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Research

What is mentored research?
Research Topics
Research Labs

About Mentored Research
Mentored Research involves working directly with a faculty member on a specific research project. These research experiences will help you deepen your understanding of biological principles while simultaneously building a strong resume. Together these will enable you to be successful, whether your pathway leads you to professional school, graduate programs, government work or even career not directly related to biology.

Getting Involved
We strongly encourage all of our majors to get started with mentored research as soon as they are able. The first step is to find what sparks your curiosity and find a professor who shares it. Professors have dedicated a large part of their lives to research, and enjoy few things more than passing their skills and passion to new students. Most professors are extremely busy, so spend some time reading up on their research before you contact them. A little preparation goes a long way, and it pays to be proactive and put forth the initial effort. You can find professors' contact information here.

Funding
Not all labs will have immediate funding to support all the interested undergraduates. However, Mentored Research (Bio494R) or Introduction to Mentored Research (Bio194) are excellent ways to get started in a lab. Often a professor will eventually pay students helping them with research. In some rare cases, professors don't provide financial compensation. One remedy is the College Undergraduate Research Awards (CURA). These are grants given exclusively to undergraduate students to help foster and encourage research. More information is available at http://lscura.byu.edu.

Explore the various topics studied within the department and see a list of faculty who do research in that area.
Ecology
Evolution
Education
Entomology
Plant Biology
Biodiversity/ Conservation
Bioinformatics/ Genetics

Ecology is the study of how living organisms, including humans, interact with each other and their physical environment. Students and faculty in the Biology Department study the ecology of organisms at multiple levels or organization; from individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems, to the entire biosphere (global ecology). The study of ecology intersects with several closely related fields, including biogeography, biodiversity, evolutionary biology, developmental biology, physiology, genetics, animal behavior, geology, biochemistry, anthropology, and paleontology.

Currently, the Earth is being transformed at a high rate and in unprecedented ways. Human activities are causing widespread habitat loss and degradation, pollution, invasive species, land-use changes, and climate change. Human health and welfare depend on our ability to understand and mitigate these changes. Thus, the study of ecology has become one of the most critical and dynamic fields in all of the biological sciences.

Do we really need more ecologists? Yes! Fundamental principles of ecology are used to inform applications and careers in conservation biology, conservation genetics, wetland management, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, wildlife management, urban planning and human ecology, community health, emerging infectious diseases, epidemiology, and economics.

As the Earth faces mounting pressure to meet the needs of our growing population, people with an understanding of ecological principals and how to apply them to sustain life will wield the most important skills we’ll need to navigate our uncertain future.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Byron Adams; Evolutionary Ecology, Ecosystem Responses to Climate-Driven Environmental Change; Co-Evolution, Soil Ecology, Ecological & Evolutionary Genomics
Richard Gill; Plant Ecology and Global Change, Marine Ecology
Blaine Griffen; Marine Ecology, Behavioral Ecology, Physiological Ecology, Population and Community Ecology
Jerry Johnson; Evolutionary Ecology, Behavioral Ecology
Roger Koide, Plant Ecology, Fungal Ecology, Soil Microbial Ecology, Microbiome Ecology
Riley Nelson; Freshwater Ecology
Steve Peck; Theoretical Ecology, Movement Ecology
Russell Rader; Aquatic Ecology

Evolutionary Biology is a sub-discipline in Biology that studies the forces that shape earth's variety of life forms, or biodiversity. There are several different forces or mechanisms that drive evolution. Natural selection is one of these major forces (and perhaps the most well-known), but there are others, including mutation, genetic drift, migration, and nonrandom mating. Collectively, these mechanisms influence how populations of organisms change over time -- how they evolve. One of the central tenets of evolution is that different species share common ancestry. Similar to how a family tree illustrates how individuals are descended from or related to others, the many species that currently live on the earth are related by descent from common ancestors. Evolutionary biology uses morphological (structural features of an organism), ecological, molecular, geographical, and behavioral data to study species relationships and understand what our planet's biodiversity used to be, how it became what it is now, and even make predictions about what it will look like in the future. As the unifying theory in Biology, evolution helps scientists understand more about the living things around us.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Byron Adams; Evolutionary Ecology; Co-Evolution, Soil Ecology, Ecological & Evolutionary Genomics
Mark Belk; Life History Evolution
Seth Bybee; Evolutionary Biology
Jamie Jensen; Evolution Acceptance
Jerry Johnson; Evolutionary Ecology, Life History Evolution
Leigh Johnson, Evolution
Steve Peck; Evolution & Ecology
Steve Leavitt; Evolution
Clint Whipple; Evolution and Genetics of Plant Development
Michael Whiting; Bioinformatics Evolution

Education research, broadly, refers to the study of education and learning. Education researchers may focus on individuals, groups/classes, instructors, institutions and their interactions to investigate how they impact formal or informal teaching and learning. Biology education research is a type of discipline-based education research, where education research is conducted in the context of a specific field (its worldview, knowledge, and practices) and by content experts. Faculty and students in the Biology Department use their biology content expertise as well as training in broad learning theories and pedagogy to inform their biology education research. Discipline-based education research can focus on K-12 education, higher education, or informal education, although faculty in the Biology Department primarily focus on higher education.

Biology education research can answer a broad range of questions using a diverse set of methods. Goals of biology education researchers may include testing specific learning theories and constructing new models of effective teaching and learning in biology contexts, developing and testing evidence-based practices to improve biology teaching and learning, investigating the nature of biology expertise in specific sub-disciplines and how that expertise is developed, studying the experiences of marginalized groups in science and proposing practices to broaden participation and success, and more. Researchers may use experimental, quasi-experimental, observational, or design-based methods, and they may use quantitative and/or qualitative analysis techniques depending on the research question.

Biology education research is an exciting field that allows students to learn more about effective teaching and learning in the context of biology topics they are learning about in their coursework. Students also develop scientific skills such as study design, data collection, statistical and/or qualitative analysis, and written and verbal science communication.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Liz Bailey; Gender Gaps in Biology Education, Reciprocal Peer Tutoring, Course Structures/Assessments that Promote Growth Mindset, and Integration of Math and Biology
Richard Gill; Minority Representation in STEM
Jamie Jensen; Biology Education, Evolution Acceptance
Riley Nelson; Science Education
Josh Stowers; Secondary Education

At BYU we have professors and researchers working with insects and their relatives in all these ways. BYU offers several courses where insects are the exact focus of the entire class and most classes in biology include them or should include them in the general

Entomology is the study of insects and their relatives. Flies, beetles, lacewings, bees, ants, centipedes, butterflies, dragonflies, and earwigs are all fair game for study. Our best estimates show 1.5 million species have been given names, more than all other animals combined. Related estimates are that only 10% of the species of insects on Earth have been given formal scientific names. So much more basic work needs to be done, if only to name them.

In addition to this taxonomic richness, they play key parts in most ecosystems and their inherent diversity makes them model organisms for all biologists in the study of evolution, genetics, ecology, and physiology. An entomologist is a person who studies these diverse animals using morphological, molecular, and behavioral techniques.

Insects are beautiful and many have been recognized in human culture as sources of both admiration and disdain. Consider the paintings, poetry, scriptures, and windshield smashes you have seen, read, or heard.

But wait, on the positive side insects are extremely important as pollinators of much of our human food and provide direct food for humans in the form of honey. Their entire bodies are eaten and relished in many cultures.

On the negative side insects destroy large proportions of the food we would like to eat with our burgeoning populations. Insects also pass on smaller organisms that cause disease for our own human bodies. The diseases they carry can harm the crops, pets, livestock, forests, lawns, and wildlands we cherish.

Insects can be studied for their own sake. Scientists refer to this as basic research. Outcomes of basic research may or may not yield solutions to human problems: the goal here is increasing overall knowledge. And yet those increases might be used later in solving problems. . .

And of course, we need to study insects to discover their roles in enhancing and harming humans. This is called applied research where an exact insect situation is studied with goals to find ways to either control the bad outcomes or enhance the good ones.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Seth Bybee; Entomology
Shawn Clark; Insect Systematics and Museum Curation
Robert Johnson; Plant-insect interactions
Riley Nelson; Insect Biodiversity
Michael Whiting; Entomology

Plant biologists study the many fascinating aspects of green life! As the only organisms with the ability to take carbon dioxide gas and turn it into carbohydrates, plants form the basis of our diets, provide feed for livestock, fuel our modern amenities (yes, coal and oil are just dead plants), make up the fibers in our clothing, give us lumber for building, and are the source of many pharmaceuticals.

Plant biologists are involved in many interesting areas. Plant taxonomists seek to understand the relationship between plant species and often discover new ones. They often also catalog the natural world to help us understand where specific plants are found. Plant geneticists seek to understand the genetic mechanisms by which plants grow and develop their individual traits. Geneticists are involved in helping us understand the fundamental basis of life, and they also do important work developing healthier, more sustainable crops. Plant biologists’ work often overlaps with ecologists, evolutionary biologists, bioinformaticians, molecular biologists, chemists, agronomists, and farmers.

So, whether you are looking to get your hand dirty, work with cutting edge science, or both, plant biology is a great place to be!

Faculty who do research in this area:
Leigh Johnson; Plant Systematics, Taxonomy & Species Delimination
Robert Johnson; Plant Systematics, Floristics, Plant-insect interactions
Roger Koide; Plant Ecology
Clint Whipple; Evolution and Genetics of Plant Development

The incredible diversity of life on earth is invaluable. It is the key to adaptation to changes, creates resilient ecosystems, provides foundational ecosystem services, can broaden our perspective of the complexities of the world around us, and provides opportunities for spiritual growth and connection. While doing research, students are prepared to (1) understand principles that influence biodiversity, particularly those that create and those that reduce it, (2) document and preserve the diversity of life on the planet, in addition to the ecosystem services they support, and (3) develop a more comprehensive perspective of the world around us by considering the range of all life.

Human activities are presently causing widespread habitat loss and degradation, pollution, invasive species, land-use changes, and climate change. These activities have resulted in what is called the “Sixth Mass Extinction”, with estimated extinction rates at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the background rate. Human health and welfare depend on our ability to understand and mitigate these changes. Beyond human health, protecting earth’s diversity comprises foundational ethical and spiritual dimensions. Thus, the study of biodiversity and conservation has become one of the most critical, relevant, and dynamic fields across all disciplines.

Students and faculty in the Biology Department study biodiversity and conservation at multiple levels - from genetic diversity (the variety of genetic information contained in all organisms) to species diversity (the variety of different living species) to ecosystem diversity (the variety of habitats, the species that live in the habitat, and ecological processes). Here, our study of biodiversity and conservation intersects with several closely related fields, including biogeography, ecology, evolutionary biology, developmental biology, physiology, genetics, geology, biochemistry, and others.

Students are encouraged to engage in original, transformative research. With dedicated, passionate faculty mentors, students can explore topics ranging from documenting diversity to improving conservation and management strategies to developing improved educational practices to promote biodiversity and conservation. As we face mounting pressure to envision new ways to protect, promote, and value earth’s biodiversity, people with an understanding of biodiversity and principals of conservation will wield the most important skills we’ll need to navigate our uncertain future.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Byron Adams
Mark Belk; Conservation of Fishes
Seth Bybee
Shawn Clark
Richard Gill
Blaine Griffen; Conservation Biology and Extinction
Jerry Johnson
Leigh Johnson
Robert Johnson
Roger Koide
Steve Leavitt; Lichens, Holobionts, Diversity in arid or extreme environments
Riley Nelson; Insect Biodiversity
Steve Peck
Russell Rader; Invasion Biology, Restoration, Conservation
Clinton Whipple
Michael Whiting

Bioinformatics research has several focus areas including (but not limited to) using machine-learning algorithms to clarify relationships between molecular measurements in tumors and cancer-patient outcomes, building software tools to aid biologists in their efforts to analyze biological data, and identifying pedagogical approaches that enable students to learn fundamental bioinformatics and biostatistics skills. Students in bioinformatics labs work on a variety of projects. Some projects are hypothesis driven and focus on analyzing data (typically from public repositories). Other projects are software focused--students write code and create open-source software. Other projects are experiment-driven, especially using classroom interventions to try new teaching techniques.

Faculty who do research in this area:
Byron Adams; Ecological & Evolutionary Genomics
Matt Bailey; Cancer and Genomics
Seth Bybee; Systematics and Bioinformatics
Leigh Johnson; Population Genetics
Sam Payne; Bioinformatics and Proteomics
Stephen Piccolo; Bioinformatics, Genomics, Human Disease (especially cancer), Data Science
Perry Ridge; Bioinformatics Methods, Alzheimer's disease, Genome Biology, Human Genetics
Michael Whiting; Bioinformatics Evolution
Clint Whipple; Genetics of Plant Development
Edward Wilcox; DNA Sequencing