On the application, students are required to rank up to three projects that interest them. Projects should be checked for possible prerequisites and/or the amount of computational work involved. Projects may be mentored by a faculty member or a team consisting of a faculty member and a graduate student. Possible projects for 2015 are:
Modeling and bioinformatics projects are ideal for both biology and mathematics/computer science majors.
Dr. Maria Orive, Modeling Evolutionary Genetics
The undergraduate researcher will benefit from a research experience that closely integrates evolutionary biology and mathematics. The student would choose one of two different research projects. The first is a collaborative project (involving scientists at KU, Harvard, Northeastern, and the New England Aquarium) investigating patterns of host-endosymbiont associations. Symbioses between multi-cellular hosts and their endosymbionts are widespread throughout marine and many terrestrial systems. We focus on the well-known example of corals and their photosynthetic dinoflagellates and on developing new theoretical models allowing interpretation and analysis of genetic data for both hosts and symbionts. The second project will investigate the effects of life history stage and clonal structure on the rate of evolution and the amount of evolutionary lag (the difference between current mean population fitness and optimum mean fitness). Developing models that describe how genetic and life history structure affect the rate of evolution is crucial for understanding and predicting patterns of evolution and extinction under changing selective conditions.
Specific activities may include numerical analyses of our models using analytical software such at Mathematica (Wolfram), using computer programming to develop simulations for model testing and parameter exploration, and statistical analyses of genetic data collected by collaborators. The undergraduate researcher will gain hands-on experience in the application of mathematics, numerical analyses, and statistics to questions in biology, and gain an understanding of how theory and data can be linked.
Prerequisite: A course in genetics OR computer programming
Dr. Dan Reuman, Large-scale metapopulation dynamics
The student will use computational and modeling approaches to study large-scale metapopulation dynamics of aphids, plankton, or other groups, and the influence of climate on those dynamics. Climate impacts on ecosystems occur not only through direct effects of local weather on local populations, but also because of the nature of relationships between weather in different locations. Investigations will relate closely to the phenomenon of metapopulation synchrony, in which populations in different areas fluctuate partly in unison. Synchrony has been observed in hundreds of species, as diverse as protists and mammals. This project would be suitable for a quantitatively oriented biologist or a student with a mathematical or biological background.
Dr. Jamie Walters, Molecular evolution and genome biology of butterflies
The REU student will use computational and bioinformatic methods to investigate patterns of molecular evolution in butterflies. Possible research topics include tests of selection on reproductive proteins, proteomic analysis of spermatophores, characterization of transposable elements in lepidopteran genomes, or population genomics of sex-linked genes. A common theme of these projects is that the REU student will be performing computational analyses of existing genomic datasets. This REU position would be well-suited to students coming from either biological or computer science backgrounds. The specific research project will be tailored to fit the interests and skills of the successful.
Evolution projects are primarily lab based
Dr. Justin Blumenstiel and Alex Erwin, Transposable element silencing
Research in the Blumenstiel Lab is highly integrative, bridging molecular and evolutionary biology. We broadly focus on how genetic conflict shapes evolution. Transposable elements (TEs) are parasitic DNA sequences capable of propagating in genomes. Since the movement of TEs in the genome can be harmful, many animals have developed a way to control these elements through the action of small RNA regulators (piRNA). The REU student will use molecular biology and new biotech methods to tease apart the mechanisms of epigenetic TE silencing in Drosophila.
Dr. Paulyn Cartwright and Sally Chang, Evolution of salinity tolerance in an invasive cnidarian
Invasive species are known to have negative effects both ecologically and economically, but many questions remain about why certain species are such successful invaders while other related species are not. The Cartwright lab studies the evolution of hydrozoan cnidarians, and we have begun addressing this question using a cnidarian system. We have started work on the invasive hydrozoan Cordylophora caspia, which is a native of the Ponto-Caspian region now found throughout estuarine systems in North America and Europe. Salinity is thought to be a mediating factor for the invasive range of this hydrozoan, and it appears this trait has a phylogenetic signal for Cordylphora, as different lineages of the species are tolerant of different salinity regimes. The REU student will have the opportunity to help design and run a laboratory project to measure how these different lineages react to being placed in different salinity regimes, and to collect gene expression data in order help us understand what genetic pathways are involved in salinity tolerance. Depending on the progress made and the inclination of the REU student, there will be opportunities to learn bioinformatics techniques for the analysis of large next-generation sequencing data sets. This project will be most suitable for a student with biology background and at least one course in evolutionary biology.
Dr. Jennifer Gleason and Kaila Colyott, Use of sexual signals in Drosophila
How do sexual signals evolve and how they are used to communicate? In the Gleason lab we use Drosophila (fruit flies) species to answer our research questions. Drosophila courtship behavior is intricate and involves a suite of sexual signals sent through multiple sensory modalities (auditory, visual, chemosensory, and tactile). The student will use sexual selection and natural selection theory to try to understand why sexual signals evolve. The student can choose between two projects: assessing if a sexual signal is an indicator of mate quality and characterizing the variability of sexual signal in different strains (populations?) of a species. Both of these projects will focus on the examination of courtship song as a sexual signal and require the student to learn standard husbandry skills, use recording equipment, and work with song analysis software.
Dr. Jennifer Gleason and Paula Roy, Visual signals in Drosophila
Animals use many different types of signals that stimulate different senses to communicate with one another. The Gleason Lab is interested in the evolution of courtship signals in different groups of Drosophila. The proposed project would explore the different senses used in courtship of the Drosophila suzukii and Drosophila takahashii groups, with a focus on visual signals. The student will be involved in observing courtship behavior to identify which signals significantly affect courtship success across the groups. Some use of video and auditory recording equipment may be necessary, depending on senses that the student wishes to explore. There is great flexibility in the project that may be directed by student interest.
Dr. Rich Glor, Lizard speciation
How and why do new species form? Members of the Glor Lab investigate these questions with lizards by combining field studies of animals in nature with experimental studies of animals in a captive colony. Potential REU projects include a diverse range of questions about phylogenetics, speciation, and the genetic basis of species differentiation. Previous undergraduate researchers in the Glor Lab have used phylogenetic and population genetic analyses to delimit species boundaries with genomic data, investigated the role of behavioral divergence in reproductive isolation, and characterized the heritability of phenotypic traits like dewlap color and pattern. Please visit KU Herpetology's research page to learn more about research conducted by the Glor Lab and others.
Dr. Lena Hileman, Genetics of plant morphological evolution
In my lab we study the evolution of flowering plants with special interest in how flowers have diversified through changes in developmental programs. REU students in my lab will work on one of the following two research projects: 1) We are studying the evolution of hummingbird pollinated flowers from insect pollinated flowers in the genus Penstemon. Hummingbird pollinated flowers have evolved multiple times in this lineage and we are studying where, on the phylogeny, these transitions occurred, and how these transitions occurred at the molecular genetic level. 2) We are studying the evolution of flower symmetry across the flowering plants. Previous work from our lab, and from other labs has demonstrated that similar genes are involved in the many transitions from radial flower symmetry to bilateral flower symmetry that have occurred during the diversification of flowering plants. To better understand how these same types of genes could be independently recruited to program bilateral flower symmetry, we are studying how these genes function in species with radially symmetrical flowers (e.g., poppies, carnations, morning glories).
Prerequisite: A course in genetics is recommended
Some ecology projects will involve fieldwork
Dr. Sharon Billings and KJ Min, Global climate change and soil microorganisms
The Billings lab investigates how environmental changes (i.e., climate change, rising atmospheric CO2, erosion) influence the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. Usually, we focus on plants and soil microorganisms, key drivers for maintaining these nutrient cycling. For REU project, we will evaluate the effects of temperature on soil microbial decaying of soil organic matter, releasing carbon and nitrogen. The REU student will address this question through process-based and result-based approach. He/she will incubate soils at varying temperatures, determine microbial enzyme activities (process-based) and resultant generation of CO2, CH4, and N2O (result-based). By conducting the experiment, he/she will understand how microbial responses to temperature will provide a feedback to current nutrient cycling and associated climate change.
Dr. Bryan Foster and Jeremy Forsythe, Forest Community Ecology
Research in our lab explores how plant communities assemble and function with the patterns of diversity that result. We will host a student to conduct field-based research in the context of a long-term study of forest community dynamics at the University of Kansas (KU).
There are opportunities to examine questions of the student's curiosity including succession, tree seedling recruitment, forest community response to exotic insect pests, soil nutrient availability, and dendrochronology. Prior to arrival we can talk about potential projectsthat would be achievable during the summer study period. Day to day responsibilities could be a mix of field work and data analysis (including use of the R software package) based on the student's interests. The forests here are oak-hickory and are particularly interesting as KU is located in an ecotone between prairie and eastern deciduous forest, a region that may be particularly responsive to the effects of climate change.
Systematics projects involve molecular techniques applied to diverse species groups
Dr. Mark Mort, Evolution of oceanic flora
Oceanic islands have long been recognized as natural laboratories for the study of evolution. The Mort lab uses molecular data to infer phylogenetic relationships and levels of genetic diversity among flowering plants from the Canary Islands, especially stonecrops (Crassulaceae) and the sunflower genus Tolpis. These data are supplemented with studies of breeding system physiology and morphology to understand better the patterns and process of the radiation of this flora. REU students will design independent projects that reflect their interests, such as 1) phylogenetic studies, 2) estimating population level genetic diversity and conservation status or 3) assessing breeding system for focal taxa. Many phylogenies of insular plants have been published, but few studies integrate analyses of molecular and biosystematic data to study both the pattern and process of the radiation of these remarkable floras.
Dr. Rob Moyle and Luke Klicka, Phylogenomics
The Moyle lab focuses on three broad topics: historical biogeography, patters of endemism and drivers of diversification, and the evolution of life history traits. We apply these topics of interest to various groups of birds, typically focusing on birds of South East Asia. One such group, Bucerotidae (Hornbills), is found throughout SE Asia and Africa. For this project, we are taking advantage of incredible advances in sequencing technology that permit the collection of large genomic datasets. The REU student will reconstruct the major evolutionary relationships using genetic data and then examine patterns of diversification within the Hornbills. The advancements made in sequencing has greatly increased the importance of computer skills, and therefore a preferred skill for this project is some familiarity/experience with command lines and scripting.