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Independent Study and Research/Thesis

Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program (URAP)

What is it?

URAP is a mechanism for organizing the research opportunities in the department of biology and other participating departments.

Why get involved?

Although these positions are typically unpaid you will receive valuable laboratory and field experience, detailed and personalized letters of recommendation, opportunities to present at scientific meetings, and potentially authorship on publications all of which are important for your next career choice whether you plan to get a job, or go on to graduate school or medical school.

Currently Available Opportunities:

Please note this list is not an exclusive list all of the opportunities offered in our department.  
For a complete list of research labs please view our individual Faculty pages.

Title: Research Opportunity in Cell Biology

Research in the Ables Lab seeks to understand the fundamental principles by which cell fate and function are instructed and maintained. In particular, we focus on the role of nuclear hormone receptors in the establishment of cell fate. Nuclear hormone receptors are a broad class of physiologically-regulated transcription factors that are critical for reproduction, metabolism, and stem cell function. Using the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) ovary as a model tissue system, we combine genetic loss-of-function methods and in vivo techniques for visualizing cells in their microenvironment to test how nuclear hormone receptors control cell fate and function. Current projects in the lab include:

1. Elucidating the roles of nuclear hormone receptors in stem cell establishment and self-renewal.
2. Identification and characterization of novel nuclear hormone receptor target genes in the control of stem cell fate and function.
3. Understanding the role of nuclear hormone receptors in germ cell differentiation and survival.

The Ables Lab includes 3-4 undergraduate team members at any given time. Students receive one-on-one training in basic lab skills (such as pipetting and preparation of solutions), fly husbandry and stock maintenance, microscopy, and molecular techniques. Students also participate in weekly lab meetings, where they discuss current scientific literature and present their research findings. Undergraduates with significant contributions to a research project are included as co-authors on publications and travel to regional and national scientific meetings.

Prospective students should send a CV/resume and a short statement of career interests to ablese@ecu.edu to receive an application and reserve a spot on the waiting list. Successful applicants have excellent time management skills, are highly organized, work well independently and as part of a team, and are motivated to learn and broaden their horizons. Undergraduates typically begin in either fall or early summer, and most commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week in lab. Students must have successfully completed BIOL 1100 and BIOL 2300 before beginning in the lab; students at all levels of their undergraduate career are encouraged to apply. 

Parasites as Novel Indicators of Biodiversity

Parasites are a diverse and fascinating group of organisms that can actually tell us a lot about overall biodiversity and ecosystem health. We are looking for student help with multiple projects sampling for parasites in easily collected host organisms like small fish, crabs, and snails. Students will have the opportunity to do field-based sampling at a variety of locations along the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers, as well as at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve – located about 90 minutes from ECU in Beaufort, NC. Beginning in March, 2018, we will travel to the Reserve and collect data from sample sites (both on and off the island) approximately every 6-8 weeks. The Rachel Carson Reserve is accessible only by boat, and students should be comfortable working outdoors under a variety of conditions (rain, heat/humidity, cold, bugs, etc.). 

As part of this work, students will have the opportunity to learn a wide variety of field and laboratory-based skills including: identification and classification of marine organisms, instruction in the use of field-related sampling equipment, experimental design, data collection and curation, fish and invertebrate animal care, dissection techniques, and training in the use of common genetic tools like PCR. Applicants will be encouraged to develop their own projects related to this research, or other topics of interest to the Blakeslee Lab. Interested students should contact Chris Moore at moorech16@students.ecu.edu and attach a CV and a brief statement outlining their research interests and career goals. Proficiency in natural history, or mad skills in boating, trapping/collecting, or fishing preferred, but certainly not required. 

Research Project: Evolutionary Relationships of Assassin Flies

Assassin flies are a diverse family of venomous, predatory insects. This project seeks to describe the biodiversity and elucidate the evolutionary relationships of this understudied group.
Depending on their individual skills/interests, students will have the opportunity to learn basic entomology, museum curation, taxonomy, specimen photography, phylogenetic analysis, database management, bioinformatics, field-based collecting, and molecular techniques.
Interested students should email Chris Cohen at cohench15@students.ecu.edu and attach their CV and a brief statement describing their research interests and career goals. Foreign language fluency is desired (especially Russian or German) but not required.

Venom Biology of ground-hunting spiders

I am currently looking for motivated undergraduate students to assist with research involving the molecular evolution of spider venom proteins. I work with a fascinating group of ground-hunting spiders in the Ctenidae family that lives in the southeastern U.S. These spiders are themselves are not toxic to humans, but they are close relatives to the highly toxic Brazilian Armed Spider (Phoneutria nigriventer). The goal of my research is to describe the venom composition as well as basic venom biology and venom biogeography of these spiders. Students involved in this research will have an opportunity to gain experience with interdisciplinary techniques ranging from bioinformatics analysis, venom extraction, transcriptomics using Next Generation Sequencing, proteomics using Mass Spectrometry, toxicity assays, behavioral experiments, phylogenetics, as well as arachnological sampling techniques.

Interested students are encouraged to contact Jeff Cole with a brief statement of intent via email at coleti16@students.ecu.edu

Project: How much iron do iron-oxidizing bacteria really need?

Iron-oxidizing bacteria are widespread in aquatic systems and can contribute to water treatment, biocorrosion, and contaminant mobility in the environment. These organisms require iron for growth, but iron concentrations fluctuate in the environment and it is unclear how they respond to these rapid changes. Can there be too much or too little? The undergraduate student associated with this project will conduct laboratory growth experiments. They will gain experience in microbiological laboratory techniques, spectrophometric assays, and epifluorescence microscopy. There will also be opportunities to assist in field work if interested. Interested students should send a current CV or resume and a brief statement of research interests and professional goals to Dr. Erin Field, fielde14@ecu.edu.

Project: Crabs and ‘Crobes: Microbial Role in Mud Crab-Parasite Interactions

Microbes can play an important role in host-parasite interactions, but little is known about how they may affect the relationship between mud crabs and the parasites that infect them. The undergraduate student associated with this project will aid in laboratory experiments and have the opportunity to conduct some field work. They will gain experience in basic microbiological laboratory techniques, antibiotic testing methods, DNA extraction and PCR amplification, microbial community sequencing, and mud crab housing in the lab. This project is in collaboration with the Blakeslee Lab and the student will be expected to work closely with this lab. Interested students should send a current CV or resume and a brief statement of research interests and professional goals to Dr. Erin Field, fielde14@ecu.edu. 

Title: Conservation of plants and their pollinators

Do you eat plants? Do you eat anything that eats plants? Of course you do and bees help pollinate more than 75% of our flowering plants and crops. Yet, there is much to know about plant-insect interactions.
We ask 1) what threats are responsible for rare plant loss as well as pollinator decline? and 2) what basic knowledge do we need for rare plants and also for their pollinators to conserve them? We use studies involving work in the field, greenhouse and environmental chambers with techniques in ecology (seed germination, plant growth response, electron microscopy, insect collection and preservation). Of recent interest is how establishment of solar panel farms in eastern NC and elsewhere might use native plants in their landscaping, instead of turf grass and gravel, to enhance insect habitat and resources, particularly of bees and butterflies. Students initially volunteer time in the lab and field; independent projects as well as academic credit are possible after training and acceptance, for eventual participation of at least ~10 hr/wk. Please email your resume, your long-term goals and a brief statement of what you hope to gain from a research experience to Dr. Claudia Jolls at jollsc@ecu.edu.

Community ecology of rock pools

The lab of Dr. Michael McCoy is seeking undergraduate researchers for Spring and Summer 2018 to investigate the community ecology of rock pools. Possible projects include the effects of predator diversity on prey communities, the effects of genetic diversity, temperature and food on growth of various invertebrate species (e.g. mosquitos and snails), and temporal variability in predation, among others.

Undergraduate researchers will assist with tasks such as maintaining invertebrates populations, collecting and surveying animals in the field, extracting data from the literature and entering and analyzing data. Researchers should be excited to work in both lab and outdoor conditions. In addition to gaining field and quantitative research skills, students will have the opportunity to sign up for academic credit and complete a complementary independent research project.

Interested students should send a CV and email describing your background and why you’re interested in conducting research to (hammane17@ecu.edu or gordonka17@students.ecu.edu).

 Study of the Evolution of Three-spined Stickleback:

Our lab investigates stickleback color evolution through natural and sexual selection.  Our work focuses on reproductive isolation, with emphasis on function of throat and spine coloration as well as the evolution of female display traits.
Student assistants would begin by feeding fish 1-2 times per week and assisting with enclosure up keep.  Those interested in research would assist graduate students on current projects.  For example; color analysis, histology, and parasite dissections.  All of these opportunities are great additions for resumes and lab work is a must for those interested in graduate school. 
Please send a current CV/resume and a statement concerning why you are interested in working in the lab, to Tyler Bowling and Chris Anderson at  bowlingt16@students.ecu.edu and andersonchr15@students.ecu.edu
Currently we are seeking motivated freshman, sophomore or junior undergrad researchers who are interested in Toxicology research using the C. elegans model. Currently there are three projects available: 1) Impacts of metal oxide nanoparticles on neurological behaviors and its underlying molecular mechanism; 2) The C. elegans model of environmental obesogens, with a focus on fatty acid metabolism and longevity 3) Development of a RNA-mediated strategy in agricultural pest control.

Students will be trained in and gain experience with lab techniques including nematode culture and maintenance, advanced microscopy and phenotyping, histological assays, neurological behavioral assays, and molecular techniques including RNAi, quantitative real-time PCR, DNA sequencing, etc.

After one-semester training, students will have the opportunity to work independently on their own project. Students will also have opportunities to present research findings at local or national conferences, or be primary or co-author of manuscript(s), depending on their role and contribution to the project. Dr. Pan will also provide letter of recommendation and guidance for students to compete for various regional and national awards.

If interested, students should make an appointment with Dr. Pan at panx@ecu.edu for discussion. Visit Dr. Pan’s webpage for details: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/biology/pan_xiaoping.cfm
Currently we are seeking motivated freshman, sophomore or junior undergrad researchers who are interested in Toxicology research using the C. elegans model. Currently there are three projects available: 1) Impacts of metal oxide nanoparticles on neurological behaviors and its underlying molecular mechanism; 2) The C. elegans model of environmental obesogens, with a focus on fatty acid metabolism and longevity 3) Development of a RNA-mediated strategy in agricultural pest control.

Students will be trained in and gain experience with lab techniques including nematode culture and maintenance, advanced microscopy and phenotyping, histological assays, neurological behavioral assays, and molecular techniques including RNAi, quantitative real-time PCR, DNA sequencing, etc.

After one-semester training, students will have the opportunity to work independently on their own project. Students will also have opportunities to present research findings at local or national conferences, or be primary or co-author of manuscript(s), depending on their role and contribution to the project. Dr. Pan will also provide letter of recommendation and guidance for students to compete for various regional and national awards.

If interested, students should make an appointment with Dr. Pan at panx@ecu.edu for discussion. Visit Dr. Pan’s webpage for details: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/biology/pan_xiaoping.cfm

Genetic underpinnings of mimicry and color pattern evolution

I am searching for an undergraduate student to carry out research associated with an National Science Foundation (NSF REU) supported project focused on the genetic underpinnings of mimicry and color pattern evolution in a mimetic radiation of poison frogs in Peru (see description below), in the summer of 2018. Desirable qualifications for this position include an interest in the evolutionary biology and genetics of tropical amphibians, and some combination of 1) coursework or experience in evolutionary biology and genetics, 2) experience working in a molecular genetic laboratory, 3) previous work with captive animals (especially amphibians), 4) coursework or experience in bioinformatics or genomics. The position will involve care and maintenance of a captive colony of tropical frogs, monitoring of breeding activity and care of developing tadpoles, collection of samples for genetic and histological analyses, labwork in a molecular genetic laboratory, and computer-based data analyses. The successful applicant will receive a stipend and funds for expenses for 3 months (mid-May through mid-August).
 
The Department of Biology at ECU is large and multidisciplinary, with strong research groups in evolution, ecology, behavior and genomics: see www.ecu.edu/biology for more information. I encourage applications from minorities and under-represented groups of all kinds. Please send a letter detailing your research interests and experience, as well as a current CV (including coursework and grades), and the names and addresses of two references, to Kyle Summers (summersk@ecu.edu). Please contact me with questions if you would like further information.
 
The evolution of color pattern diversity in the context of mimicry has been a focus of theoretical and empirical attention, yet knowledge of the genetic basis of this diversity remains limited. This research project combines three research groups with complementary skills and realms of expertise to investigate the genetic basis and population genomic processes underlying color pattern divergence in the context of mimicry in the Peruvian mimic poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator: Dr. Kyle Summers (East Carolina University), Dr. Rasmus Nielsen (UC Berkeley) and Dr. Matthew MacManes (University of New Hampshire). The project focuses on four specific aims: 1. Identify key genetic factors involved in color pattern development in R. imitator by investigating differential gene expression across developmental stages and color pattern morphs. Next generation sequencing will be used to produce developmental stage-specific transcriptomes for each morph, which will be assembled and used to investigate patterns of differential gene expression. 2. Identify the causal gene(s) underlying differences in color pattern between morphs using genome-wide marker arrays (exome capture sequences) to screen transition zone samples and enable admixture mapping. 3. Test the association of specific candidate loci with color pattern using pedigree analyses of candidate genes identified from Aims 1 and 2, using a multigenerational pedigree. 4. Test specific hypotheses regarding selection and demographic processes in the transition zones and between mimics and models. Together these complementary, mutually reinforcing approaches will begin to reveal the genetic underpinnings and population genomics of color pattern diversity in this mimetic radiation of poison frogs.