Biology Research

The biology department maintains an active biological research program along several lines of scientfic inquiry. The department emphasizes the participation of undergraduate students in research projects and such involvement is supported annually by competitive intramural scholarships.


Jeff Duerr: Bioenergetics and mitochondrial physiology (research lab)

Professor Duerr is currently working with two undergraduate students on the role of mitochondria in two human cancer cells lines: MCF-7 breast cancer cells and LNCaP prostate cancer cells. In addition, this summer starts year two in a four-year collaborative study with PSU funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) investigating the mechanism of metabolic suppression in killifish embryos with ultimate application to human organ preservation and potentially long-term space travel.

Paige Parry: Forest ecology and ecological modeling (research lab)

Research in the Parry Lab focuses on understanding the factors and mechanisms that determine patterns of plant species composition, particularly in forest communities. We use a combination of ecological theorystatistical modeling, and field studies of forest communities to integrate patterns and processes across multiple levels of biological organization, from species to large-scale patterns of biodiversity. A major theme throughout our work is to understand how community-level processes interact with broad-scale environmental gradients to determine species distribution patterns. We address these questions by developing and applying new modeling approaches to integrate patterns and processes across multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Current projects include:

  • Spatiotemporal controls on seed and seedling dynamics in the Western US
  • Linking recruitment and population dynamics to tree range dynamics in the Rocky Mountains
  • The relative contributions of climate and interspecific biotic interactions to tree species distribution patterns in the Rocky Mountains 

Don Powers:  Animal physiological ecology (research lab)

My current projects include:

  • Hummingbird flight energetics and biomechanics. This work includes experiments on birds flown in wind tunnels (in collaboration with Dr. Bret Tobalske, University of Montana) and free-living birds both in Oregon and Arizona (in collaboration with Dr. Susan Wethington, Hummingbird Monitoring Network).
  • Reproductive energetics in red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis).  Field work for this project is done in Manitoba, Canada in collaboration with Dr. Robert Mason from Oregon State University.
  • The role of aquaporin water channels in cutaneous water absorption and water regulation in rough-skinned newts (Taricha granulosa). Upcoming experiments include distribution of water channels in tissues in aquatic vs. terrestrial acclimated newts, studies of water uptake and water loss, and exploration of signaling pathways involved in regulating water channel insertion into cell membranes of tissue surfaces.  This work is being done in collaboration with Dr. John Schmitt (George Fox University).

John Schmitt: Cell and Molecular Biology of Cancer

The Schmitt laboratory has a research program that focuses on the cellular, molecular and biochemical events that control and regulate cell growth and survival. In particular, the research laboratory focuses on how hormones regulate calcium and CaM Kinase signaling in various cancers and cell types. The Schmitt laboratory utilizes several technical approaches to evaluate the signaling mechanisms that cancer cells use to grow and survive including confocal microscopy, cell culture, blotting, and gene silencing.

Current projects in the lab include:

  • Examining the signaling mechanisms used by Estrogen to activate CaM Kinases and breast cancer cell growth. Similarity, the lab is also evaluating the ability of certain compounds and hormones to inhibit CaM Kinase activity, gene expression and cancer growth.
  • The laboratory is also evaluating how the hormones vitamin D and testosterone regulate the survival of prostate cancer cells.
  • The examination of bone cell growth and differentiation as a result of hormone, calcium and CaM Kinase signaling is an area of investigation.

Jim Smart: Molecular genetics, Neuroscience

Kathy Weiss: Biomedical science

Kathy continues to practice medicine, working in a free-clinic on a regular basis. Students from GFU also work there and have the opportunity to shadow physicians.

See Murdock Collaborative Undergraduate Research Program for a list of previous awardees and where they are now.