Biology Undergraduate Research Opportunities


Below you will find a listing of Department of Biological Sciences faculty with research opportunities in their lab.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Amy Abell

Project Description: The Abell lab uses stem cells and animal models to define the signaling/gene expression networks controlling the conversion of stationary epithelial stem cells to motile mesenchymal cells. This epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a key biological process during normal development that is reactivated in several pathologies including organ fibrosis and cancer metastasis. One goal of this research is to identify novel master regulators of EMT and the reverse process MET. This information will be used in designing new strategies for regenerative medicine and the treatment of EMT related pathologies. In addition, projects are underway to discover new approaches to detect, treat, and prevent fetal growth restriction. Projects in the lab use molecular, cellular, and embryological tools. Student projects use techniques including tissue culture of genetically altered stem cells, isolation of RNA, preparation of cDNA, measurement of gene expression changes, isolation and separation of protein, and measurement of protein levels and activity. Students will be trained in the approaches required for their project, so previous lab experience is not required.

Requirements for Student Applicants: Interested applicants should apply directly to Dr. Abell at anabell@memphis.edu. Please include a resume or CV and a paragraph about your research interests and career goals. Applicants must have completed General Biology II (BIOL 1120/1121) and be at least enrolled in Cell Biology (BIOL 3130).  Student researchers must work at least six hours per week in the lab for two consecutive semesters.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leigh Boardman

Contact Information: leigh.boardman@memphis.edu

Project Description: The Boardman Lab studies how arthropods live in environments where they must cope with multiple simultaneous stresses (e.g., changes in temperature, oxygen, and/or water availability) by looking at whole-organism physiology and underlying molecular mechanisms. Much of our current research involves measuring thermal tolerance traits in a variety of insect species.

Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants should have passed General Biology II (BIOL 1120/1121).

Hours per week: Flexible. Most projects need 3–4 hour blocks of time.

Starting date: Flexible.

Methods of Compensation: Academic credit, hourly pay (limited availability), volunteer

Application process: Students should e-mail Dr. Boardman with a cover letter describing their interest in The Boardman Lab research and their career aspirations, and a CV/resume. Dr. Boardman will then schedule a meeting to discuss various project options. Interested applicants are encouraged to e-mail a semester in advance of wanting to pursue research in order to best match available projects with students’ interests.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rachel Diner

Contact Information: rediner@memphis.edu 

Project Description: The Diner lab studies how pollution and environmental change affects microbes (mostly bacteria) that live on and inside aquatic animals like shellfish and fish. We are especially interested in understanding how the environment influences the structure and function of these microbial communities, and whether these bacteria are capable of degrading pollutants in the environment. Projects may include (but are not limited to):

  • Collecting mussels from local creeks and Rivers to examine the microbes that live on them and whether we can keep them alive in the laboratory 
  • Extracting and Quantifying DNA from animal sources including mussel shells, fish skin, fecal matter, and gill samples. 
  • Isolating bacteria from these same samples and testing their ability to grow on different types of pollutant-enriched media 
  • Conducting PCR reactions and DNA sequencing to identify pollutant degradation genes present in the microbes we isolate 
  • For students interested in bioinformatics, we have some datasets from prior experiments that can be analyzed to determine how microbial community composition and gene expression change when exposed to pollution.  

Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants should have passed General Biology I (BIOL 1110) and have an interest in environmental microbiology and/or aquatic science.

Hours per week: Flexible. Most projects need 3–4 hour blocks of time.

Starting date: Flexible.

Application process: Students should e-mail Dr. Diner with a brief description (about one paragraph) of your research interests and career goals, your year and major, and an unofficial copy of your transcript.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Philip Kohlmeier

Contact Information: pkhlmier@memphis.edu

Project Description: The Kohlmeier lab studies the neuronal mechanisms that control social behavior. We use social hymenopterans, in particular ants and bees, to investigate how different individuals of a colony specialize on specific tasks, such as nursing the brood or foraging, and to understand how these mechanisms could have evolved from a solitary ancestor. Student projects can include field studies, behavioral experiments, automated tracking, colony manipulations, and pharmacological manipulations. We also use the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model organism to study how females anticipate the environmental conditions their offspring will be exposed to and how they prepare their offspring accordingly. Students can become involved in this project and be trained in Drosophila neurogenetics, the thermo- and optogenetic manipulations of individual neurons and in running standardized high throughput tests to quantify temperature adaptation.

Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants must have completed General Biology II (BIOL 1120/1121).

Hours per week: 8–10.

Starting date: Flexible.

Application process: Email Dr. Kohlmeier your CV and a brief description of your research interests. Dr. Kohlmeier will schedule a meeting with you to discuss possible projects. 

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Mandel 
Contact Information:  jmandel@memphis.edu 
Project Description: The Mandel lab uses genetic and genomic approaches to study the evolution of plant biodiversity. We carry out our work in the field, greenhouse, and laboratory to study plants of interest including for conservation and phylogenetics. Students in the lab will learn molecular technique including DNA extraction and PCR. Students will also work in the greenhouse taking care of research plants.  
Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants must have passed General Biology I (BIOL 1110).
Hours per week: 8–10.
Starting Date:  Flexible, positions are available for summer, fall, and spring semester research. 
Methods of Compensation: Volunteer, academic credit, hourly pay occasionally available.
Application Process: Applicants should submit an unofficial transcript, and a paragraph about your research interests and career goals. An interview with Dr. Mandel is also required.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Duane McKenna 

Contact Information: dmckenna@memphis.edu 

Project Description: The McKenna lab studies insect systematics, genomics, evolution, and biodiversity with a particular focus on beetles and the evolution and genomic basis of plant-feeding. Most studies involve data from insect genomes (DNA and RNA sequences) and ecological data, such as host plant associations and geographic distributions. We collaborate extensively and participate in studies on all continents, with a particular focus on the world’s tropics. We seek to catalyze work in insect biodiversity science, education, and conservation through generating new knowledge and building a diverse and inclusive community of naturalist-scientists trained in traditional and cutting-edge field, collections, wet lab, and analytical methods. Student projects vary and are dependent on interests and experience. Some examples include gathering measurements and taking digital images of preserved museum specimens of insects, isolation of insect DNA and RNA, genomic DNA library construction, and DNA and RNA sequence analysis. 

Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants must have completed General Biology II (BIOL 1120/1121). Student researchers must work a minimum of six hours per week in the lab for two consecutive semesters (the summer can substitute for one semester).  

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Emily Puckett

Contact Information: puckett3@memphis.edu

Project Description: The Puckett Lab studies evolutionary and conservation genomics of North American bear species.  We have a geographically diverse tissue collection that allows us to study the genetic basis of phenotypic traits, or how the environment influences selection across the range.  Most of our work is computational in nature, with some opportunities for wet lab work (e.g. DNA extraction, genomic library preparation, phenotyping).  Volunteers do not have to know coding or bioinformatics, but should be open to learning these skills.  Current possible projects to contribute to include: Y chromosome identification and phylogeography; landscape genetics; genome-environment association studies.

Requirements for Student Applications: None, but preference given to 1) Biology majors, 2) freshmen and sophomores. Interest in landscape genetics projects requires knowing GIS (ArcPro not qGIS).

Hours per week: 6–10.

Starting Date: Flexible.

Application Process: Email Dr. Puckett and detail your interests in science/biology, list any relevant courses or experiences, and provide a copy of your schedule noting blocks of 2–3 hour availability during the work week.

Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Jaime Sabel

Contact Information: jlsabel@memphis.edu 

Project Description: The Sabel lab focuses on biology education research, specifically on the use of various classroom tools and techniques in undergraduate biology courses. We use both quantitative (statistics) and qualitative (interviews and surveys) methods to investigate how students learn biology and how various aspects of courses influence student engagement and success. The goal of this work is to improve the design of biology courses to support students as they engage in learning biological concepts. 

Requirements for Student Applicants: Applicants must have passed General Biology I (BIOL 1110). 

Hours per week: up to 10.

Starting Date:  Flexible, positions are available for summer, fall, and spring semester research. 

Methods of Compensation: Academic credit; hourly pay occasionally available.

Application Process: Applicants should email Dr. Sabel at jlsabel@memphis.edu to indicate their interest. Dr. Sabel will meet with you to discuss possible projects.

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Carrie Hayes Sutter and Dr. Thomas R. Sutter

Contact Information: csutter@memphis.edu

Project description: The primary focus of our lab is the investigation of the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) in skin biology and toxicity. The AHR has historically been studied as a receptor that is activated by environmental contaminants such as dioxins or other poly aromatic hydrocarbons. Human exposure to dioxins and chemicals like dioxin leads to a skin abnormality called chloracne, which involves, among other effects, a thickening of the skin due to an increase in the differentiation of keratinocytes. More recently, a role of the AHR in normal skin development has been emerged. Our laboratory studies the mechanisms by which activation of the AHR leads to skin differentiation, from both the toxicological and normal developmental point of view. We use human cells in models of skin differentiation including monolayer keratinocytes and multilayer multicellular organotypic skin to study molecular, cellular, and tissue changes following activation of the AHR. As a student in our lab you will get hands on experience in molecular and cell biology techniques and be a part of an exciting project with the possibility of authorship. We are looking for an individual who has an interest in science, an ability to learn quickly, and a willingness to work hard. Previous laboratory experience is not required.

Requirements for Applicants: An interest in molecular and cellular biology.

Hours per week: Minimally 10 hours in 3–5 hour blocks.

Starting Date: Anytime.

Method of Compensation: Volunteer.

Application Process: Students should email a cover letter describing their interest in science and an unofficial transcript to the faculty member. An in-person interview will be required.