Biology Faculty Mentors

Anil Bamezai, Ph.D.

All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India, 1987
Harvard Medical School, USA, 1987-1990

Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 120B; Phone: 610-519-4847
E-mail: anil.bamezai@villanova.edu
Website: http://www.homepage.villanova.edu/anil.bamezai

Dr. Bamezai’s research interests are in the area of cell and molecular Immunology. His research interest encompasses the field of lymphocyte biology. A major goal of his research is to understand mechanisms underlying regulation of CD4+ T lymphocyte responses to protein antigens. Focus of research in his laboratory is on a set of glycosylphosphatidyl-inositol (GPI)-anchored proteins housed in membrane rafts. Membrane rafts are 10-200 nanometer size domains on the plasma membrane. These membrane entities are enriched in sphingolipids, cholesterol, GPI-anchored proteins and a variety of other signaling molecules. Membrane rafts have been implicated in spatiotemporal regulation of signaling from the membrane to cell interior. Dr. Bamezai’s laboratory has developed methods that will allow us to examine membrane rafts on single-nanodomain basis and investigate their spatial organization during CD4+ T cell activation and differentiation.

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Aaron Bauer, Ph.D.

University of California, Berkeley, 1986
Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 191B; Phone: 610-519-4857
E-mail: aaron.bauer@villanova.edu

Dr. Bauer's research interests are in the areas of reptile and amphibian systematics, biogeography, and evolutionary morphology. Specific laboratory projects include:

  • The systematics of lizards, especially geckos and skinks
  • The analysis of biogeographic patterns in the Cape Fold Mountains of South Africa and the Western Ghats of India
  • The developmental osteology of squamate reptiles
  • The biomechanics and histological structure of lizard skin
  • The evolution of tail autotomy
  • The functional significance of digital structure in reptiles
  • 17th to 19th century history of natural history

Techniques used by Dr. Bauer's students include DNA sequencing, radiography, light and scanning electron microscopy, materials testing, computer-aided phylogeny reconstruction, and whole-body clearing and staining.

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Samantha Chapman, Ph.D.

Northern Arizona University, 2005
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, 2005-2007

Assistant Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 122C; Phone: 610-519-5343
E-mail: samantha.chapman@villanova.edu
Website: http://homepage.villanova.edu/samantha.chapman/
Research Group Website: http://www99.homepage.villanova.edu/samantha.chapman/chapman_ecosystem_ecology_lab/Home.html

Dr. Samantha Chapman is an ecosystem ecologist who is interested in how climate change and altered biodiversity change the services that ecosystems provide. In particular, her research focuses on understanding how changing plant biodiversity influences ecosystem services such as carbon and nutrient cycling. She works in both tropical and temperate natural ecosystems and managed agroecosystems like farms.  Dr. Chapman and her students collaborate on specific projects including:
·investigation of the implications for mangrove invasion into Florida salt marshes
·trying to understand how nitrogen pollution impacts invasive plant species in Pennsylvania forests
·quantifying the carbon storage differences between natural and managed lands in the North Carolina mountains
·examining how fire and herbivory alter nitrogen and carbon cycling
·investigating of microbial processing of oil under different fertilization scenarios in Gulf Coast marshes

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Robert Curry, Ph.D.

University of Michigan, 1987
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 190A; Phone: 610-519-6455
E-mail: robert.curry@villanova.edu

Dr. Curry's research encompasses animal ecology, ornithology, behavioral ecology, and conservation biology. He focuses on how features of the environment, including habitat structure and climate variability, influence the social organization and population ecology of birds. His methods combine observation of individually-marked birds in the field with analysis using a Geographic Information System (GIS) computer, which facilitates interpretation of spatial information. His research program also involves molecular analysis of genetic markers, including mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA, for addressing questions about hybridization, population structure, and parentage.

A primary component of Dr. Curry's research program focuses on hybridization between two species of chickadees in southeastern Pennsylvania. Most students currently working under Dr. Curry’s direction are involved in field activities (monitoring nests, observing dominance
relationships, recording songs) and/or laboratory studies (analysis of DNA from field-collected blood samples) associated with this project.

Dr. Curry and students also collaborate on a long-term study of the Florida Scrub-jay, an endangered species found only in south-central Florida. This work involves field study at Archbold Biological Station in Florida coupled with lab-based GIS and other analyses at Villanova.

Students working with Dr. Curry occasionally have opportunities also to participate in conservation research, including efforts to study and protect the critically endangered Cozumel Thrasher on Cozumel Island, Mexico.

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Mary Desmond, Ph.D.

University of Colorado, 1973
Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 120C; Phone: 610-519-4829
E-mail: mary.desmond@villanova.edu

Dr. Desmond is an experimental developmental biologist who is interested in the cell-molecular mechanisms underlying development of the brain in the early embryo. Her findings over the past 30 years have significantly contributed to neurologists’ understanding of two major CNS abnormalities, i.e., spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She is interested in students who wish to work in her lab as juniors and seniors towards completion of a thesis. She has several projects that will utilize cellular and even molecular techniques given the training level of the student. In particular, she is interested in finding out what growth factors are responsible for brain growth in the vertebrate embryo.

Many different techniques will be employed such as: morphometrics (measuring structure with the computer), photomicrography with the computer, detection of proteins using immunoblotting and immuno-cytochemistry; growing embryonic brain segments in organ culture. In addition to doing a lab research project, Dr. Desmond also welcomes students who might like to do a library project in the area of bioethics of stem cells or in the ethics of science.

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Angela DiBenedetto, Ph.D.

Cornell University, 1989
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN G24E; Phone: 610-519-5197
E-mail: angela.dibenedetto@villanova.edu

Dr. DiBenedetto’s primaryinterest is to understand the regulatory and effector mechanisms of celldeath, differentiation and division, as it occurs in the vertebrate nervoussystem during the normal course of development. Dr. DiBenedetto’s researchcenters around three questions:

  • How are the three fundamental processes of cell death,differentiation, and division co-regulated to achieve proper development and/orhomeostasis, and what molecular mechanisms underlie this crosstalk?
  • What are the epigenetic events and regulatory genes involvedin the decision to undergo cell death, differentiation, or division; what aretheir upstream signals and downstream effectors; how do these gene productsinteract within the greater regulatory networks operating duringdevelopment.
  • What are the major epigenetic pathways operating in theegg-to-embryo transition and in vertebrate embryogenesis, and which areevolutionarily novel versus evolutionarily conserved.

Her studies are conducted in a classic model organism forvertebrate development, the freshwater tropical fish zebrafish (Danio rerio). The fundamental questions listed above are approached by the in-depth study ofthe function of a few key regulatory genes cloned and characterizedby the DiBenedetto lab as being critical to normal nervous system developmentin the fish. Studies include RNA and protein expression analysisof selected genes throughout germline and embryo development, phenotypicanalysis at the morphological, behavioral, and molecular level of mutant fishcreated by gene knockdown, knockout, or overexpression, and genomicapproaches to gene regulatory networks including microarrays, RT-PCR surveys,ChIP assays, and yeast two-hybrid experiments. Other experimentalapproaches use molecular and cellular techniques including: Northernand Western blot analysis, immunohistochemistry, DNA cloning andsequencing, in situ hybridization, cDNA library construction and screening,expression vector and recombinant protein synthesis.

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Vikram Iyengar, Ph.D.

Cornell University, 2001
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 190C; Phone: 610-519-8081
E-mail: vikram.iyengar@villanova.edu

Dr. Iyengar’s research involves studying the behavioral ecology of arthropods, with an emphasis on sexual selection in insects. Arthropods are the most abundant and diverse group in the animal kingdom, and they occupy nearly every ecological niche in marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats. In fact, one can argue that the extraordinary evolutionary success of arthropods should be attributed to their communication through chemistry and their remarkable diversity of mating systems. Dr. Iyengar examines how the costs and benefits of mate choice and differences in parental investment shape the evolution of arthropod mating systems. He has studied a wide variety of organisms including butterflies, beetles and crustaceans, and his projects typically provide wonderful opportunities to do both field work and laboratory studies. Dr. Iyengar’s current projects include investigating reproductive strategies in the rattlebox moth and studying territorial aggression among local species of damselflies.

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Janice Knepper, Ph.D.

Brown University, 1979
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN G24A; Phone: 610-519-7338
E-mail: janice.knepper@villanova.edu

Dr. Knepper's laboratory research focuses on the molecular biology of breast cancer in the
mouse, including one etiological agent, the retrovirus mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV).
The virus has several interesting features, including the ability to manipulate the host immune repertoire, a dramatic tropism for replication in the alveolar epithelial cells of the mammary gland, and the ability to affect the transcription of host cellular genes, which results in altered cell properties and eventual tumorigenesis. We have identified a novel gene that appears to be activated by MMTV in mammary tumors. Several major goals are being pursued:

  • To discover cellular genes that contribute to tumorigenesis when activated by the virus
  • To assess the role of affected genes in promoting cell proliferation
  • To assess the role of chromosomal integration of the provirus in host genomic instability.

Dr. Knepper employs a variety of molecular techniques including gene cloning, mapping, and sequencing; hybridization and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis; in vitro mutagenesis; construction of recombinant viruses; analysis of chromosomal sites of virus integration, and transcription analysis. Cell culture systems are important tools for these studies. Dr. Knepper is Co-Director of the Program in Biochemistry.

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John Olson, Ph.D.

University of Michigan, 1990
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 147B; Phone: 610-519-4837
E-mail: john.olson@villanova.edu

Dr. Olson conducts research in the fields of metabolic, muscle, and ecological physiology. Among his interests are mechanisms of thermoregulation, contractile properties of skeletal muscle, and ecotoxicology in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Dr. Olson uses a variety of techniques in his research, and integrates research at the ecological, organismal and suborganismal levels of organization.

In addition, Dr. Olson is active in environmental committees and causes on campus.

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Louise Russo, Ph.D.

Pennsylvania State University, 1987
Associate Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 191C; Phone: 610-519-4869
E-mail: louise.russo@villanova.edu

Dr. Russo’s research focuses on the study of growth regulatory mechanisms in the uterus and mammary gland. Delineation of regulatory mechanisms that direct normal as well as abnormal tissue growth are important for understanding normal fertility in the female and treatment of disease conditions such as cancer. Her research plan is aimed at:

  • Understanding hormone-induced changes that produce the normal cyclic changes
    in uterine tissue growth during the female fertility cycle
  • Determination of the effects of environmental endocrine disrupting compounds
    (EDCs) on reproductive tissue physiology

Her laboratory is studying the role of inflammation in estrogen-induced uterine tissue
remodeling. Estrogen quickly induces an inflammatory like process within the uterine
endometrium that involves activation of signaling pathways and extracellular proteases that
ultimately produce rapid changes in tissue structure and function. However, the mechanistic link between estrogen and inflammation is unknown. Another area of research is focused on characterization of the effects of environmental endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), such as bisphenol A (BPA), on mammary gland and uterine tissue at both the molecular and physiological levels. EDCs have been shown to effect changes in reproductive function in many wildlife species including amphibians, birds, and mammals. They are also under scrutiny for possible effects in humans and increasing exposure may be linked to development of breast and prostate cancer, and infertility. However, model systems to study the effects of EDCs in mammals have not been well defined. The laboratory is developing an in vivo mouse model system to study effects of EDCs, such as BPA, through oral consumption, an exposure mechanism that is most relevant to humans. All experimental approaches involve use of cellular and molecular techniques including: RT-PCR, Western blot analysis, in situ hybridization, light and electron microscopy, and biochemical assays as well as work with live animals and animal surgeries.

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Melanie A. Vile, Ph.D.

University of Notre Dame, 2001
Research Assistant Professor of Biology
Office: MEN 1G65D; Phone: 610-519-8945
Email: melanie.vile@villanova.edu
Website: http://www47.homepage.villanova.edu/melanie.vile/

As an ecosystem ecologist, I am interested in the complex interactions between microbial communities and their chemical environment, and how feedbacks between these biogeochemical transformations affect ecosystem function, especially in an era where humans have made a large footprint across the globe.   Using interdisciplinary, multi-scale approaches, my lab seeks an integrated understanding of the biogeochemical controls on (1) climate change induced, sea-level rise on C, N and P cycling in freshwater tidal wetlands of the Delaware Estuary, (2) carbon accumulation and decomposition dynamics in northern boreal, western Canadian peatlands under future predicted scenarios of global climate change, (3) the effects of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., oil sands mining pollution and increased fire intervals) on nutrient cycles in peatlands in Alberta and most recently, (5) the mechanistic controls of nitrogen fixation in bog and fen peatlands in both pristine and industrialized parts of the globe.

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Dennis D. Wykoff, Ph.D.

Stanford University, 1999
Assistant Professor, Department of Biology
Office: Mendel G24B; Phone: 610-519-6386
E-mail: dennis.wykoff@villanova.edu
Website: http://www40.homepage.villanova.edu/dennis.wykoff/

Dr. Wykoff's laboratory is interested in how complexity arises from an ancestral signal transduction pathway and what selective pressures tailor a pathway for growth in diverse niches. The laboratory studies the phosphate starvation response in the ascomycete lineage of fungi and utilizes molecular biological and genetic techniques to understand how a variety of yeasts respond to phosphate starvation.  A sufficient supply of nutrients to cells is critical for optimal growth and appropriate acquisition of nutrients regulates cell proliferation and even pathogenicity.

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