Biology

Notable Faculty & Student Achievements

June 2019

  • Shellsea Miller ’20 and Lauren Muskara ’20 presented their research on environmental DNA (eDNA), “A Snail out of Water: Hitting the Target on Primer Optimization for Apple Snails,” as a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Freshwater Science in Salt Lake City, UT. Their work uses a molecular ecology application to detect the presence of nonnative apple snails. The research started with SCOPE 2018 and continued through the 2018–2019 academic year, during which both Miller and Muskara completed a number of novel experiments using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction thermocycler in the Keck Molecular Biology Center. This work represents part of the ongoing collaboration between Professor of Biology Romi Burks and SU alumnus Dr. Matthew Barnes ’06 of Texas Tech University.





April 2019

  • Professor of Biology Romi Burks coauthored a paper in the “Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution” section of the open-access journal Ecology and Evolution. This collaborative peer-reviewed publication, titled “Students as Ecologists: Strategies for Successful Mentorship of Undergraduate Researchers,” developed from a special session at the 2018 Ecological Society of America meeting, where Burks gave a five-minute InspireTalk-style presentation on how to continue to work and publish with undergraduates after graduation.





March 2019

  • Professor of Biology and holder of the Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair Ben Pierce presented a talk at the Texas Academy of Science, March 1–2, titled “Body Condition in Natural Populations of the Georgetown Salamander (Eurycea naufragia).”





  • Eight members of Professor of Biology Romi Burks’s molecular ecology lab attended the Texas Academy of Science meeting at Howard Payne University, March 1–2.

    • Hannah Winkler ’19 presented a talk titled “Unraveling the Mystery: Genetic Identification of Nonnative Asian Mysterysnails, Cipangopaludina chinensis and C. japonica,” coauthored by Nicole Kelly ’21 and Shannon Odell ’21, alumna Shannon Walsh ’18, and collaborator Dr. Russell Minton of Gannon University.  
    • Kelly and Odell also presented the poster “Highway to Shell: Troubleshooting Methods of Genetic Detection and Identification in two invasive species, Cipangopaludina chinensis and C. japonica,” coauthored by the same research team. Kelly and Odell’s work highlighted their results from their participation in the 2018 SCOPE Program.
    • Lauren Muskara ’20 presented a talk titled “A Snail out of Water: Apple Snail Detection along Oyster Creek (Missouri City/Sugarland, TX),” coauthored with Shellsea Miller ’20 and collaborator and SU alumnus Dr. Matthew Barnes ’06 from Texas Tech University.  
    • Miller also participated in the Freshwater Science poster session with work titled “Bullseye! Hitting the Target on Primer Optimization,” which illustrated the process of arriving at species-specific targets for environmental DNA.
    • Madison Granier  ’19 also attended the meeting and worked with Dr. Barnes on data analysis for her capstone manuscript.  
    • Esther Nyaberi  ’21 and Kaitlin Galassini  ’21 (future 2019 SCOPErs with Dr. Burks) also attended and discussed eDNA with Dr. Barnes.  




February 2019

  • Professor of Biology and Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair Ben Pierce published a paper in the Journal of Herpetology titled “Frequency and Ecology of Tail Loss in Populations of the Georgetown Salamander (Eurycea naufragia).” The paper was coauthored with former Southwestern University student Daniel Gonzalez ’17.





December 2018

  • Eleven Southwestern University faculty members have won Sam Taylor Fellowship grants to support their research, with award amounts ranging from $1,000 to $1,600. Sam Taylor Fellowships are selected through a competitive application process and are provided by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. This year’s recipients are

    • Professor of Physics Steven Alexander, “Generating Energy from Hot Sidewalks” (awarded $1,200)
    • Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Lamiyah Bahrainwala, “The Politics of Stealth Halal: Re-Presenting the Islamic Origins of U.S. Meat Products” (awarded $1,600)
    • Associate Professor of German Erika Berroth , “Nature Education in the German Classroom: Possibilities for Integration and Inclusion?” (awarded $1,400)
    • Professor of Biology Romi Burks, “Unravelling the Mystery: Genetic Differentiation of Chinese and Japanese Mysterysnails Using 16S” (awarded $1,400)
    • Assistant Professor of History Jethro Hernandez Berrones, “With Indigenist Spirit: Doctors on Spiritual Practices in Post-Revolutionary Mexico” (awarded $1,500)
    • Professor of Anthropology Melissa Johnson, “Human–Jaguar Becomings and Racial Capitalism in Belize” (awarded $1,000)
    • Associate Professor of French Francis Mathieu, “Research on Claire de Duras’s Avant-Garde Novella, Ourika” (awarded $1,400)
    • Associate Professor of French Aaron Prevots, “Gestures toward the Sacred: Guillevic, Vargaftig, Tellermann, Michel” (awarded $1,400)
    • Associate Professor of Communication Studies Valerie Renegar, “Contemporary Modes of Parenting: Disrupting the Representation of Stepmothers in Popular Culture” (awarded $1,500)
    • Associate Professor of Spanish Maria De Los Angeles Rodriguez Cadena, “Cultural Memory and Historical Fiction: Women of the Past on Television and Film by Four Contemporary Mexican Women Directors” (awarded $1,400)
    • Assistant Professor of Political Science Emily Sydnor, “Researching Attachments to American Political Institutions” (awarded $1,600)




November 2018

  • Professor of Biology Romi Burks presented a talk titled “The future of Genetic Engineering in the Chocolate Industry” on the Pro Series Stage of the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA, Nov. 10. The Festival represents one of the largest gatherings of professionals involved in fine chocolate. Burks sought to translate the latest research using CRISPR-Cas9 (a gene editing tool) that sought to increase disease resistance in Theobroma cacao (the tree from which chocolate comes). The talk developed from a case study that Burks taught in her First Year Seminar “Does Chocolate Have a Dark Side?”





October 2018

  • Professor of Biology Romi Burks participated in the first-ever Chocolate Conservatory, sponsored by the Fine Chocolate and Cacao Institute, held at Harvard University, Oct. 1112. The conference sought to link those academically interested in chocolate with industry professionals and producers from regions where they harvest cacao. Following the Conservatory, Burks gave an invited talk titled “Delicious Science” at the first New England Chocolate Festival. The First-Year Seminar Program provided support for these experiences, which Burks hopes will develop into case-study resources for teaching about chocolate across the liberal arts.





  • Professors of Biology Maria Cuevas and Maria Todd received a $12,000 grant from the Joe and Jessie Crump Foundation for Medical Research. The funds will support their current research project titled “Simultaneous Analysis of 84 Tight Junction Genes Involved in Uterine Cancer Progression.” This grant will enable them to expand the scope of their studies and increase the clinical relevance of their research endeavors.





September 2018

  • Professor of Biology Romi Burksgave an invited presentation at the Dallas Chocolate Festival titled “The Scientific Future of Chocolate: Genetics” as part of the educational lineup associated with the event that took place on Sept. 8, 2018. The presentation builds on her development of a First-Year Seminar focused on chocolate.





  • Professor of Biology and Lillian Nelson Pratt Chair Ben Pierce published an article titled “Within-Spring Movement of the Georgetown Salamander (Eurycea naufragia)” in the August 2018 issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology. The article was coauthored with former Southwestern students Areli Gutierrez ’15 and Samuel Guess ’17.





August 2018

  • Professor and Chair of Biology Romi Burks presented a five-minute “INSPIRE” talk (20 slides timed for 15 seconds each) at a special session titled “Students as Ecologists: Collaborating With Undergraduates From Scientific Question to Publication” at the Ecological Society of America meeting in New Orleans, LA. The talk, “’Wait, You Can’t Leave Me!?’ How to Maintain Writing Productivity With Undergraduate Students Post-Graduation,” drew on her experience publishing peer-reviewed scientific papers with many Southwestern students. The text and slides have been archived (doi:10.7490/f1000research.1115925.1) on the F1000 Research site.