Research Focus Areas

Toxicology and Disease

This focus area consists of faculty members with interests in the impacts of poisons and/or toxins and the mechanisms of disease. This broad definition encompasses ideas from the molecular and chemical causes of human diseases/disorders to the impact of environmental contaminants on wildlife to the understanding of naturally produced toxins. Research incorporates various levels of organization from cellular to community/ecosystem.

Biology Education Research

Faculty in this focal area investigate both fundamental and applied aspects of biology teaching and learning through theory-building and evidence-generation. Calling on deep disciplinary knowledge as well methods and frameworks in the learning sciences, cognition, and general science education research, the ultimate goal of faculty in this focal area is improving biology education in formal and informal contexts. Specific strands within our group focus on: 1) the teaching and learning of environmental science through engagement and collaboration with professional scientists, 2) uncovering instructional beliefs and how these beliefs translate to classroom practices aligned with current empirically-supported teaching methods, 3) the impacts of professional development mediating instructional beliefs and practices, and 4) the design and implementation efficacy of research-based, student-centered, active learning curricula.

Developmental Genetics and Cell Signaling

The group shares a common interest in the molecular mechanisms that govern organism development both during embryogenesis and in adulthood. Of particular interest are mechanisms involved in cell polarity and cell migration, organelle inheritance during fertilization, stress and disease’s influence on aging, and cell signaling events important for differentiation and host pathogen interactions.

  • Lynn Boyd, Chair and Professor
    Cell and developmental biology
  • Jason Jessen, Assoc. Professor
    Cell, molecular, and developmental biology; Cell polarity and migration
  • Erin McClleland, Asst. Professor
    Immunology; Microbiology; Medical Mycology
  • David Nelson, Asst. Professor
    Cell and molecular biology; Signal transduction; Neurodegeneration and cancer
  • William Stewart, Professor
    Cell physiology and biology; Neurobiology

Systematics and Phylogeography

This focal area embraces theoretical and empirical aspects of taxonomy, phylogenetics, historical biogeography and comparative evolutionary biology and biochemistry of non-model organisms. The common theme is a phylogenetic or comparative approach.

  • Sarah Bergemann, Assoc. Professor
    Mycology; Evolutionary ecology
  • Andrew Brower, Professor
    Entomology; Molecular systematics
  • Jeff Leblond, Professor
    Phycology; Evolutionary biology; Biochemistry
  • Ashley Morris, Asst. Professor
    Plant populations; Phylogeography; Systematics

Integrative Studies in Herpetology

This focal area consists of a group of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates specializing on integrative studies of reptiles and amphibians. The integrative nature of this group means that studies are conducted at multiple levels of scale from the molecular (e.g., hormones and binding proteins) through organismal (e.g., studies of morphology, thermoregulation) to ecological and evolutionary. The strengths of this focal group include the presence of three biology faculty members already focusing on herpetology (Miller, Cobb, Klukowski), other faculty that have experience in herpetology (Bailey and others), and the relatively high diversity of amphibians and reptiles in our local area.

  • Frank Bailey, Professor
    Aquatic toxicology
  • Vincent Cobb, Professor
    Behavioral and physiological ecology; Thermal biology; Herpetology
  • Matt Klukowski, Professor
    Animal physiology; Endocrinology; Behavior; Herpetology
  • Brian Miller, Professor
    morphology and natural history; Herpetology

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology of Cedar Glades

This focus area is comprised of a strong interdisciplinary team of faculty that are interested in varied aspects of the ecology, evolution and conservation of cedar glade species. Cedar glades are a globally unique and endangered ecosystem and the cedar glades in middle Tennessee represent a hotspot of plant endemism. The faculty in this group study aspects of plant, fungi, insect and reptile ecology and evolution as they relate to the glade habitat. The close proximity of MTSU to some of the largest cedar glade ecosystems in the world presents faculty and their students with an exceptional opportunity to conduct research on one of Tennessee’s (if not the worlds) most biologically significant and imperiled natural habitats.

  • Sarah Bergemann, Assoc. Professor
    Mycology; Evolutionary ecology
  • Vincent Cobb, Professor
    Behavioral and physiological ecology; Thermal biology; Herpetology
  • Chris Herlihy, Assoc. Professor
    Plant mating system evolution; Cedar glade ecology
  • R. Stephen Howard, Professor
    Evolutionary ecology; Population biology
  • Matt Klukowski, Professor
    Animal physiology; Endocrinology; Behavior; Herpetology
  • Brian Miller, Professor
    morphology and natural history; Herpetology
  • Ashley Morris, Asst. Professor
    Plant populations; Phylogeography; Systematics
  • Kim Sadler, Assoc. Professor
    Biology education; Environmental education
  • Jeff Walck, Professor
    Plant conservation biology; Climate change; Seed ecology

Drug Discovery and Disease Prevention

The drug discovery group uses a multidisciplinary approach to develop new therapeutics for the treatment of microbial pathogen infections as well as autoimmune diseases. We are particularly concerned with the rise of multiple drug resistant strains that are rapidly becoming resistant to the most commonly utilized antibiotics. The group uses conventional approaches, such as understanding the invasive physiology of the pathogens so potential drug targets can be identified, as well as modern approaches, such as the high throughput screening of vast libraries of compounds that may prove to be effective therapeutic agents. Our group works closely with numerous faculty in the Chemistry Department who are also involved in drug discovery.

Industrial Microbiology

The metabolic engineering group focuses on cellular bioreactor approaches to produce chemicals that are important to either industrial or pharmaceutical companies. We are particularly interested in developing approaches to produce green chemicals in order to save our rapidly dwindling petroleum reserves. Green chemicals have been identified by the Department of Energy as chemicals for which biological routes of synthesis can be developed, but that have been traditionally synthesized from petroleum. One of the major efforts of the group is the development of an integrated biorefinery approach that can be utilized for the economic production of fuel ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass, such as trees or grasses.