Research in the Department of Biological Sciences

Faculty in the Biological Sciences Department run active research labs that provide opportunities for undergraduate and MS student researchers. Department labs publish in top journals, secure external research funding, and send lab graduates to competitive PhD and MD/PhD programs. You can find a description of the research occurring in the department below.

Ecology & Evolution and Marine Biology

Lambrecht Plant Ecology Research Lab

Susan Lambrecht's lab studies plant physiological ecology, focusing on how climate and other abiotic factors shape variation and evolution of plant functional traits.

Shaffer Avian Physiology and Ecology Lab

Dr. Shaffer's Lab studies the physiological ecology of vertebrates, focused primarily on linkages between energy expenditure, behavior, and life history evolution in free-ranging birds. His lab uses a variety of novel data logging technologies to monitor behavior as well as conventional methods to measure energy expenditure and physiological performance. 

Castillo Vardaro Molecular Ecology and Wildlife Laboratory

Our research combines field, museum, and molecular genetics approaches to address questions in evolution, ecology, and wildlife conservation biology. Our primary research focus is on American pikas and Urban Wildlife.

deVries Marine Biology Laboratory

In the deVries Lab, we study what and how marine invertebrates eat and defend themselves from predators in order to understand how diet and morphology can help shape the ecology of an ecosystem. We further explore how environmental change may alter these relationships. We examine these concepts in coastal ecosystems by integrating tools from animal behavior, stable isotope ecology, aquaculture, genetics, biomechanics, engineering, and robotics.

Larabee Insect Biomechanics and Evolution Lab

Fredrick Larabee's lab studies insect morphology and biodiversity, particularly how mouthpart morphology influences insect ecology and evolution. His lab uses techniques ranging from behavior and 3D imaging to molecular phylogenetics and geometric morphometrics.

Wilkin Fire Ecology & Management Lab

Kate Wilkin's lab investigates how fire interacts with plants, plant communities, ecosystems, and our communities from wilderness areas to the wildland urban interface. We are proud to be part of the NSF Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at SJSU, and are excited to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.

Molecular Biology

French Drosophila Genetics Lab

We study the effects of alcohol exposure on development using fruit flies as a genetic model. Our current projects involve examining the interactions between alcohol and epigenetic regulation of gene expression, as well as the links between alcohol and neurodegeneration.

VanHoven Lab

We are interested in the molecular and genetic mechanisms of neural development and behavior in the microscopic nematode C. elegans.  Specifically, we are interested in neural circuit formation and function of the phasmid sensory circuit.  These studies may help us to understand neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Grillo-Hill Cell Biology Lab 

How does the environment of a cell regulate its behavior? Our lab studies how chemical changes alter cell behaviors. We focus on acid levels, also called intracellular pH (pHi). Cells generate acids as a result of normal cellular processes, and cancer cells are more basic than normal cells. We showed that increasing pH in normal cells is sufficient to induce cancer cells behaviors. Current questions include: How does increased pHi promote cell proliferation? Paradoxically, how does increased pHi promote cell death? How does increased pHi work with oncogenic Ras-signaling to promote metastasis? Which molecules mediates these processes, and how does this occur?


Abramson Immunology Lab (G & UG)

Tzvia Abramson's lab studies the immune responses to mucosal pathogens and inflammatory diseases. In particular we focus on respiratory infections such as whooping cough in mice and gut chronic inflammation in human. Additionally, we use mesenchymal stem cells as a cellular approach for these studies. Currently seeking talented graduate and undergraduate students with interest in immunology research.

Ouverney Lab

Our research focuses on the characterization of emerging uncultivable pathogenic Bacteria and Archaea associated with humans.  Most prokaryotes in natural environmental sites are thought to be uncultivable.  Some of these prokaryotes are also present in humans and have been recently associated with human diseases, such as bacteria in the Candidate Division TM7 associated with the oral disease periodontitis.  More specifically our research interests are to discover the natural sources of human-associated TM7 bacteria and to establish a TM7 bacterium model to further understand its role in the human body. 

Singhal PhAGE Lab

Text: The PhAGE lab uses microbes to study how living things evolve. We focus in particular on viruses that infect bacteria (called “bacteriophages,” or “phages” for short). Our lab addresses questions such as: 1) How do viruses evolve to withstand increasing temperatures? 2) How do viruses evolve to infect new host cell types? Our research has broader applications to the emergence of new diseases, adaptation under climate change, and evolutionary mechanisms in other living organisms.


Rech Environmental Microbiology Lab

Our major project focuses on the change of the soil microbial population in response to decreasing moisture in the Mojave desert. We are using molecular tools to characterize the populations in the soil samples collected along a precipitation gradient. Currently we specifically focus on the genes involved in the nitrogen cycle and we are beginning to elucidate the influence of available moisture on this cycle. In addition we are working with bacteria isolated from the red banded acorn worm. Our major interest is the production of bromoperoxidases by these isolates. This involves the isolation and characterization of the enzymes. 

Systems Physiology

Cargill’s Reproductive Physiology Laboratory

Shelley Cargill’s lab research involves the study of the female reproductive system in mammalian species and how ovarian input influences overall aging. In particular my research involves how transplantation of young ovaries into aged female mice affects overall lifespan and the possible correlation between estrous cycling and increased lifespan in this research model.

VanHoven Lab

We are interested in the molecular and genetic mechanisms of neural development and behavior in the microscopic nematode C. elegans.  Specifically, we are interested in neural circuit formation and function of the phasmid sensory circuit.  These studies may help us to understand neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Wilkinson Neurophysiology Lab

Katie Wilkinson's lab studies the muscle sensory neurons that innervate the muscle spindle and provide body position and movement information to the central nervous system. These neurons are essential for balance and motor control. Our lab is interested in understanding how these neurons translate muscle stretch into action potentials and what causes these neurons to malfunction. 

Ensminger Lab 

Our lab is interested in how the neuroendocrine stress response alters wildlife behavior, physiology, and molecular biology. Currently, we are studying the effects of stress during gestation in wild fence lizards and how that maternal stress alters offspring behavior, immune function, and redox balance.

Huynh Lab

The Huynh Lab studies how nutrients are metabolized and how this contributes to overall health. The way nutrients are metabolized and stored can have profound effects on most physiological processes. We use molecular biology as well as whole body physiology techniques to study how carbohydrate, lipid, and amino acid metabolic pathways are regulated, how they interact, and how dysregulation of these pathways can lead to diseases such as diabetes and obesity. We are particularly interested in how metabolic pathways are regulated by hormones and post-translational modifications.