Undergraduate Research Opportunities
Research opportunities help students develop additional skills not typically offered in undergraduate courses and help the student apply knowledge acquired in coursework to real-world situations through individualized faculty mentorship. These research opportunities also train students to effectively implement the scientific method in laboratory or field studies and to both process and communicate their results. All students are eligible for research support through the Canisius Earning Excellence program. Students participating in research present their work during Ignatian Scholarship Day at Canisius, frequently attend national and international professional conferences with their mentor, and publish in respected, peer-reviewed research journals.
Click on the name of a faculty member below, or scroll to the bottom of this page, for additional expandable information on research projects in their lab.
Research in the Costanzo lab focuses on how interactions with the abiotic and biotic environment affect population dynamics, life history traits, and behavior in mosquitoes. These traits may impact disease transmission by the mosquito vectors, so we can determine how the environment may alter transmission over spatial and temporal scales. We also study a number of mosquito species including invasive and native species to the New World, which allow us to determine how their responses vary, along with the impacts invasive species may have on the native community. The studies performed in my lab include field studies and laboratory studies working with both the aquatic immature larval stage and the terrestrial adult stage.
Another area of research we perform is the effects of human activities on aquatic invertebrate communities. Specifically, we are investigating the impacts of road salt and petroleum on communities residing in roadside ditches retaining water. These studies will provide insight to how vehicular activities impact aquatic communities including mosquitoes, which inhabit these ditches.
In addition to the collaborative research involving the examination of natural steroid defenses in higher plants (see keeping the food supply safe), Dr. Grebenok’s lab also investigates the steroidal regulation of the photosynthetic process and the plants use of steroids as signaling molecules throughout their growth and development.
The examination of steroidal regulation of the photosynthetic process involves the examination of transgenic tobacco that maintain bacterial genes that allow the transgenic tobacco to photosynthesize at a faster rate and accumulate elevated levels of photosynthetic products, than controls. The transgenic manipulation alters the membrane environment in which the photosynthetic process takes place and the manipulation allows a faster rate of electron movement and an increased ability of the transgenic plants to accumulate products of photosynthesis.
The examination of movement of steroids within the phloem involves the isolation of phloem from many plants at varied developmental times. These steroids appear to be highly regulated in their appearance and their presence appears to correlate with development of the plant and environmental stimuli.
Research in the Haeusser Lab focuses on bacterial cell division, particularly on factors expressed by viruses (bacteriophage) that infect cells and alter host shape or cytokinesis. As an essential and conserved process, bacterial cell division is an attractive target for novel antibiotic development. Division in most bacteria involves the cytoskeletal protein FtsZ, a homolog of tubulin that binds GTP and polymerizes into filaments that cluster into a ring-shaped structure at the nascent site of division. This FtsZ serves as a scaffold for the recruitment of many other proteins necessary for cytokinesis that is properly coordinated within the bacterial cell cycle.
Student research projects in the Haeusser Lab allow mentoring in genetics, microscopy, and biochemical techniques in the context of basic microbiology research with potential medical applications. Outside of 'wet lab' experiences, students may work with Dr. Haeusser in science communication through Small Things Considered or in research on the inclusion of microbiology in literature and media.
I am interested in how natural and synthetic estrogens impact gene expression in cancer cells. Estrogenic compounds have been shown to both increase and decrease the risk of a variety of conditions and diseases, including cancer. These compounds, however, are not mutagenic which means they are not altering the DNA sequence. Instead, they have been shown to change the accessibility of the DNA. This is achieved by modulating the expression of enzymes involved in chemically modifying both the DNA and histone proteins. Histone proteins package the DNA in cells and control how readily a given sequence is expressed (transcribed). When the amount or activity of these enzymes changes, there is a direct effect on gene expression. Given the prevalence of these compounds in our environment, understanding how exposure to these compounds impacts cancer gene expression could lead to novel therapies.
Students working on research projects in my lab learn basic molecular and cellular techniques, including cell culture, nucleic acid (RNA and DNA) isolation and analysis, and pcr. In addition, students gain an understanding of how environmental exposures impact gene expression.
My primary research area falls under the umbrella of sexual conflict, where the evolutionary interests of one sex may differ from that of the other. Sexual conflict is manifested in two primary forms: intralocus and interlocus. Intralocus conflict is a tug of war over the expression of sexually antagonistic alleles: those that increase fitness when expressed in one sex, but decrease fitness when expressed in the other sex. Interlocus conflict is a 'Red Queen' process where an allele at one locus increases one sex's success in sexual selection (males), but actively harms the other sex (females). The harmed sex is then selected, through alleles at a different locus, to counteract this harm, but in so doing also negates the other sex's fitness gain. To explore both forms of sexual conflict I utilize the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) model system, combined with three major empirical tools: 1) evolutionary island analysis, 2) experimental evolution, and 3) digital microscopy.
Currently, research in the Stewart lab is focusing on how intralocus conflict over life-history traits affects the fitness of males and females. For the past decade several lines of flies have been evolving under intense artificial selection on body-size (larger, smaller, & disruptive). During this time, these lines have displayed remarkable changes in size, with flies becoming 50% larger, 50% smaller, and reversed sexual dimorphism. The changes in general body-size have also likely changed many other anatomical, physiological, and behavioral phenotypes. While many other research opportunities exist, most of the current and planned student projects seek to explore changes in various phenotypes in response to their various artificial selection treatments, and how one sex may have constrained the response in the other sex.
Research in the Tulin lab focuses on discovering how an animal’s genome controls embryonic development and how changes to the regulation of the genome have resulted in the evolution of the animal body plan. We primarily use the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, an emerging anthozoan cnidarian model system. Cnidarians are the sister clade to all bilaterians and are ideally situated to explore the origins of bilateral symmetry, triploblasty, and gastrulation. The Nematostella genome was fully sequenced in 2004, and the embryonic transcriptome was assembled in 2013, so it now represents a particularly tractable experimental system. All the necessary techniques needed to functionally characterize genes and to construct regulatory gene networks are now available in Nematostella, including in situ hybridization, bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) recombineering, ChIPseq, and gene knockdown through morpholino-substituted antisense oligonucleotides.
Cnidarians were once considered simple animals with radial symmetry; however, recent molecular research has shown that underneath the visible morphological simplicity lies a rich regulatory landscape with several genes expressed asymmetrically on the secondary, or directive, axis (De Robertis 2009). Current evidence drives an evolutionary model in which the progression towards two primary body axes had already begun before the bilaterian/cnidarian split some 600 million years ago. The acquisition of a secondary body axis was a major innovation in evolution, which allowed additional organizational complexity and potential for diversity. Some gene families have already been shown to have important roles in the process of establishing this axis, including BMPs (Genikhovich et al. 2015), and our work will expand these early findings to include all the players found in the quantitative embryonic transcriptome corresponding to this time in development.
Student research in the Tulin lab will provide mentoring in molecular biology and developmental biology techniques. Computational projects are also available, collaborating with local bioinformaticians at Canisius and the New York State Centers for Excellence in Bioinformatics at University of Buffalo.
Research in the Covino Lab focuses on songbird migration with a current emphasis on determining migratory patterns in songbird species at a population level. Intrinsic markers, including stable isotopes, have emerged as a key tool in migratory connectivity studies, and greatly increase our ability to understand interactions between phases of the annual cycle. Since geographic variation of hydrogen isotopes in precipitation follows a latitudinal gradient across eastern North America and the majority of temperate breeding songbirds perform a full molt on or near their breeding grounds, the stable hydrogen isotopes signature from their feathers provides an estimate of that individual’s molting site and thus breeding origin. Using probabilistic assignment methods this research will allow us to approximate the breeding origins of individual songbirds as they pass through migratory sites. This information will be used to determine whether birds of different populations migrate at different times or follow different geographic routes.
Student research projects in the Covino Lab allow mentoring in the field techniques of capturing and handling songbirds, bird banding, and feather sampling. Additionally, students will learn laboratory techniques associated with the cleaning, processing, and preparing of feather samples for isotopic analyses. Students may also have opportunities to train in data management of large datasets other related research tasks.
Research in the Margulis lab focuses on primate behavior and endocrinology. Most members of “Team Ape” collect behavioral data on gorillas at the Buffalo Zoo. This type of data collection, known as behavioral monitoring, provides a solid baseline of “normal” behavior so that changes in behavior that may be due to specific events or occurrences can be quantitatively evaluated. Projects include impacts of different types of enrichment on behavior, space use in the exhibit, infant development, and group social dynamics. Some members of the Margulis lab use zoo-based demographic data (“studbooks”) to explore long-term patterns in demography, population management, and development. The Team Ape endocrine laboratory utilizes non-invasive fecal sample collection to explore patterns of reproductive and stress hormones. Zoos throughout the country collect samples and ship them to the lab for analysis. Students gain valuable laboratory skills by working on hormone-related projects.
Seniors have the opportunity to develop their own independent research projects. To date, studies have involved species as diverse as gorillas, vampire bats, Asian elephants, giant Pacific octopus, and domestic horses. Students regularly attend regional and national conferences, including MPIG (Midwest Primate Interest Group), NEEP (North Eastern Evolutionary Primatology Group), and the Animal Behavior Society. Students have also co-authored papers in journals including Zoo Biology, Animal Behavior and Cognition, and Folia Primatologica.