Biological Sciences Newsletter

Volume 1, Fall 2015

Science West and East
Axtell Herpetology Collection
Biology Students Study Abroad
Faculty Retirements
SIUE Research Goes to the International Space Station
Axtell Lecture to Celebrate Darwin Day
Top Students Recognized at Honors Day
Student Researchers Awarded Funding
Students Present their Research
Supporting Biological Sciences


Hello everyone. With our first fall newsletter we would like to catch up all our friends and alumni on what’s been happening in our department. This semester we began our third year in our new facilities in Science West. Last year we celebrated the retirements of three of our most senior faculty members, Drs. Richard Brugam, Paul Wanda and Ralph Axtell. This past summer Axtell, and the SIUE Department of Biological Sciences donated approximately 10,000 herpetology specimens to the Texas Natural History Collection at UT Austin where these specimens will be curated and made available to researchers around the world. At the beginning of this year, Dr. Darron Luesse and his students and collaborators sent plant specimens to the International Space Station. We take pride in the activities and achievements of our students and fellow faculty members. Please enjoy learning about some recent highlights.

Science West and East

We are now in our third year in Science West. This new building, home to Chemistry, Environmental Sciences and Biological Sciences, is a tremendous improvement over Science East, our former home. The facilities upgrades include new teaching and research equipment and substantial additional space. Both are a tremendous benefit to our students taking lab courses and working on independent research projects. In our new facilities Biological Sciences has eight teaching labs and 23 research labs, each with its own student office space. We also have spacious prep rooms, equipment and microscopy rooms, a specimen collection room, new animal care facilities and an aquatics lab.

Science East is currently under renovation. Our large lecture hall is already completed and in use. Science East will provide new classroom facilities for all of the sciences and serve as the new home for Math, Physics and the STEM Center. Please stop by to tour of our facilities any time!

Axtell Herpetology Collection

Dr. Ralph Axtell has always been our local resident expert herpetologist here at SIUE. What many may not know is that Axtell is also widely regarded by his peers as one of the foremost authorities on the reptiles and amphibians of the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico. Throughout his career, spanning seven decades, Axtell and his students have amassed an exceptional research collection of lizards and other herps that he curated in his lab here at SIUE. The collection is incredibly valuable to researchers everywhere, not only for its comprehensive coverage of certain groups of lizards, but also for its historical significance. The earliest specimens were collected in the 1950s and early ’60s, some in places where the species no longer exist and entire ecological communities have changed.

With Axtell’s retirement, it was critical to insure that this unique collection be properly maintained and made available to the larger research community. In June of this year, Axtell and the Biological Sciences Department donated this collection, approximately 10,000 specimens, to the Texas Natural History Collections (TNHC) at UT Austin. Dr. Travis LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology, transferred nearly 900 jars of specimens, and volumes of original field notes to the TNHC where he and his assistants have been busy digitizing and cataloging specimens and field notes. LaDuc said that he has already received many inquiries about the collection, and some of the specimens are already making important new contributions to research. “Every time I go back into the collection, I find another treasure!”, LaDuc said. We at SIUE are so pleased that Axtell’s legacy will be preserved in this remarkable collection.

Biology Students Study Abroad

This coming summer, Drs. Richard Essner and Peter Minchin will be leading a travel study course with SIUE students to the Northern Rockies of the U.S. and Canada. Students will learn about the region’s unique flora, fauna and geological history through visits to Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Waterton Lakes National Parks. They will also engage in hands-on field research in national forests of northern Idaho. Travel study courses such as this present our students with unique once-in-a-lifetime experiential learning opportunities.

In May-June 2014 nine of our students visited Panama with Essner and Minchin. Forming a land bridge between North and South America, Panama is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Students visited an array of terrestrial and aquatic habitats across the country, including tropical lowland rainforest, dry savanna, rocky intertidal, coral reef, and montane cloud forest. They observed remarkable plants and animals, including giant tree ferns and kapok trees, sloths, anteaters, and howler monkeys. Students visited Barro Colorado Island and conducted ecological research at La Peregüeta, a private nature preserve. Other highlights included a canoe trip up the Chagres River to visit an Emberá Indian village, as well as a tour of the Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Biodiversity.

Faculty Retirements

Last year three of our most senior faculty members, Dr. Ralph Axtell, Dr. Paul Wanda, and Dr. Richard Brugam retired. Together these three professors have contributed 122 years of faculty service to SIUE! Our department has been significantly changed without their daily presence and wisdom. However, though they may have retired, they have not disappeared. All three have ongoing collaborations and academic pursuits, and they have continued their association with our Department as Emeritus faculty.

Dr. Ralph Axtell—Axtell earned his PhD in vertebrate zoology and paleontology from the University of Texas in 1958. After spending two years as an Assistant Professor at Sul Ross State College in Alpine Texas, he joined the SIUE faculty as a founding member of the Department of Biological Sciences in 1960. At 54 years of service, Axtell is the longest tenured faculty member in the history of our university. Dr. Axtell has served as the Chair of Biological Sciences (1964-1967), the Herpetology Editor of Copeia (1968-1972), and the President of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (1983). He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1968). In 2013 Axtell established an endowment in support of student research at SIUE.

Dr. Richard Brugam—Brugam studied limnology at Yale University where he earned his PhD in 1975. After serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Minnesota, Brugam came to SIUE as an assistant professor in 1978. Some of his most notable achievements include serving as the Chair of Biological Sciences twice (1992-1993, 1996-2002), sitting on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Paleolimnology, and being elected a Fellow of the Illinois State Academy of Sciences (2008), and the SIUE Center for Urban Research (2009). In 2010 Brugam was honored with a promotion to the title of Distinguished Research Professor.

Dr. Paul Wanda—After starting his career as a physics major at Knox College, Wanda earned his PhD in biophysics from Penn State University in 1978. Upon completion of post-doctoral training at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and LSU Medical Center, Wanda joined the faculty at SIUE in 1982. His research touched on a wide range of areas that included cell cycle regulation and leukemia, as well as cell signaling and apoptosis associated with measles and canine distemper viral infections.

SIUE Research Goes to the International Space Station

On Earth, plants use gravity to orient the growth of both shoots and roots. However, long-term space exploration will require plants to grow in zero gravity for an extended period. How will they respond to this environment? Dr. Darron Luesse of the SIUE Department of Biological Sciences is collaborating with Dr. Sarah Wyatt of Ohio University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to find out.

The main goal of this work is to use proteomics (sequencing and quantification of the protein contents of tissue) to determine how plants respond to the spaceflight environment on a molecular level. By comparing the proteins produced by plants in space to those of identical ground-based controls, Luesse hopes to discover how plants cope with space.

In January of this year, the researchers launched petri dishes with seeds on the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station. They were allowed to grow for three days before being frozen. After the rocket returned to Earth, proteins were extracted from the plants and sequenced using a mass spec. Over 300 proteins were expressed at different levels aboard the ISS. These represent new candidates for understanding how plants sense and respond to gravity on earth, as well as potential targets for modification to enhance growth for extended space exploration.

Axtell Lecture to Celebrate Darwin Day

For the past two years the Department of Biological Sciences has celebrated Darwin Day (February 12, Charles Darwin’s birthday) with a special event. This past spring we were fortunate to host Dr. Alan Templeton, Professor Emeritus Washington University, for a presentation titled “Do Biological Races Exist in Humans?”

In 2016 we will be renaming our event the Axtell Lecture in honor of Dr. Ralph Axtell and in recognition of his many contributions to the University and to science. Our speaker for this year will be Dr. Lawrence Witmer, the Chang Ying-Chien Professor of Paleontology at Ohio University and a world renowned dinosaur paleontologist. The event will be held in the Morris University Center Meridian Ballroom, at 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15. The event is free and open to the public. Please join us!

Top Students Recognized at Honors Day

Front Row (left to right): Shelby Markel, – The Michael R. Levy Memorial Award in Molecular Biology; Lauren Brauer – Ella Ott Weisman Award in Biological Sciences and Senior Award in Medical Sciences; Veronica Heintz – Senior Award in Medical Science; Alexandra Zachman – The Dr. Arthur C. Zahalsky Award for Excellence in Medical Technology. Back Row – Dr. David Duvernell, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences; Michael Vierling – Senior Award in Genetics and Cell Biology; Aaron Alexander – Senior Award in Ecology, Evolution and Environment; Robert Fullenwider – Ollie Mae Williams Merit Award; Cody Holmes – The Michael R. Levy Memorial Award in Molecular Biology and Senior Award in Medical Science; Kyle Kirkover – Senior Award in Integrative Biology. Not pictured – Megan Linskey – Phi Kappa Phi Undergraduate Paper Competition, Third Place; Savanna Reeves – Senior Award in Ecology, Evolution and Environment.

Each spring, the College of Arts and Sciences celebrates some of our best and brightest students with a special Honors Day event. Honors awards for biological sciences students are funded by several named award funds, as well as the Biological Sciences fund. If you would like to support one of our Honors Day awards, please consider contributing to one of these funds, or consider creating a new award for our students.

Student Researchers Awarded Funding

The students in our department are among the most research active of any on the SIUE campus. The University provides opportunities for our students to apply for and receive funds for original research projects through two very important programs available campus-wide. These programs provide a great opportunity for our students to experience the creative process first hand, beginning with project conception and proposal preparation and review. We recognize and congratulate all undergraduate and graduate students who earned funding for their research projects in 2015 through the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) program and the Research Grants for Graduate Students (RGGS) program. This year, our students won more than one-third of the awarded URCA grants (4 of 11), and more than one-fourth of the RGGS grants (17 of 60).

URCA awardees:

Zack Ladson
Shelby Markel
Tyler McGowan
Brittany Mersman

RGGS awardees:

Lisa Adden
Sally Ayoob
Branden Bennett
Aubree Dahler
Katherine Dumbell
Sarah Giacomini
Victoria Goodwin
Carly Gridley
Lisa Hebenstreit
Candice Johnson
Angela Laaker
Jill LaRue
Jessica Loethen
Ummul Vara Qurratul Ain
William Morton
Corrinne O’Brien
Rachel Rodgers

The University awards each student $500 for their research project. You can supplement these award-winning student projects with your donation to the Department of Biological Sciences Endowment.

Students Present their Research

An area of pride among our faculty is the wonderful scholarly activities and achievements of our students. We place a great deal of emphasis on providing opportunities for our students to attend regional and international meetings where they can present their work. Students who present typically receive funds from the Department, the College and the Graduate School to cover their registration and travel expenses. We rely on the Biology Department fund to cover a portion of these expenses.

Below is a list of the presentations that our students made at professional meetings in 2015.

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, West Palm Beach, Fla., January 3-7

Fred Cornwell (MS) - The effects of FMRFamide-related peptides on the isolated crop-gizzard of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris.

Seth Griffis (MS) - Sequence comparisons of Insulin−like Growth Factor−1 genes in closely related Anolis (Sauria, Iguanidae) lizards of differing body size.

Kevin Jones (MS) - A comparative study of neuropeptides on the body wall of Lumbricus terrestris.

Tyler McKibben (MS) - The effect ARKQYVRFamide on contractile activity of the isolated pharynx of the earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris.

Larry Werner (MS) - Exploring the overwintering strategies of a cold-water Anuran, Ascaphus montanus.

Kyle Wilm (MS) - A correlation study into the structure-function relationship using FMRF amide-related peptides within invertebrate intestinal tissue.

Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conferences, Athens, Ga., March 13-15

Kimia Kajbaf (MS) - Identification of an unknown Missouri glade Aster species.

Midwestern Sectional Meeting of American Society of Plant Biologists, St. Louis, March 21-22

1Best Graduate Student Poster at ASPB meeting

Veronica Heintz (BS) - Analysis of mutations in geranylgeranyl diphosphate synthase family genes.

Sara Hutchinson1 (MS) - Preparation for proteomic analysis of gravitrophic signal transduction in Arabidopsis thaliana seedlings under microgravity conditions.

Elisa Morales (MS) - Identification of mutations in the gravity persistent signals of Arabidopsis.

Jared Ross (BS) - Analysis of SCP1 in gravity persistent signal 5 of Arabidopsis thaliana.

Michael Vierling (BS) - Transformation rescue of gravity persistent signal 5 with an Arabidopsis aldose-1-epimerase to determine its role in gravitropic signal transduction.

Annual Meeting of the Illinois State Academy of Science, Macomb, Ill., April 10-11

1First place presentation in division at ISAS.
2Second place presentation in division at ISAS.

Aaron Alexander1 (BS) - Estimation of the white-tailed deer population on SIUE campus using three different census methods.

Branden Bennett1 (MS) - Electromyogram (EMG) amplitude analysis of masticatory muscles during mastication versus brux-like/thegosis activity.

Kathryn Carter1 (MS) - Cancer secretome influences the proliferation and migration in human salivary gland cells.

Mary Christensen (BS) - Evaluating long-term Sedum green wall cuttings.

Justin Church (MS) - Sequence comparison of growth hormone receptor genes in closely related Anolis (Sauria, Iguanidae) lizards of differing body size.

Jon Clark1 (MS) - Screening for allelopathic potential in Japanese hops (Humulus japonicas, Cannabaceae).

Noah Dell1 (BS) - Quantifying oak-hickory forest succession in the SIUE Nature Preserve.

Emily Dimick (MS) - A comparative study on pheromone communication between Schizophyllum species.

Katherine Dumbell (MS) - Overexpression of dentin matrix protein 1 in salivary gland cells.

Seth Griffis (MS) - Sequence comparisons of Insulin-like Growth Factor axis genes in closely related Anolis lizards of differing body size.

Samantha Hamilton (MS) – Influence of cancer secretome on proliferation and migration of human salivary gland cells.

Lisa Hebenstreit (MS) - Population demography of the Illinois chorus frog, Pseudacris illinoensis, in Southern Illinois.

Amanda Henderson (BS) - The evaluation of Sedum cuttings as an establishment method on Mid-Western green roofs.

Candice Johnson (MS) - Comparing feeding and jumping behavior in northern leopard frogs, Lithobates pipiens.

Kristi Johnson2 (BS) - Analysis of lateral jaw muscle development during late tadpole stages of gray tree frogs (Hyla versioler/Hyla chrysoscelis, Anura, Aylidae).

Brooke Kottkamp (BS) - Perceptions and misconceptions about climate change: teacher approach.

Jessica Loethen (MS) - Intraspecific variation in tail geometry in three cyprinid fishes covaries with stream position.

Kate Logan1 (MS) - A study of the interactions between Verbesina negrensis-derived extractions and Heliobacter pylori.

Jenelle Mathias (BS) - Giberillic acid eliminates the cold stratification requirement in Stanleya pinnata.

Callie Mincy1 (BS) - Expression of Runt Related Transcription Factor 2 in salivary gland cancer.

Jamila McClinton (BS) – Development of ventral jaw muscles in tadpoles of gray tree frogs Hyla versicolor and Hyla chrysoscelis (Anura: Hylidae)

Ryan Momenteller (BS) - Optimization of culture conditions for Schizophllum umbrinum.

Grant Morton (MS) - Isolation of orchid mycorrhizal fungi from Sprianthes vernalis for subsequent seed germination and reintroduction.

Corrine O’Brien (MS) - Population demography of Gastrophyrne carolenensis.

Alycia Sorensen1 (MS) - Analysis of morphological variation in cyprinids along a stream gradient.

Savanna Stabenow2 (BS) - Quantifying the abundance and distribution of woody vines in oak-hickory forest.

Katie Stoltz2 (MS) - Behavioral responses of plains leopard frog tadpoles to cues from predators and conspecifics.

Raneen Taha (BS) - Students' misconceptions on climate change.

Kayla Tatum (BS) – Long term effects of weeding green roof systems.

Taria Trost (BS) - Examining the role of the SWI/SNF chromation remodeling complex in planarian regeneration and stem cell function.

Eric Westhafer2 (MS) – Genome-wide SNP analysis and morphometric analysis of the black spotted topminnow.

Lucas Winebaugh (BS) - Developing a new technique for measuring drag and lift on benthic organisms.

Jennifer Yu1 (MS) - Endothelial cell matrix-driven differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells.

North American Planarian Meeting, Chicago, September 18-20

Toria Trost (BS) - Characterization of the planarian SWI/SNF-related chromatin remodeling complexes.

Nick Horn (MS) - Evaluating the effects of silver nanoparticles on planarians.

Neuroscience, Chicago, October 17-21

Taylor Delaney (MS) - Kismet affects endocytosis and glutamate receptor localization at the Drosophilia melanogaster neuromuscular junction.

Carly Gridley (MS) - Effects of trithorax group proteins on sympatic vesicle endocytosis & glutamate receptor localization at the Drosophilia neuromuscular junction.

Shelby Markel (BS) - Kismet is important for endocytosis and the localization of the cell adhesion molecule, FAS II, at the Drosophilia neuromuscular junction.

Elizabeth Isbell (MS) - Autophagy affects glutamate receptor localization at the Drosophilia neuromuscular junction.

Supporting Biological Sciences

If you wish to support academic activities that benefit our students, please consider making a donation. Your donation can support student research and travel, guest speaker fees in our seminar series, and student recognition awards at the annual college Honors Banquet. For a full list of funds that benefit the Biological Sciences program and our students please visit

We would love to hear from our alumni! Please visit to find out how to contact us and tell us your news.