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Heather Wheeler

Professor

Disciplines

  • Biology
  • Computer Sciences

Research Interests

  • Genome-wide analyses of the past few years have revealed that a substantial portion of the genetic control of complex traits is exerted through the regulation of gene expression. Much of the genetic variation associated with complex traits falls outside the protein coding regions of genes. Mechanistic understanding of how this variation contributes to phenotype is lacking, but gene regulation is thought to play a major role. We develop and apply methods that fully harness gene regulation within complex trait association and prediction studies.

Howard Laten

Professor

Disciplines

  • Biology

Research Interests

  • Our investigations are focused on 1) the characterization of plant retrotransposons and 2) DNA barcoding of the U.S. seed bank collection.  Retrotransposons are a class of repetitive genetic elements embedded in the genomes of their hosts.  They are the most abundant kind of DNA in the genomes of virtually all plants and animals.  In many plants and some animals, including humans, they constitute more than 80% of chromosomal DNA.  They are capable of self-replication and utilize the enzyme reverse transcriptase to sponsor the replication of their small genomes.  Unlike their retrovirus cousins, they are non-infectious and are transmitted from one generation to the next through the germ-line.  Once considered by many molecular geneticists to be pesky genetic parasites and dubbed "selfish DNA", they are now considered to play major roles in chromosome transmission, gene expression, mutation, epigenetic regulation, genome rearrangement, and the evolution of species.  They may more appropriately be called evolution-inducing symbionts. We are cataloging their distribution and studying how they impact on the evolution of plants and plant genomes.  We are also focused on determining the function of a gene found in several plant retrotransposon families that resembles the envelope protein found in mammalian viruses, including retroviruses like HIV.   On an unrelated project, we are collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in their efforts to confirm the species identification of their massive legume seed repository using DNA barcoding technology.  We are using both experimental and bioinformatics approaches to explore these questions in the genomes of legumes, specifically soybean and clover.

Joseph Milanovich

Faculty Member

Disciplines

  • Biology

Research Interests

  • My primary research interests focus on understanding the effect of land use and climate change on, and the ecological role of, communities – in both natural and urban ecosystems.  My primary goal is to help understand the importance of biotic communities to ecosystem function and service.  I have worked with a variety of taxa, but the majority of my research endeavors focus on amphibians in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.  My research is primarily field based
  • however, I utilize a number of computer-based and laboratory techniques, such as species distribution models, ecological stoichiometry, and stable isotope analysis to study community and landscape-level interactions.

Sushma Reddy

Assistant Professor

Disciplines

  • Biology

Research Interests

  • My research covers a broad range of topics related to evolution and genetics, primarily using birds as the subject. To date, these subjects include molecular evolution, phylogenetics, biogeography, diversification, patterns of diversity, and conservation. In terms of evolutionary genetics, my research scope includes divergences within species groups to the entire class Aves, utilizing both genomic-scale data and ancient/historical DNA techniques. My two main research programs involve deciphering the deep branches of the avian tree of life and using genetic data to examine species-limits and diversification across tropical Asia. Additional interests focus on issues of biogeography, particularly the geography of speciation, and biodiversity conservation. In my lab, we use DNA sequence data to reconstruct evolutionary history. We also compare the genetic signal to other aspects such as morphological characters to examine the correlation of genotype and phenotype as well as species ranges to examine gene flow, distributional patterns, and the potential impact of the various geological and climatic changes on diversification.