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SURB Research Areas

SURB Research Areas

Students interested in pursuing a career in biological research, science education, environmental science, and biotechnology are invited to apply to join Seaver College's Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Biology (SURB). Research areas include animal ecology, animal physiology, cell biology, marine biology, mathematical modeling of biological systems, molecular biology, and plant ecology.

Click the drop downs below to learn more about each research area and the professors leading it.

  Animal Ecology: Molecular Ecology of Animals Living on the Edge - Dr. Javier Monzón

Research in the Monzón Laboratory focuses on the ecology, behavior, and evolution of animals that are living on the edge. We examine the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of geographic range limits in various animals. We also investigate the genetic differences that arise in animal populations that expand geographically or expand into urban areas. There are two ongoing projects: 1) molecular ecology or urban and non-urban coyotes in Southern California, and 2) evolutionary genomics of an expanding population of the lone star tick.

Read more about Dr. Javier Monzón

 Microbial Genomics: Host-microbiome Interactions - Dr. Leah Stiemsma

Research in the Stiemsma laboratory focuses on host-microbiome interactions. We use genomics tools such as next-generation sequencing and quantitative PCR to analyze metagenomes (genes from many different organisms). We then use bioinformatics tools and regression modeling strategies to study interactions between microbes and their environment and/or host organism. Currently, we have two ongoing projects:

  1. Determining the role of the mammary tissue microbiome in breast cancer development.
  2. Characterizing the soil microbiome pre- and post-wildfire.

 Cell Biology: Apoptosis and Cellular Stress Response - Dr. Jay Brewster

Research in my laboratory focuses on the initiation of stress-responsive and apoptotic programs in eukaryotic cells. The mechanisms through which cells adapt and respond to external and internal stresses are diverse and fascinating. Severe stress can activate a cellular suicide program known as apoptosis (programmed cell death). Entrance of a cell into apoptosis initiates a cascade of proteolytic events, culminating in the destruction of cellular macromolecules, membranes, and organelles by cytosolic and nuclear enzymes. Using mouse cells in tissue culture, we are currently characterizing the activation of cell death that results from abnormalities in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The loss of glycosylation activity during protein synthesis in the ER results in a dramatic apoptotic phenotype. Also of interest to our research group are the downstream targets of stress-activated signal transduction cascades (the genes being activated in response to cellular stress). We employ the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as a model system for stress-activated signal transduction. We have recently cloned and are currently characterizing a set of genes that are activated by the HOG (high osmolarity glycerol response) signal transduction cascade following osmotic stress.

Read more about Dr. Jay Brewster 

 Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems: Models of the Impact of Invasive Species on Native Populations in Southern California - Dr. Courtney Davis

Local ecologists have spent over twenty years studying amphibians, trout, and invasive crayfish in local Malibu streams. They have observed the decline of many native populations due in large part to drought and invasive predators. In collaboration with these biologists, we mathematically explore the impact of drought and crayfish predation on native species and investigate potential conservation strategies. We build and utilize a variety of mathematical approaches to describe these population dynamics and species interactions, such as discrete-time models, differential equations, or agent-based approaches. These mathematical models will be used to predict the long-term effects of California's drought on the local river ecosystem and to mathematically explore how intervention methods such as crayfish trapping affect native populations long term.

Learn more about Dr. Courtney Davis 

 Molecular Biology: Biochemical Adaptations to UV-B Stress in Hylid Frogs - Dr. Thomas L. Vandergon

DNA may be damaged through a variety of agents including exogenous chemicals and radiation. Mechanisms to repair DNA damage are wide-spread and of major interest. We study a DNA repair enzyme known as photolyase, a light-dependent photoreactivating enzyme that is highly conserved in basic structure from bacteria to mammals. The enzyme utilizes blue light energy to repair damage known as pyrimidine dimers caused by low level UV radiation. We examine tissue-specific and developmental expression of the photolyase gene in organisms that experience differing levels of UV radiation. Possible projects include measuring levels of photolyase mRNA or protein in specific tissues during development, comparing expression of photolyase relative to UV radiation exposure, or cloning and sequencing photolyase genes.

Read more about Dr. Thomas L. Vandergon 

 Plant Ecology: Environmental Stress Physiology of Plants Native to the Santa Monica Mountains - Dr. Helen Holmlund

Pepperdine's Malibu campus is nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, providing easy access to a natural laboratory of native plant communities. Our research combines physiological and ecological methods to study plant function within its ecological context. Most research projects will focus on eco-physiological adaptation to wildfire or summer drought. Some possible projects are: 1) the adaptive mechanisms of chaparral species to survive periodic wildfires--seed germination, seedling survival, and resprout success, 2) mechanisms of shrub or fern drought tolerance--stomatal regulation, osmotic adjustment, and resistance of xylem to cavitation, and 3) mechanisms of recovery in desiccation-tolerant “resurrection” ferns.

Read more about Dr. Helen Holmlund