Research Opportunities

The New York City Biology departments offers the scientific resources and caliber of faculty one would expect to find at a large research institution

Our department offers the scientific resources and caliber of faculty one would expect to find at a large research institution. 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).

Recently, the University received a $3.1 million endowment to build new science laboratories and construction of state-of-the-art facilities is well underway. In addition to our teaching and research laboratory facilities,the department is affiliated with the Haskins Laboratories on the New York City campus. The Haskins Laboratories is the recipient of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant. Students work alongside professors to conduct research studies on parasitic pathogens such as the organisms that cause African sleeping sickness, malaria, and tuberculosis.

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 follows.

Eric Brenner, PhD

My research group is working to better identify and understand the signals that regulate plant movement using time lapse photography combined with molecular genetic analysis in the model plant species, Arabidopsis.  In particular we are studying the molecular genetics of gravitropism (movement of plant flowering shoots away from gravity) and circumnutations (the back and forth swaying found in all plants).  To do this we have developed in app, Plant Tracer, that enables researchers to quantify the movement of plant videos using their cell phones.  Plant Tracer is being used in a crowd sourced student mutant screen to identify the genes involved in shoot gravitropism and circumnutation.

In addition, my research group is also interested on better understanding the growth behavior of two non-native invasive plants that are supplanting native species in North America.  This includes bamboo and Japanese stilt grass.  This project involves both lab and field work examining the population structure in the field using molecular tools in the lab as well as time-lapse photography.

Zafir Buraei, PhD

For the past ten 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

Dr. Crispo is interested in conservation biology, the evolution of wild animal populations, and application of evolutionary biology to solve practical problems. She uses genetic tools to understand how we can manage threatened populations. Some of her past and current research projects involve:

1. Using DNA barcoding to identify shark species sold at NYC markets, with the goal of public awareness that they may be inadvertently purchasing endangered or threatened species, and ultimately curbing the sale and consumption of these species.

2. Comparing the expression of stress response genes in Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) to understand how environmental conditions impact wild versus restoration populations, with the intention of being able to inform restoration practices about the adaptation of different oyster strains.

3. Meta-analysis to reveal best practices in restoration science for long-term persistence of managed populations. Our study determined that, on average, conservation projects that aimed in increase genetic diversity in restoration populations yielded the best long-term results.

4. Understanding the molecular basis of adaptation to hypoxia in fish (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor), using a variety of tools including population genetic analyses to identify barriers to gene flow among populations from different oxygen regimes, quantifying epigenetic variation between fish raised under high- and low-oxygen conditions, and determining hypoxia’s effect on gene expression. A long-term outcome of this work might be the possibility of genetically engineering fish that are better able to withstand the hypoxic conditions that are becoming more widespread due to human activities.

Bill Eaton, PhD

Professor Eaton has been in academia for 32 years where he has conducted research on aquatic animal infectious diseases for 14 years, and for the past 17 years has been conducting research on microbial ecology projects in the Pacific Northwest, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Central America. Collectively, this has resulted in 54 publications in print, and 4 more in review. He has received grant funding from both the NSERC and CIDA programs in Canada, and NSF, USDA, and NASA in the US. Most recently, he has mentored 47 undergraduate research students, 3 MSc graduate research students, and 1 PhD research student 10 graduate students conducting research on tropical forest soil microbial ecology. He has primarily worked in the jungles of Belize, and both the cloud forests and tropical lowland forests of Costa Rica, but has also conducted some research work in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. His research is focused on understanding how climate change, land management and other disturbances, and habitat remediation affect soil ecosystems. For this work, he links the differences in the soil carbon and nitrogen cycle dynamic activities and the soil microbial biomass levels, to the differences in the biodiversity, functional diversity, and community structure of soil fungal, bacterial and invertebrate populations (as determined by Next Generation DNA Sequencing techniques) among and between habitats to develop ecological pictures of the soil ecosystem condition, and develops models to determine what the ecological drivers of the biogeochemical cycles might be. He takes undergraduate research students to the jungles of Costa Rica each year to conduct research with him as part of his BIO 301 course (Tropical Ecosystem Assessment).

Professor Eaton’s Two Main Current Project Areas:

1. Effects of Poor Land Management and Restoration Ecological Practices on Cloud Forests Habitat Soil Ecosystems in Monteverde, Costa Rica

2. The Effects of a Hurricane on the Soil Ecosystems Within a Humid Tropical Forest in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica.

Marcy Kelly, PhD

Dr. Kelly is currently a Professor and 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 nine national scientific meetings including the American Society for Microbiology’s (ASM) Microbe.  Four 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 six peer reviewed scientific papers. Dr. Kelly also has expertise in undergraduate biology educational assessment.  She has four publications in peer reviewed education journals, is a Senior Research Editor for the ASM education journal, Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.  Dr. Kelly has published a biology laboratory manual entitled, “Fundamentals of Scientific Research: An Introductory Laboratory Manual”.  She has received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund both her laboratory and education research endeavors.  Dr. Kelly was invited to become a Partnership in Undergraduate Life Sciences Education (PULSE) Fellow in 2016.  In this capacity, Dr. Kelly works with biology departments throughout the United States to help them adopt evidence-based teaching practices in line with the recommendations in the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences and NSF document, “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Life Sciences Education: A Call to Action”.

Matthew Marcello, PhD

Matthew R. Marcello received his BS in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from the University of Central Florida, and his PhD 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.

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.