Biology Research

Measuring genotoxicity in human, small intestine epithelial cells - DNA integrity must be preserved in order to promote cell survival. Unfortunately, we are exposed to a variety of DNA damaging agents on a daily basis that threaten this integrity. Cells are equipped with DNA repair processes that address these insults to DNA integrity. Our research is focused on studying DNA damage and repair processes in human small intestine epithelial cells (CCL-241). We currently use the Comet Assay and fluorescent microscopy to detect DNA breaks in our cells caused by putative genotoxic agents. Our goal is to determine the degree of damage caused by these agents and ability of the cell to repair its DNA once these agents are removed. Dr. Rachel Stevens-Salmon is mentor of the team conducting this research.

Anderson Pond Research - Research projects are focused on studying the Anderson Pond. One project involves looking at a longitudinal study of the water-chemical parameters. A second project is an attempt to identify and enumerate the different physiological groups of bacteria in the pond. Future research will focus on identifying bacteria from turtles. Dr. Paul Fader is mentor of the team conducting this research.

Turtle Ecology – Turtles are excellent model organisms for conducting studies investigating long-term ecological principles. This is because turtles have long lives and are relatively easy to work with. Additionally, many turtle species are globally threatened because of human causes. Therefore, turtle research can provide insights into ecology generally and conservation specifically.

Our research is conducted in a series of three ponds located in the FHU wetland area. Turtles are systematically captured and a series of morphological measurements are collected from each turtle. Turtles are then permanently marked and released at the site of capture. Data collected from this study are used to evaluate population structures, growth rates, movements, and survivorship among turtle species. This study was begun in 1998, and over 200 turtles have been marked to date. 

We are also members of the North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group. The NAFTRG consists of professional biologists and volunteers from across the country who are conducting long-term turtle community studies in Florida, Texas, and Horse Creek in Hardin County, Tennessee. Dr. Brian Butterfield is the faculty mentor of the team conducting this research.       

Biology of Invasive Species – Invasive species are a threat to biodiversity worldwide. Additionally, the damage caused by and the control of invasive species costs the U.S. well over a billion dollars annually. Therefore, it is important for biologists to understand the mechanisms of biological invasions if biologists are going to minimize the ecological and economic consequences of invasive species.

Over 40 reptile species have invaded the southeastern U.S. Among these are several gecko species. Our research is designed to identify behaviors that influence invasive characteristics and subsequent geographic expansion among invasive gecko species. Dr. Brian Butterfield is the faculty mentor of the team conducting this research.

Geographic Distribution of Amphibians and Reptiles in West Tennessee – West Tennessee has a very diverse amphibian and reptile fauna. However, the geographic distribution of many amphibians and reptiles in west Tennessee is poorly known. It is important for biologists to know the distributions of organisms if they are to adequately investigate the ecologies of specific species and appropriately address issues in conservation and biodiversity.

Our research involves documenting the occurrence of species previously unknown to science from specific areas. Our work has documented the occurrence of several species in new areas including two species found near our campus in Chester County. Dr. Brian Butterfield is the faculty mentor of the team conducting this research. 

Pathogenesis of soft rot bacteria - The species Pectobacterium carotovorum is one of several members of a group of enterobacterial plant pathogens commonly known as soft rot bacteria. These pathogens cause major economic loss to many soft tissue crops. Soft rot bacteria produce exoenzymes that degrade cell wall components of the infected plant, resulting in a collapse of plant cellular infrastructure and a leakage of intercellular components. Our research team is investigating the genetic regulation of Pectobacterium carotovorum, specifically those genes whose function is linked to the production of plant cell wall degrading exoenzymes. We are collaborating with Dr. Korsi Dumenyo, a bacterial geneticists at Tennessee State University. Dr. Caleb Kersey is mentor of the team conducting this research. 

Aquatic Salamander Ecology - There is a limited amount of research that has been conducted related to the ecology of aquatic salamanders. There has also been a marked decrease of population densities of numerous amphibians as well as reptiles throughout the world. These salamanders are no exception and make excellent study subjects. This allows our researchers the unique opportunity to study and contribute publishable data regarding lesser known species of aquatic salamanders.

The research is conducted in three ponds adjacent to FHU’s campus. Here researchers do a mark and recapture study of these organisms. The aquatic salamanders of interest are Amphiuma tridactylum and Siren intermedia. Researchers mark individuals via PIT Tags (Passive Integrated Transponder) and record both weight and length. This data can be used to observe movement, growth, seasonal activity, and population density of these organisms. Mr. Lee Barton is the mentor of the team conducting this research.