The Focus Is You

Faculty Research

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 Boggs

Dr. Lisa Boggs

My current research interest focuses on defoliation of Salt Cedar on Washita National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) by Salt Cedar Beetles.  Salt cedar beetle (Diorhaba sp.) have been migrating into western Oklahoma along river drainages coming from the Texas panhandle.  The beetles were introduced into areas of the Texas panhandle with the intent of controlling salt cedar trees (Tamrix sp.) in areas where other methods of control had failed to produce sufficient results or were not feasible.  Although the beetle is an invasive species, it is a welcome one as controlling salt cedar is a difficult task and the tree causes many problems for the ecosystems it invades.  Additionally, the beetles are very effective.  Salt cedar beetles were first documented on the WNWR in northwestern Custer County in May, 2014.  In coordination with the Salt Cedar Beetle Coalition, based in Grand Junction, CO, my lab will be monitoring beetle populations and collecting samples of beetles for DNA analysis.  It is a general belief that the beetles on the WNWR are of mixed parentage, being a hybrid cross between the “northern” and “southern” salt cedar beetles.  After collection, the beetles will be shipped to Texas for further testing and documentation.   Defoliation of the salt cedar takes many years before the tree is killed.  Since this is an ongoing project, we will have many opportunities for students to collaborate on this research project 

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 my laboratory investigates.

Specifically we track 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, We developed an assessment tool used for setting conservation priorities and students working with her have scored wild harvested medicinal plants using the tools.

I also supervise maintenance of the living plant collection in the greenhouse and curate 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. Joseph Frederickson

Joseph Frederickson

My research focuses on the evolutionary and ecological patterns in the fossil record, specifically during the last periods of the Mesozoic of North America. Though Late Jurassic and Late Cretaceous dinosaur communities appear to be relatively well-studied, we know sometimes very little about the organisms that occupied the same ecosystems underfoot, nor do we have a substantial grasp on the vertebrates from the early parts of these periods. Through field and museum research I aim to improve our understanding of the Mesozoic fossil record, as well as better reconstruct the behavior and ecology of vertebrates living during those times. Specifically, I am interested in determining how dinosaurs changed their diet as they grew in size. Using modern animals for comparison, my goal is to look for dietary differences in juvenile and adult dinosaurs using morphological and geochemical data in order to better understand the ecological and social behavior of these species.

Dr. Christopher Horton

Dr. Christopher Horton

My research focuses on understanding interactions necessary for the differentiation of helper T lymphocyte subsets.  Helper T lymphocytes are an important part of the immune system involved in directing and amplifying the functions of other cells including enhancing antibody production and enhancing target cell death.  There are multiple subsets of T cells that each specializes in defense against particular types of infections.  The differentiation processes for these cells is incompletely understood.  I am interested in investigating mechanisms that polarize T cell differentiation towards a specific fate.  A clear and concise understanding of T cell differentiation has implications in generating new vaccines as well as potential treatments for T cell mediated diseases.

Dr. Zach Jones

Dr. Zach Jones

My research focuses on a wide range of ecological issues related to grasslands and the population demographics of wildlife utilizing this vanishing habitat.  In particular, my students and I work to understand relationships between the human land-use decisions we make as a society and the resulting impacts of those choices on native faunal and floral populations.  We commonly study effects of non-native habitat, grazing, fire, urban development, and habitat fragmentation using a combination of on-the-ground field sampling and remote sensing via satellite landcover data and imagery.  While much of my expertise lies within the realm of vertebrate population ecology (especially that of birds and mammals) at local scales, I also perform research at the community, landscape, and ecosystem scales.

Dr. Regina McGrane

regina mcgrane

Like in humans, microbes can be both detrimental and beneficial to plants depending on the organism. The genus Pseudomonas includes bacterial species that can promote plant growth, cause plant disease, or provide resistance against pathogens. Pseudomonas syringae is a well-studied plant pathogen that causes disease on a wide range of economically important crops; its use as a model organism has significantly advanced the understanding of plant-pathogen interactions. In addition to being a plant pathogen, it is commonly found on leaf surfaces without causing disease and is present in waterways, snowpack, and clouds. In these habitats P. syringae encounters a range of environmental conditions. My research interests include evaluating how P. syringae senses changes in environmental conditions and how these changes influence its behavior and pathogenicity. A new area of research that I would like to pursue focuses on understanding the mechanisms utilized by Pseudomonas putida, a bacterium commonly found in soil, to induce plant resistance to infection by P. syringae.

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. Vijay Somalinga


Structure dictates function; a statement that applies to all matter. In biological systems, this statement applies to everything from anatomical to molecular structure. At a molecular level, proteins essential for life processes have a specific 3-D structure. This structure dictates the function of the myriad types of proteins found in all living organisms.

My lab is studying protein structure-function relationship and how proteins affect physiological processes in microorganisms. Our current work is focused on fairly well studied family of proteins called carbonic anhydrases. In particular, my lab is interested in understanding the structure and function of carbonic anhydrases from pathogenic bacteria and amoeba. Specifically, we are trying to solve the structure of carbonic anhydrases from Streptococcus sanguis, an opportunistic pathogen responsible for infective endocarditis and Rhodococcus hoagii, an important veterinary pathogen and an emerging human pathogen. Understanding the structure of these essential proteins will help us in designing inhibitors to treat infections caused by these pathogens. Furthermore, the physiological roles carbonic anhydrases play in these organisms remain unknown. My lab is also interested in creating targeted deletions of the genes encoding for carbonic anhydrases to better understand their physiological role in these pathogens.

Dr. Muatasem Ubeidat

Muatasem Ubeidat

Dictyostelium discoideum is a powerful eukaryotic biomedical model organism to study developmental regulation and cellular signaling because of the ease of genetic, biochemical and cell biology approaches. Upon starvation, single-celled amoebae emit cAMP and migrate toward aggregation centers. This gives rise to a discrete multicellular structure called the "slug". In the migrating slug, the precursors for stalk and spore cells become recognizable and are localized in specific regions. Prestalk cells are located in the anterior 20% of the slug and prespore cells occupy the remainder. The developmental process of this organism depends on environmental and internal signals and can be divided into two phases; the formation of a moving slug from solitary amoeba upon starvation and the switch from a slug to fruiting body that holds the spores, for dispersal, on an aerial stalk. The slug-to-fruiting body switch (culmination) is regulated by ammonia, O2, light and other factors, possibly acting via prestalk tip cells.

Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative bacterium with a developmental life cycle, social behavior and multicellular morphogenesis that resemble the eukaryotic Dictyostelium discoideum. This resemblance between a prokaryotic and a eukaryotic organism can hold key information about the common evolutionary ancestor that between these social organisms and probably their relation to other organisms with similar characteristics.

On the basis of this resemblance, our research is focused on exploring the life cycle of both organisms (timing and morphology) and to study the effects of different environmental factors like oxygen, light, ammonia, cAMP and cell density on the behavior of both organisms during development specially during morphogenesis. Genomic and triscriptome analysis will follow at later stage of this project.

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The Focus Is You