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Department ofBiology

Funding Opportunities

Research Opportunities

Faculty Research Projects

Faculty  Biochem Genetics &
& Microbio
Ecology Evolution Field
Bayless   x x       x  
Cocas x x x          
Dahlhoff x   x x x x x  
Edgerly-Rooks x   x x x x    
Guiton x x x   x   x  
Hart       x   x    
Islas x x            
Korsmeyer x x x         x
McCully x x         x  
Miller   x x          
Sabatier     x         x
Sandel       x x x x  
Saxton     x          
Stephens   x x   x   x  
Whittall x x x x x x x  


Characterizing the proteins that influence the function of motile cilia

Brian Bayless, Ph.D. | Bayless Research Lab

Motile cilia undulate rapidly to move extra-cellular fluid in the human body. This is an essential process for circulating the cerebral spinal fluid in the brain, clearing mucus from the airway, and even moving eggs along the Fallopian tubes. In the Bayless lab we use the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila as a model organism to better understand how the structure of motile cilia affects and informs its ability to move extracellular fluid.

Developmental Neurobiology and evolution of the brain

Laura Cocas, Ph.D. | Cocas Research Lab

Our laboratory is interested in the fundamental programs that regulate neural circuit formation in the developing brain. We study this by: ​

  • Examining the role of neuronal activity in synapse formation and myelination in the murine forebrain
  • Determining how synaptic activity affects neural development and myelination, using synaptic adhesion proteins to perturb synaptic function
  • Studying how synapse formation and myelination changes in a model of epilepsy

Examining physiological, biochemical and genetic mechanisms by which animals respond to environmental change.

Elizabeth Dahlhoff, Ph.D.

​Work in my research laboratory focuses on examining physiological, biochemical and genetic/genomic mechanisms by which animals respond to environmental change. We take a “molecules to ecosystems” approach to address fundamental questions: Why do organisms live where they live, and how do they do so? What causes populations to remain stable, grow, fluctuate in size, or go extinct? How does the physical environment, the presence of predators, the genetic properties of a population and the abilities of individuals to adapt to the environment all influence their distribution and abundance? As ecosystems experience rapid climate change, it is imperative to understand and address these questions in vulnerable natural populations.

Behavior and ecology of insects

Janice. Edgerly-Rooks, Ph.D. | Edgerly-Rooks Research Lab

I investigate questions about the behavior and ecology of insects. I have studied treehole mosquitoes, embiids (webspinning insects) and tent caterpillars. Presently, my students and I are concentrating our attention on the little known group of insects, the embiids (Order Embiidina or Embioptera). I'm working with colleagues at the University of New Mexico and the University of California Riverside on the evolution of silk spinning in embiids.

Life cycle of the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii

Pascale Guiton, Ph.D. | Guiton Research Lab

Work in my laboratory aims to uncover novel differentiation and virulence determinants of Toxoplasma gondii, a very common parasite of medical and veterinary importance worldwide. We investigate the molecular regulation of gene expression during Toxoplasma development and the pathogenic processes that occur at the host-pathogen interface in the intestines. To learn more, visit

Impact and recovery of the rocky intertidal ecosystem from Sea Star Wasting disease

Dawn Hart, Ph.D.

I investigate questions about the impact of biotic and abiotic factors on the rocky intertidal ecosystem off of the coast of Northern California. Work in my laboratory is a combination of field studies and laboratory work and takes place primarily during the summer months.

The biochemistry of DNA polymerases in response to DNA damage or DNA breaks

Angel Islas, Ph.D.

Our lab studies the role of DNA polymerases on damaged or discontinuous DNA/RNA templates. We examine a variety of DNA polymerases including human DNA polymerases and telomerase; eubacterial and archaeal DNA polymerases; and viral replicases and reverse transcriptases. The work addresses questions on the origin of mutations and the mechanisms of viral replication in humans.

Teach Biotech support

Katy Korsmeyer, Ph.D.

Work in my lab is centered around support of K-12 schools and working with community programs to strengthen science education. The Santa Clara County Biotechnology Education Partnership (SCCBEP) program was formed by teachers in 1992 to support hands-on lab curricula in local schools and to provide teachers with professional development in biotechnology and molecular biology. Our 13 mobile kits and engaging curricula have supported the growth of biotechnology electives, pathway programs, ROP, and CTE programs and forensics electives throughout the Bay Area and the country. Many of the reagents, materials and equipment were donated by generous companies to enable hands-on biotech labs to be accessible to all K-12 students.

Studying protein structure, dynamics, and function to design better proteins

Michelle McCully, Ph.D. | McCully Research Lab

How does a protein’s structure affect its internal dynamics and function? Can we specifically modify a protein’s structure to change its dynamics and function in an intentional manner? The McCully Lab uses tools from molecular biology, biochemistry, and computational biology to investigate these questions.

How cell fates are specified and executed during development

Leilani Miller, Ph.D.

The long-term objective of my research is to contribute to our understanding of how cell fates are specified during development. The free-living soil nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, is an excellent model system in which to study cell fate. Its amenability both to genetics and molecular biology, in addition to the fact that its complete cell lineage and genome sequence are known, make it an ideal choice for genetic, molecular, and cellular approaches to the analysis of development.

How neuronal circuits impact behavior

Christelle Sabatier, Ph.D.

Research in the lab focuses on exploring the connection between neuronal circuits and behavior in the model organism C. elegans. Students who join the lab participate in open inquiry research. They articulate their own experimental questions and associated hypotheses based on literature analysis and laboratory observations. They design their own experiments through an iterative process of design, prediction, experimentation, analysis and redesign. At all stages of their project, they communicate their goals and interpretations. Students at any level are capable of succeeding if they are interested. All students move through this process at their own pace and seek out mentorship based on their individual needs. Success in the lab is based on the journey rather than an end-goal. Everyone who commits their time to this process will have a story to tell at the end of the day. As students continue to tackle thorny problems beyond Santa Clara University, they will employ the skills they developed on their journey--resilience, critical thinking skills, communication skills, and self-awareness of their own strengths.

How changing climate, land use, and species introductions drive ecological change

Brody Sandel, Ph.D. | Sandel Research Lab

Humans have dramatically changed Earth's lands, waters and atmosphere. I study how these changes impact ecosystems using a combination of field studies, massive biodiversity databases and satellite measurements. I work mainly on plants because these are the foundations of most ecosystems, but I am also interested in mammals and birds. I also try to understand long time-periods to get a better perspective on current changes. For example, a number of my projects have looked at climate change since the Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 years ago), or patterns of plant evolution over tens of millions of years. Finally, because I am often working on complex and large datasets, my work often involves collaborations with computer scientists to develop improved analytical algorithms.

How social determinants of health affect our biology

Katherine Saxton, Ph.D.

How do social environments become biologically embedded to affect health and disease? My research combines social epidemiology and the biology of stress to explore the ways in which experiences during critical periods of development can shape health trajectories and interact with later exposures to shape health outcomes. My research focuses on the ways in which social determinants of health affect our biology, including inflammatory and metabolic processes, the endocrine responses to stress, and gestational outcomes, all of which influence and predict a wide range of diseases. I am interested in questions such as: Can environmental interventions reduce the harmful effects of early life adversity? How do prenatal and postnatal environments influence inflammatory and metabolic outcomes? I am particularly interested in the environmental and social circumstances which can produce vulnerability or resilience, as well as the biological mechanisms responsible for behavioral and health outcomes, in order to identify opportunities for intervention.

Antibiotic resistance in commensal and pathogenic bacteria associated with humans

Craig Stephens, Ph.D.

My research is focused on genomic analysis of the acquisition and evolution of antibiotic resistance in commensal and pathogenic bacteria associated with humans, particularly E. coli. Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem, and understanding how potential pathogens acquire resistance is of biological, epidemiological, and medical significance.

Evolutionary patterns underlying angiosperm diversification

Justen Whittall, Ph.D.

My lab is focused on describing macroevolutionary patterns and microevolutionary processes underlying angiosperm diversification. We use modern phylogenetic comparative methods, experimental evolutionary ecology, and quantitative genetics to test evolutionary hypotheses. Some of the guiding questions are:

  • Is evolution predictable? Does it proceed in repeated directions across the tree of life?
  • What is the molecular basis for convergent evolution?
  • How does pleiotropy constrain the genes involved in adaptation and speciation?