kursar passed away peacefully at home on November 18, 2018 from pancreatic cancer. He was 69 years old. Tom was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on September 18, 1949. He earned a B.A. in Biochemistry from Rutgers in 1971. He was awarded a M.A. in Biophysics in 1976 and a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Theoretical Biology in 1982, both from the University of Chicago. While there, he met Phyllis D. Coley (Lissy) who would become his partner in love, life and science. Ever since, they have been known as the unit “Tom & Lissy” to all their friends, colleagues and collaborators. In 1982, Tom and Lissy joined the Department of Biology at the University of Utah where they established a joint lab that became renowned for its foundational contributions to our understanding of rainforest ecology. Tom’s legacy far surpasses his research contributions to science; he was a generous man. He was moderate in his behavior and appetites, but passionate in his loves and beliefs. He loved Lissy, of course, and he also loved wild places and the great outdoors.For those who want to celebrate Tom’s life, his family invites you to contribute to the Coley-Kursar Endowment in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah. This endowment supports field work for graduate students from the University of Utah engaged in ecological research.  Tom and Lissy also established an endowment to support internships for Latin American students in hopes of facilitating their path to graduate school through the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, please note in the comments section the gift is for Tom. Alternatively, please contribute to an environmental or social justice charity of your choice. We welcome your memories and condolences at Tate Mortuary-Tom Kursar.

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