Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Jimena Aracena
My general area of research is animal behavior. I’m especially interested in how animals use information about their environment to make decisions about eating, foraging for food, and mating. Even animals as tiny as fruit flies with brains smaller than a pinhead can make very complex choices about eating the best food or choosing a good mate.
I work mostly with fruit flies, but I have also done projects with other insects, such as crickets, ants, houseflies, and honeybees, and also with freshwater fish. The questions I like to ask apply to all kinds of animals and humans, so I use fruit flies as a model. Some of the questions we ask in the lab include: Do flies prefer some types of sugars over others? How hungry do they have to be to eat food that they don’t like? Can they count how many food sources there are in one patch of food vs. another patch? When forced to choose, would a fly rather eat or mate? My students have presented their results for these kinds of projects at various local, state, and national scientific meetings.
Dr. Lisa Castle
“What plants can we eat?” “If we harvest more plants, will there be enough to eat next year?” “How do environmental changes affect plant populations and, in turn, how do changes in plant populations affect the environment?” These are the kinds of questions that Dr. Lisa Castle investigates.
Specifically she and SWOSU students are tracking populations of a Cyclanthera dissecta, a weedy vine in the cucumber family, monitoring the invasion of tree of heaven in Weatherford (over 3,573 stems documented near campus), and modeling changes in prairie turnips.
Working with the United Plant Savers, Dr. Castle developed an assessment tool used for setting conservation priorities and students working with her have scored wild harvested medicinal plants using the tools.
Dr. Castle also supervises maintenance of the living plant collection in the greenhouse and curates the historical dried plant collection in the herbarium.
Dr. Rickey Cothran
Our lab studies the evolutionary ecology of freshwater ecosystems. Our research takes us to some very cool freshwater habitats ranging from small springs to large natural lakes and reservoirs. We explore a diverse array of questions at multiple levels of biological organization. For example, we are interested in how natural and human caused changes in the environment affect how sexual selection (i.e. who gets to mate and why they do so) operates in populations, the mechanisms that allow species to coexist in nature, and how contaminants affect the ecology of freshwater ecosystems. To learn more about our research check out our website (http://rdcothran.wix.com/hyalella).
Dr. Amanda Falk
My research focuses on the origin and early evolution of birds, fossil and modern avian behavior, and avian functional morphology. I primarily study early avian behavior through trace fossils (footprints, etc.), and examine modern avian traces for comparison purposes. Through these methods I have recorded the production of important modern traces, including landing and takeoff, and have shown that Early Cretaceous birds (~113 million years ago) showed behaviors that were identical to modern birds.
My recent research has focused on using laser fluorescence to highlight soft tissue structures in fossil birds, specifically the primitive bird Confuciusornis. Confuciusornis is an early bird that has many unique features; my aim is to shed light on the life habit, flight mechanics, and functional morphology of this primitive bird.
Dr. Andrea Holgado
The long-term goal of our research is to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal communication in health and disease. Currently, our primary focus is to investigate the interplay between proteins regulating membrane fusion and those controlling neurodevelopment. The latest models of neuronal development suggest that the intracellular membrane fusion machinery plays an essential role in proper neuronal development and connectivity. Thus, our current job is to decipher how neurons develop to establish functional and viable synapses. For more information about our research and team, please visit http://www.swosu-neuroscience.org.
Dr. Steven O’Neal
My research interests center on algae. Phytoplankton algae and filamentous algae are the primary producers providing most of the organic chemical energy and oxygen to support aquatic (marine and freshwater) food webs. They are major players in the planets biosphere. In fact, over 50% of the oxygen your are breathing right now comes from algal photosynthesis
In recent years, my research is directed toward advancing our scientific understanding of filamentous algae, especially our understanding of factors and adaptations that effect growth and survival of these organisms. Filamentous algae often form dense stands or floating mats that provide structure to shallow water areas. The mat structure may affect the alga’s microenvironment through self-shading. This structure may provide refuges from predators and microhabitats for a range of small aquatic animals. I have also been studying Crowder Lake, a small impoundment in western Oklahoma and investigating the effects that the semi-arid climate and flooding events have on the reservoir system. I am also interested in the environmental impacts on aquatic primary producers including nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) released in wastewater treatment plant effluent into a local stream. One of my recent projects involves determining the impact of UVB radiation on growth of several species of filamentous algae and whether these organisms produce UVB protective compounds.
Dr. Eric Paul
Staphyloccocus aureus is a benign microbe living in the nose and on the skin of approximately 1/3 of the human population. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a predominantly hospital acquired pathogen that is recently seen with increasing frequency in the community. Our lab looks at the spread of the community acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) vs. hospital acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA) in the student populations and their pathogenicity.
In addition to MRSA research, my laboratory investigates microbial pathogenicity under microgravity: Previous experiments done in our lab showed that microbes exposed to microgravity exhibited greater motility than the control static cultures. Both E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa exhibited increased motility indicating increased virulence. We also showed that two strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA01 and PA14) caused necrosis in tissue using lettuce leaves. We now plan to observe host cell response when challenged with normal and micro-gravity grown bacterial cultures.
Dr. Denis Trubitsyn
I work on magnetotactic bacteria, a diverse group of microorganisms that produce nano-sized membrane coated magnetic particles termed magnetosomes. The details of the process of magnetosome formation are yet to be understood, and I am investigating the role of specific proteins that are involved in this complex phenomenon. These bacteria are known to be difficult to manipulate genetically, and I am developing methods that allow site directed mutagenesis to study functions of specific genes by creating knock out mutants. I am also interested in the next generation sequencing to investigate evolution of magnetosome formation genes. The question is whether these genes have evolved as a part of the overall genome or as a separate cluster that has been recently acquired via horizontal transfer.
In addition I would like to work on magnetosome protein localization. A number of specific proteins have been shown to become concentrated within the part of membrane that surrounds magnetic crystal. What remains unknown is the mechanism and stage at which proteins that are involved in magnetosome formation localize in the membrane vesicle surrounding the crystal.