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).

News

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 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. 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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