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.

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News

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...

Biology Professor Ashoka Fellow

Dec. 28, 2015 - Cagan Sekercioglu has been elected an Ashoka Environment Fellow and Sabanci Foundation Changemaker for his ecological research and community-based biodiversity conservation work in Turkey. See Full Story... Ashoka YouTube... Sabanci YouTube...

 

Threat to darwin's finches

Dec. 18, 2015 - Finches in the Galapagos Islands are being threatened by a parasitic fly that attacks their young. A new mathematical model based on five years of data collected by Koop, Clayton and colleagues suggests that the birds may succumb to this pest in 50 years. “Darwin’s finches are one of the best examples we have of speciation,” says the new study’s first author, Jennifer Koop, who did the research as a U of U doctoral student and now is an assistant professor at UMass Dartmouth. The finches are threatened by a nest fly. "They are maggots basically, is what they are," said Dale Clayton, U of U biology professor. See Full Story... See BBC Story... See MentalFloss Story...

Gene for new species discovered

Dec. 17, 2015 – A University of Utah-led study identified a long-sought “hybrid inviability gene” responsible for dead or infertile offspring when two species of fruit flies mate with each other. The discovery sheds light on the genetic and molecular process leading to formation of new species, and may provide clues to how cancer develops. “We knew for decades that something like this gene ought to exist, and our approach finally allowed us to identify it,” says biologist Nitin Phadnis, principal author of the study published today in the journal Science. See Full Story...

Science behind bars

Nov. 30, 2015 - A program to bring science behind bars is flourishing at the Salt Lake County Jail. Inmates are learning lessons that will improve their lives and reduce crime.  On a chilly fall afternoon, Celeste Henrickson, the project manager for the University of Utah's Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated (INSPIRE), is helping a small group of jail inmates learn how to string a fish trap.  It is what University of Utah biologist Nalini Nadkarni calls the healing power of nature.  "It seemed to me that if there were any population that really needed exposure to nature, to nurturing wild things, it would be people who are incarcerated," says Nadkarni. See Full Story...

Biology Professor wins award

Dec 3, 2015 - Nalini Nadkarni has received The William Julius Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice. She is a world-renowned forest ecologist who works to bring science and job training to prisons. Her innovative efforts promote social inclusiveness of prisoners and reduce post-prison joblessness. “One of the most pressing problems facing society today is the increasing distance between humans and nature,” Nadkarni says. “Another issue—seemingly unrelated—is the failure of our system of incarceration to provide inmates with the education and experiences they need to become useful citizens after release.” See Full Story...

Dead Men Punching

Oct 21, 2015 - University of Utah biologists used cadaver arms to punch and slap padded dumbbells in experiments supporting a hotly debated theory that our hands evolved not only for manual dexterity, but also so males could fistfight over females.  “The idea that aggressive behavior played a role in the evolution of the human hand is controversial,” says biology professor David Carrier, senior author of the study published online Oct. 21 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. “Many skeptics suggest that the human fist is simply a coincidence of natural selection for improved manual dexterity. That may be true, but if it is a coincidence, it is unfortunate.”  “As an alternative, we suggest that the hand proportions that allow the formation of a fist may tell us something important about our evolutionary history and who we are as a species,” Carrier adds. See Full Story...

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