Research Focus

Research in the Department of Biological Sciences is unique and ever evolving. Our department’s collaborative environment—along with Michigan Tech’s emphasis on research—fosters a wide variety of inter-university research projects. Faculty research strengths in biochemistry and molecular biology, ecology and environmental sciences, and health provide a strong foundation for many fields in biological sciences.

Our research centers, diverse research groups, and state-of-the-art facilities in the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building and Great Lakes Research Center create an exciting research environment with exceptional opportunities for students and faculty members alike.

Researchers

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Plant Biochemistry; Environmental Remediation; Plant-Microbe Interactions
Developmental Biology; Transcriptional Biology; Cancer Biology
Algal Extracellular Polymers and Biocomposites - Regulation of Biogenesis
Bioseparations; Virus removal and detection; Biosensors
Cellulose and lignin biosynthesis in trees; Wood formation; Tree growth and development; Engineering trees; Forest bioinformatics/computational biology
Lindsay Putman
Biogeochemistry; Geomicrobiology; Microbial Ecology; Community Assembly; Disturbance Ecology
Application of Low-Temperature Geochemistry and Biogeochemistry in Environmental Contamination Problems; Application of Biogeochemistry in Waste Recycling and Nutrient Management in Soils; Application of Soil Chemistry and Biology in Environmental Remediation Problems; Estimation of Ecological and Human Health Risk for Environmental Decision-Making
Gene Silencing; RNA Interference (RNAi); MicroRNA (miRNA) and miRNA Eveolution; RNA Silencing in Plant Germ Extract and Drosophila Embryo Lysate.; Fungal RNAi and microRNA; MicroRNA Technologies: Small Tandem Target mimic (STTM) and MicroRNA Array; Plant Electrophysiology in Plant microRNA STTM lines and Venus flytrap.; Wild Blueberry Improvement
Cancer Genetics and Metabolism; Mechanisms of Cancer Initiation and Progression; Functional Genomics and Bioinformatics; Interactions of Diet and Nutrition with Cancer
Diabetes and Obesity; MicroRNA and Diabetes ; Islet beta-cell function and Identity; MicroRNA Technologies 
Evolution; Genetics; Toxicology; Developmental Biology

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Fish Biology; Zooplankton ecology; Limnology; Conservation Biology
Bioremediation of Contaminated Groundwater Environments; Microbial Ecology and Kinetics of Chlorinated Aliphatic Solvent Biodegradation; Conversion of Organic Solid Wastes and Cellulosic Feedstocks to Electricity via Microbial Fuel Cells
Plant Biochemistry; Environmental Remediation; Plant-Microbe Interactions
Algal Extracellular Polymers and Biocomposites - Regulation of Biogenesis
Plant Evolutionary Ecology; Ecological and Community Genetics; Genome Size and Polyploidy Evolution; Invasive Species Biology and Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems
Ecology of lakes, streams, and their riparian interface with terrestrial systems; Fish ecology, biology, functional morphology; effects of land use on ecological systems; Biomonitoring for research and restoration; Effects of Invasive Species
Cellulose and lignin biosynthesis in trees; Wood formation; Tree growth and development; Engineering trees; Forest bioinformatics/computational biology
Aquatic Ecology; Paleoecology
Limnology; Ecosystem Ecology of Streams and Rivers; Biogeochemistry
Community Ecology; Trophic Interactions; Marine Ecology; Ecogeochemical Tracer Techniques
Using pollutants as ecological tracers; Overwintering bioaccumulation and bioamplification; Energy dynamics in Great Lakes food-webs; Energetic costs of multiple stressors
Environmental biotechnology, including in situ bioremediation of contaminated subsurface environments, monitoring and evaluation of the performance of biological treatment processes, development of in situ biological treatment systems for urban storm water runoff, innovative reuse of waste materials, and in situ improvement of soils properties via microbially-mediated processes.
Environmental Microbiology; Next-generation sequencing technology and bioinformatics/computational biology; Microbial physiology and biochemistry; Microbes as sensors for the environmental impacts of oil and gas production; Microbially-mediated remediation of crude oil contamination; Sustainability and plastic biodegradation
Microbial Ecology; Biogeochemistry; Limnology; Cryosphere 
Evolution; Genetics; Toxicology; Developmental Biology

Health

Cardiovascular physiology, neurophysiology and exercise science.; Neural mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders.; Neural mechanisms of exercise training in regulating autonomic and cardiovascular function.
Immunohematology; Medical Bacteriology; Phlebotomy 
Adaptations to exercise training; Functional losses following injury; Skeletal muscle function; Cycling biomechanics; Physiology education
Neural Control of the Heart; Autonomic Function in Health and Disease
Sarah LewAllen
Hematology & Hemostasis; Clinical Chemistry; Professionalism & Career Preparation
Clinical Lab Techniques; Clinical Immunology and Serology; Human Anatomy and Physiology; Human Nutrition; Parasitology
Central Mechanism of Salt Sensitive Hypertension; Brain Prorenin Receptor and Hypertension; Brain Orexin System and Hypertension; Stress and Neuroinflammation and Hypertension; Neuronal Mechanism of Metabolic Syndrome
Gene Silencing; RNA Interference (RNAi); MicroRNA (miRNA) and miRNA Eveolution; RNA Silencing in Plant Germ Extract and Drosophila Embryo Lysate.; Fungal RNAi and microRNA; MicroRNA Technologies: Small Tandem Target mimic (STTM) and MicroRNA Array; Plant Electrophysiology in Plant microRNA STTM lines and Venus flytrap.; Wild Blueberry Improvement
Cancer Genetics and Metabolism; Mechanisms of Cancer Initiation and Progression; Functional Genomics and Bioinformatics; Interactions of Diet and Nutrition with Cancer
Diabetes and Obesity; MicroRNA and Diabetes ; Islet beta-cell function and Identity; MicroRNA Technologies 
Evolution; Genetics; Toxicology; Developmental Biology

Research News

 

Researcher Focus

Cindy Blake

Cindy Blake

MS, Family Nurse Practitioner, University of Kansas

Contact

cmblake@mtu.edu
906-487-3539

  • Adjunct Instructor, Nursing, Biological Sciences

Cindy has over 35 years of nursing experience including 25 years as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She also has experience as a staff nurse in the emergency department, intensive care unit (ICU) and acute medicine and oncology. She has worked in the pre-hospital setting as an RN-EMT. Other roles include ICU unit manager, nursing supervisor, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) instructor, Basic Trauma Life Support (BTLS) instructor, Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) instructor, and Neonatal Advanced Life Support (NALS) Instructor. She has held national certifications as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), and Certified Emergency Nurse . . .

Claire Danielson

Claire Danielson

BS, Medical Lab science, Michigan Technological University

Contact

cedaniel@mtu.edu
906-487-2120

  • Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Program Director

Claire attended Michigan Tech where she received a Bachelor's degree in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS). After graduation, she completed her clinical practicum at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN. She has worked at the University of Colorado Health in Immunohematology, Microbiology, and Chemistry. She has also worked at Baraga County Memorial Hospital as a Generalist and Microbiology Supervisor. Claire returned to Michigan Tech to complete her Master's degree in Biological Sciences, Laboratory Management in 2019. She is currently the MLS Program Director, Assistant Teaching Professor, and Academic Advisor for the MLS program. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, . . .

Rupali Datta

Rupali Datta

PhD, University of Hyderabad, India

Contact

rupdatta@mtu.edu
906-487-1783

  • Professor, Biological Sciences

Dr. Datta's primary research interest lies in the application of plant biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and microbiology in solving environmental problems,using phytoremediation, plant-microbe interactions and bioremediation. Dr. Datta's research involves the study of interactions between plant, soil, microbial and water systems to understand the mechanisms of uptake and detoxification of specific environmental contaminants in biota from two broad angles – biochemistry and genetics.

Specifically, Dr. Datta's current research focus is on the study of bioavailability of metal and organic contaminants in aquatic media and the potential of using plants to remediate contaminated sites, mediated by microbes. Dr. Datta actively collaborates with . . .

Paul Goetsch

Paul Goetsch

Contact

pdgoetsc@mtu.edu
906-487-1790

  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

In multicellular organisms, how do multiple cell types originate from one cell and one genome? A critical early cell fate decision is whether to develop as germline (reproductive) or soma (non-reproductive). My research focuses on assessing how the highly conserved DREAM transcriptional repressor complex maintains the germ vs. soma cell fate decision during embryogenesis. After a flurry of cell divisions from the starting “germ cell” (i.e. united egg and sperm), somatic cells begin to exit the cell cycle as the DREAM complex suppresses the proliferative germ cell program. This process is commonly reverted in cancer cells (i.e. a soma-to-germline transition) . . .

Michael Gretz

Michael Gretz

PhD, Arizona State University

Contact

mrgretz@mtu.edu
906-487-3175

  • Professor, Biological Sciences

Our work is centered on the cell wall and associated extracellular polymers of algae. We are interested in what these algal extracellular matrices can tell us about: 1) the evolution of the land plant cell wall, 2) the unique characteristics that allow for life in aquatic habitats, 3) the interactions within complex biofilms, including the heterotropic utilization of complex macromolecules, and 4) the biomineralization processes (ex. silica and calcium carbonate) associated with these extracellular polymers.

What is the broader significance of our work? The characters of plant cell walls determine the properties of innumerable products we consume every day. Our work has . . .

Erika Hersch-Green

Erika Hersch-Green

MS, University of California, Davis - Population Biology

Contact

eherschg@mtu.edu
906-487-3351

  • Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Broadly speaking I am an evolutionary ecologist who studies how plants interact with their abiotic and biotic communities. My work integrates the theory and techniques from the disciplines of ecology, evolution, genetics, chemistry, and physiology.  My research makes both fundamental and applied contributions and current projects include:

  1. deciphering the interplay between the abiotic environment (especially nutrient eutrophication and water availability), the genomic structure (genome size and composition) of terrestrial plants, and multitrophic communities (plants, herbivores, pathogens, pollinators),
  2. examining the efficacy of management efforts and the cultural, social, and ecological impacts of invasive plant (e.g., baby’s breath, Eurasian milfoil) and/or insect (e.g., Spotted winged drosophila on . . .

Casey Huckins

Casey Huckins

PhD, Michigan State University, 1996

Contact

cjhuckin@mtu.edu
906-487-2475

  • Interim Department Chair, Biological Sciences

Research conducted by my lab group is focused on ecology and restoration in aquatic systems including lakes, streams, coastal wetlands and the riparian ecosystems that connect them.  The research that my graduate students, our collaborators and I conduct tends to focus on ecological patterns and processes in systems influenced by human actions.  In many cases we apply the learned scientific understanding to inform the restoration or rehabilitation of the system or population.  Our projects are often motivated by this reciprocal interplay and exchange between restoration and the advancement of scientific understanding.  Major projects have/are conducting examine 1) the ecology and restoration . . .

Robert Larson

Robert Larson

PhD, Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University

Contact

ralarson@mtu.edu
906-487-2254

  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

Robert earned his Master’s and PhD in the Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan
Technological University studying neural-cardiovascular physiology. He completed his Post-
Doctoral fellowship in neurocardiology at The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine
where he studied cardiac sensory and sympathetic nerves in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hypertension. Prior to graduate school, Robert worked in the diagnostic laboratory at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital serving as both a Generalist and Hematology and Coagulation Supervisor.

Sarah LewAllen

Sarah LewAllen

Contact

selewall@mtu.edu
906-487-2035

  • MLS Program Coordinator

Amy Marcarelli

Amy Marcarelli

PhD, Utah State University

Contact

ammarcar@mtu.edu
906-487-2867

  • Professor, Biological Sciences

I am an ecosystem ecologist with interests in energy and biogeochemical cycles in freshwaters. My research program blends basic and applied research, and integrates across aquatic habitats including stream, river, wetland, lake littoral zones and the nearshore regions of the Great Lakes. My past and future research trajectory is governed by an interest in understanding the role of small, poorly quantified fluxes or perturbations on ecosystem processes, and in linking those ecosystem processes to the underlying structure of microbial, algal, macrophyte and animal communities.

One benefit of an academic career is the synergy between an active research program and undergraduate and graduate . . .

Mark Miron

Mark Miron

Contact

mmiron@mtu.edu
906-487-3532

  • Associate Teaching Professor, Nursing, Biological Sciences

Mark was raised in Baraga, MI, spending his adolescence learning about auto mechanics in his father’s service station, a skill he has always valued, and uses to this day. Mark left the area while employed by Glasrock Home Health Services, living in Green Bay, WI and the Bay Area of California, while serving as branch manager or materials manager, in both areas. Upon returning, he attended Suomi College, graduating in 1994 with an Associate Degree in Nursing. Following graduation, he was employed by Portage Hospital in Med/Surg and ICU, worked several years in Correctional Health at the Baraga Maximum Security . . .

Brigitte Morin

Brigitte Morin

Contact

bemorin@mtu.edu
906-487-3373

  • Associate Teaching Professor, Biological Sciences

Brigitte attended Michigan Tech in 2001 where she received a Bachelor's degree in Medical Laboratory Science (MLS), as well as a certificate in Secondary Education and minors in both General Science and Spanish. Following graduation in 2006, Brigitte taught high school Biology for six years in Illinois. After receiving an MS degree in Biology from Northern Illinois University, Brigitte has returned to Michigan Tech as a lecturer, primarily in the MLS program.

Jill Olin

Jill Olin

PhD, Environmental Science, University of Windsor

Contact

jaolin@mtu.edu
906-487-1121

  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

I am a community ecologist who studies the processes that affect the structure and stability of ecosystems. I study these issues in coastal marine and freshwater ecosystems due to the diversity and economic importance of species inhabiting these environments and toward the fact that they are under threat from anthropogenic influences. I use food web, community assembly and fisheries theory to explore the following research areas; (1) the intra- and inter-species interactions and trophic structuring of communities within a hierarchical construct; (2) the distribution patterns of organisms and the mechanisms that drive these patterns and; (3) the relative influence of . . .

Gord Paterson

Gord Paterson

Contact

gpaterso@mtu.edu
906-487-1120

  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

MarnieAnn Polkky

MarnieAnn Polkky

MS, Nursing, Indiana Wesleyan University, 2019

Contact

mpolkky@mtu.edu
906-487-3532

  • Assistant Teaching Professor, Nursing, Biological Sciences

As a first-generation college student having an eclectic education in veterinary, holistic, and human medicine, I came to nursing later in life. A graduate of Finlandia University’s BSN program in 2015, led me into my career as a staff registered nurse at Aspirus Laurium Hospital on the medical/surgical unit and quickly realized an interest in teaching after orientating new staff nurses. I began as a clinical instructor for Gogebic Community College in 2017 and completed my masters in nursing education from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2019. As an Assistant Professor at Finlandia University from 2019-2023, I’ve gained experience in teaching . . .

Theresa Rajala-Halsey

Theresa Rajala-Halsey

MS, Nursing, Concentration: Leadership and Management, Walden University, 2007

Contact

trajalah@mtu.edu
906-487-3534

  • Associate Teaching Professor, Nursing, Biological Sciences

Theresa has close to 40 years of nursing experience in the areas of acute care and nursing education.  She began her nursing career in 1985, graduating with an Associates Degree in Nursing from LSSU in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  She worked as a staff nurse, working in various units throughout the hospital.  In 1986, she took a position on the Cardiac Unit at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.  There she worked as a staff nurse.  She was a member of the charge nurse team, taught a rhythm interpretation class for new employees and trained to be the BLS . . .

Irina Sergeyeva

Irina Sergeyeva

MSN, Health Care Education, University of Phoenix

Contact

igsergey@mtu.edu
906-487-3539

  • Associate Teaching Professor, Nursing, Biological Sciences

Irina has been a nursing educator and academic advisor for over eight years. While working at the College of Health Sciences, Finlandia University, she received a Rising Star Faculty Award from the Board of Trustees recognizing her contribution to teaching and service. Beyond working in the academic field, Irina has been serving the local community her entire nursing career by carrying out volunteering responsibilities as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) at Dial Help, Inc. and performing nursing duties of care in varying settings of the modern healthcare system. These include but are not limited to the orthopedic clinic at . . .

Lori Sullivan

Lori Sullivan

DNP, Organizational Leadership, Graceland University

Contact

lasulliv@mtu.edu
906-487-2850

  • Nursing Program Director

Lori has over 25 years of nursing experience in various roles including staff nurse, unit coordinator, utilization review coordinator, community educator, case manager and nurse educator. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Northern Michigan University in 1996, Masters of Science in Nursing Education from Fort Hays State University in 2011, and Doctor of Nursing Practice from Graceland University in 2014. After several years working in hospital and community settings, Lori began her career in academia in 2007. Her research projects have focused on NCLEX success and development of clinical reasoning in undergraduate nursing. She is currently the . . .

Guiliang Tang

Guiliang Tang

PhD, Weizmann Institute of Sciences, Israel, 2001

Contact

gtang1@mtu.edu
906-487-2174

  • Professor, Biological Sciences

Future Research Directions for Collaboration 

<<Seek National Collaborations>>

Welcome to those who would like to collaborate with me to pursue innovative project funds from NSF! Contact me via email please for potentials. Tenure-track assistant professors are especially welcome! We have experience in pursuing and leading multi-institutional NSF Plant Genome project on microRNAs using short tandem target mimic (STTM) technology. Future directions will be: 

1. Large-scale targeting microRNAs for regulations in fruit crop stress biology. 
2. Trans-species spreading of microRNAs and STTMs in plant grafting biology. 

Interested PI and co-PIs with relevant expertise are welcome to connect with me to target NSF bigger ideas in PGRP. Please Contact Dr. Guiliang Tang.

Biography

Dr. Tang conducted his graduate research on the catabolic pathway of the essential amino acid . . .

Xiaohu (Mark) Tang

Xiaohu (Mark) Tang

PhD, The Weizmann Institute of Science

Contact

xiaohut@mtu.edu
Phone: 906-487-3068

  • Associate Professor

At the intersection of cancer metabolism and functional genomics, our laboratory is dedicated to deciphering the complexity of cancer metabolic deregulation and the impact of metabolisms in cancer onset and progression. Our relentless pursuit is to unravel the intricate underlying mechanisms, which serves as the foundation for our exploration of innovative and practical therapeutic applications for patients. Additionally, our in-depth understanding of the interactions between diet and cancer has the potential to pioneer strategies for proactive, long-term cancer prevention.

Xiaoqing Tang

Xiaoqing Tang

PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, 2003

Contact

xtang2@mtu.edu
906-487-1872

  • Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Diabetes is caused by either the loss of the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas, leading to a deficiency of insulin (type 1 diabetes), or insulin resistance, reduced insulin sensitivity, and reduced insulin secretion (type 2 diabetes). In both types of diabetes, the patients develop serious secondary complications, such as microvascular complications, oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and kidney failure.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are newly discovered, 21-24nt in size, non-coding RNAs. miRNAs negatively regulate the expression of protein-coding genes by binding to the 3'-untranslated region (3'-UTR) of specific targeted gene transcripts (mRNAs). Each miRNA regulates the expression of hundreds of . . .

Stephen Techtmann

Stephen Techtmann

PhD, Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Maryland, Baltimore MD

Contact

smtechtm@mtu.edu
906-487-3250

  • Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

I am an environmental microbiologist who studies microbial communities in diverse ecosystems. Microbes (Bacteria and Archaea) are ubiquitous in the environment and play essential roles in the cycling of elements. These environmental microbes are capable of catalyzing a wide array of chemical reactions, many of which may have industrial applications. I study how complex microbial communities can cooperate to perform functions of industrial interest. The majority of microbes in the environment are difficult to grow in the lab. Furthermore, many industrially-relevant pathways are found in microbes not yet grown in the lab. I seek to employ both culture-based and culture-independent . . .

Trista Vick-Majors

Trista Vick-Majors

PhD, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University

Contact

tjvickma@mtu.edu

  • Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

I am a microbial ecologist who studies the reciprocal relationships between microbial communities and biogeochemical processes in aquatic ecosystems. Microorganisms are widespread in the environment and are responsible for driving key elemental transformations that control the quality of our water and influence the greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere. I am interested in understanding how physical and chemical characteristics interact with microbial communities and influence or are influenced by microbial metabolism and diversity. My work is also aimed at understanding energetic constraints on microbial metabolism that may result from ecosystem change or seasonal change, such as the formation of ice-cover. . . .

Travis Wakeham

Travis Wakeham

Contact

biology@mtu.edu
906-487-3435

  • Academic Advisor and Assistant Teaching Professor, Biological Sciences

Travis Wakeham

Travis Wakeham

MS, Biological Sciences

Contact

twakeham@mtu.edu
906-487-3435

  • Assistant Teaching Professor, Biological Sciences

Travis is a proud born and raised Yooper; he received both his B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences from Michigan Tech. Wanting to stay close to home, he joined his alma mater as the Department of Biological Sciences Laboratory Supervisor in 2017. Since then, he has become an Academic Advisor and Lecturer. 

In his position as an academic advisor, Travis helps students to understand academic policies and procedures, select courses to fulfill their academic goals, locate and use campus resources, and explore career options. Travis is trained in Mental Health First Aid and serves as a Safe Place AllyCareer Coach, and a member on the Title IX Awareness Committee. In addition to advising, Travis teaches several courses in the department and coordinates . . .

Thomas Werner

Thomas Werner

PhD, Umea University, Sweden, 2005

Contact

twerner@mtu.edu
906-487-1209

  • Professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Biological Sciences

Dr. Werner became interested in the question “What is life?” as a four-year old child in his parent’s garden in former East Germany. At the age of 10, he began to develop a life-long interest in the biology of butterflies and moths. He has been breeding and collecting them ever since. For his Master’s thesis, he decided to shift his focus to molecular biology because this was a newly emerging field of biology that promised new jobs.

Thus, Dr. Thomas Werner studied the human heart disease-causing virus Coxsackie B3 at the molecular level at Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena in Germany. After the fall of the . . .

Yan Zhang

Yan Zhang

PhD, Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Contact

yzhang49@mtu.edu
906-487-2546

  • Research Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is the most common, potentially lethal genetic disorder characterized by the progressive enlargement of numerous fluid-filled cysts and the development of interstitial inflammation and fibrosis. ADPKD is caused by the mutation of PKD1 or PKD2 gene. Approximately 50% of patients progress to end-stage renal disease by middle age and require dialysis or renal transplantation. Currently, treatment options for ADPKD patients are limited; thus, the development of new effective therapies is urgent. Dr. Zhang’s research lab investigates the role of innate immunity in the pathological microenvironment of ADPKD and the potential therapeutic effects of manipulating . . .