Research Opportunities

Our department offers the scientific resources and caliber of faculty one would expect to find at a large research institution. Recently, the University received a $3.1 million grant to build new state-of-the-art science laboratories in the Biology Department at the NYC campus. In addition to our teaching and research laboratory facilities, the department also has an affiliation with the Haskins Laboratories on the New York City campus. These laboratories perform research studies on parasitic pathogens such as the organisms that cause African sleeping sickness, malaria, and tuberculosis. Whether you are interested in a career in biological research, a health-related profession, teaching, or wish to pursue an advanced degree, our programs will provide you with the necessary skills for success. Our degree programs include Biology (BA and BS), Pre-Health Joint Degree Programs (BS), and Environmental Science (BS).

All Department of Biology faculty members engage in scholarly research with undergraduate students. Many of the faculty have extramural funding and continually publish in peer reviewed scientific journals with undergraduate student authors. A description of each research-active faculty members’ research program and most recent publications (Pace undergraduate student names are highlighted) follows:

Zafir Buraei

For the past 10 years, our goal has been to understand the structure and function of ion channels in health and disease. These are cell membrane proteins that control the passage of ions, such as calcium or sodium, into the cell. Because ion movement gives rise to electrical currents, ion channels are responsible for all electrical signaling in an organism. Indeed, there are only 300 different ion channels, out of ~ 15,000 genes, yet ~25% of all drugs we use today target ion channels. Mutations in ion channels cause neurological, cardiovascular and musculoskleletal disease, such as: autism, ADHD, epilepsy, dystrophy, migraine, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, deafness, blindness, and other disease.

Our studies aim to understand, at the molecular level, how ion channel mutations disrupt normal channel function. We thus artificially express, and then compare normal and mutant ion channel currents in frog oocytes - cells devoid of potentially interfering ion channels. Our results shed light on the molecular mechanisms of disease, and pinpoint the direction for personalized treatment.

Current projects in the lab: 1) Based on previous work (PNAS, 2012) we are studying the effects of several mutations, in calcium channels, that cause epilepsy. 2) We are studying the effects of Presenilin on the function of several channels. Presenilin is a protein that cuts other proteins, and whose mutations cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Future interests: In a series of studies (Biophysical J., 2005; Neuropharmacology; 2007; Neurochemistry 2008) we have previously discovered and characterized the first neuronal voltage-gated calcium channel agonist (drug that activates the channel). We would like to collaborate with chemists that will introduce modifications to this drug, to enhance its potency and specificity. This drug enhances neurotransmitter release and could potentially be used to alleviate the symptoms of several neurological disorders.

Erika Crispo, PhD

There are two avenues through which one can approach me regarding research opportunities. The first avenue is to contribute to the projects that I am presently working on – this could involve lab work, but would more likely involve the analysis of genetic data. The second avenue is to come up with an idea involving collection of data in and around NYC, or from published studies, and work with me to devise exciting research questions, and use statistical techniques to analyze the data.

  1. As of fall 2014, I have a large amount of next-generation sequencing data that needs to be analyzed. The aim of the project is to determine the role of aquatic pollutants in shaping immune response evolution of riverine fish populations. Through the sequencing of Major Histocompatibility genes in fish populations from different environments, we may be able to detect signatures of local adaptation, balancing selection, or genetic bottlenecks. The fish are minnows (longnose dace) collected from several rivers in Alberta, Canada.  Major Histocompatibility genes are involved in the immune response, and research suggests that interplay may exist among fish, their parasites, and environmental stressors. A potential research opportunity involves genotyping the fish and performing population genetic analyses to test hypotheses about the role of pollution on the evolution of immune response.

  2. If you have your own ideas about interesting ecology or environmental biology research that you’d like to pursue around NYC, I’d be happy to help you define your research questions, data collection scheme, and statistical analyses. Please email me with a short description of your research ideas and any background information relevant to your proposed project.

Bill Eaton, PhD

Dr. Eaton has been in academia for 26 years where he has conducted research on microbial ecology projects in the Pacific Northwest, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Central America, resulting in over 50 publications. His projects have been funded through the NSERC and CIDA programs in Canada, and NSF and NASA in the US. He has mentored 40 undergraduate and 10 graduate students in temperate and tropical forest research through these projects.  His research currently is focused on understanding how climate change, land management, and habitat remediation affect soil ecosystems. He primarily works in the jungles of both the cloud forests and tropical lowland forests of Costa Rica, and also does some work in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. His future work will focus on these regions as well as new projected targeted for China. He assesses the carbon and nitrogen cycle dynamics, the carbon and nitrogen biomass levels, and correlates these with the biodiversity and functional diversity of soil fungi, bacteria and invertebrates to develop ecological pictures of the soil ecosystem condition; and determines the ecological drivers of the biogeochemical cycles.

Marisa Isaacson, PhD

Dr. Isaacson started as an Assistant Professor at Pace University in 2013 after completing a one year Visiting Professorship at Vassar College. Previously she worked as a research scientist in the Biochemistry Department at Colorado State University where she focused on the activation of human T cell leukemia virus (HTLV) gene expression by the viral protein Tax. She also completed a post-doctoral study at the Whitehead Institute at MIT focusing on the immunology and de-ubiquitination activities of murine herpesvirus-68, a model for the human virus, Kaposi’s Sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. Dr. Isaacson obtained her Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison focusing on virus entry in human cytomegalovirus and completed her B.S. at Cornell University in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Microbiology. Dr. Isaacson’s laboratory at Pace University continues to focus on the early events in HTLV gene expression including the contributions of the main viral transcriptional activator and oncogene, Tax, as well as cellular transcription factors and co-activators that are also required for efficient viral transcription. She hopes to expand her work to search for novel transcription factors, co-activators, kinases, and phosphatases that are involved in activating HTLV gene expression. Students in her laboratory will have the opportunity to learn essential laboratory techniques such as molecular cloning, DNA electrophoresis, SDS-PAGE and western blot, gene expression reporter assays, cell culture, fluorescence microscopy, protein purification, and more.

Marcy Kelly, PhD

Dr. Marcy Kelly is currently a Professor and the Assistant Chair in the Department of Biology at Pace University-NYC.  Dr. Kelly earned her PhD in 2000 from the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Rutgers University-Newark.  In addition to her teaching accomplishments with undergraduate biology and pre-health majors in the classroom and teaching laboratories at Pace University, Dr. Kelly maintains two active research programs.  Her undergraduate research laboratory work focuses on the interaction between a model organism for tuberculosis, Mycobacterium bovis-BCG, and molecules produced by the human immune response.  Dr. Kelly’s undergraduate research students have presented the results from their work at six national scientific meetings including the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) General Meeting.  Two of her research students have earned ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowships to support their research and several of her undergraduate students have been co-authors on four peer reviewed scientific papers.  Dr. Kelly also has expertise in undergraduate biology educational assessment.  She is currently the PI on an NSF Transforming Undergraduate Education in the Sciences (TUES) grant to study the impact of a year-long, biology laboratory course that incorporates basic research into the biology major core curriculum on student learning.  She is also currently in contract to develop a first year, biology major laboratory manual to introduce students to scientific research.  Dr. Kelly has two publications in peer-reviewed educational journals and she is currently the Research Editor for the ASM education journal, Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.   She also serves as the Lead Facilitator for the ASM Biology Scholars Program Transitions Residency to assist undergraduate faculty with the development of educational assessment manuscripts for publication.  Finally, because of her work in educational assessment, Dr. Kelly has been invited to review several undergraduate biology programs as part of their portfolio for Middle States Accreditation. 

Erica Kipp, MS

Erica Kipp has been teaching general biology, ecology, environmental science, and plant biology for over a decade.  She mentors students in the teaching and research labs and has two main research foci: one is traditional plant ecology and the other is pedagogy.  For her traditional laboratory research, she uses Arabidopsis to study heat stress in plants as a consequence of climate change.  The second area of interest is studying how students learn biology using technology and online learning supplements.   She was honored by the National Association of Biology Teachers with a Four-Year College Biology Teaching Award was awarded the Pace University President’s Faculty Extra Mile Award.  Her most recent grant supports converting BIO 123, a blended course, into a fully on-line lecture and lab by enriching the curriculum with instructional technology and digital delivery systems.

Matthew Marcello, PhD

Matthew R. Marcello received his B.S. in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from the University of Central Florida, and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Marcello’s research focus is on understanding the molecular basis of sperm-egg interactions and egg activation after fertilization. Dr. Marcello uses the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model to understand the genetics of fertilization and egg activation and in order to identify markers of infertility and develop novel contraceptives.

Robert Parks, PhD

My research focuses on variations in concentrations of the hormone oxytocin (OT) in the digestive tract of the male rats. OT has been implicated as a hormone possibly neurotransmitter found within digestive tissues. Specifically digestive target OT concentrations were determined for rats in the following groups: supplied with ad lib water and feed (control group), fasting, fasting followed by food access and fasting followed by food exposure Pavlovian or cephalic phase response. Thus far data suggest that fasting animals have lower OT levels when compared to the ad lib and food exposure groups. When rats are exposed to food following fasting (cephalic phase response) their OT levels are significantly higher than in the fasting animals. Overall the data support different digestive mechanism acting to increase digestive target OT. One mechanism acting through sensory input (cephalic phase response) communicating with digestive targets. The other mechanism acting once the food has made contact with the digestive tract (food access group). Currently data is being analyzed which focuses on the effects of vagotomy on digestive target OT concentration.

Dan Strahs, PhD

Dr. Strahs’ research focuses on understanding the biochemistry of DNA-processing enzymes. His lab studies the enzyme topoisomerase IA, an enzyme of prokaryotic organisms, which manages the supercoiling generated during transcription. Interest in this enzyme stems from the possibility of affecting the host organism. To study this, his laboratory employs both computational and experimental methods to investigate topoisomerase IA. Projects conducted by students in his laboratory have focused on active site mutations, large scale motions in an enzyme/DNA substrate complex, the modeling of homologous enzymes, and the docking of small-molecules into the topoisomerase active site.