… at the WLU Department of Sciences and Mathematics

For a smaller university the WLU Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics offers a wealth of opportunities for undergraduate research.  The students involved in this research are not only rewarded monetarily but they also gain valuable research experience, and have the opportunity to present their findings at a state, national, & international level.  Some of the current research projects at WLU include:

Freshwater Crayfishes

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Zachary Loughman

Research in my lab focuses on crayfish natural history, taxonomy, and conservation biology, with an emphasis on crayfishes that occur in West Virginia. To do this, myself and West Liberty University Biology students travel throughout West Virginia and the southeastern United States surveying crayfishes. The ultimate goal of this research is elucidating the natural history of these enigmatic animals. By understanding distribution and potential environmental threats to crayfishes, conservation recommendations and actions ultimately will be more useful and efficient.  In addition to this work, we study the ecology of high elevation burrowing crayfishes, investigate the systematics of the Cambarus robustus complex, and maintain the West Liberty University Astacology Collection which currently houses 1,500 lots of catalogued crayfishes from across West Virginia and the southeastern United States.

Francisella Tularensis


Joseph Horzempa

Students: Adam Kenney, Aleksandr Florjanczyk, Alex Hayden, Alyssa Ebert, Anna Gaughenbaugh, Anthony Sako, Ashley Haught, Austin Cusick, Brandon Chang, Caleb Martin, Chelsea Camerlengo, David Scammell, Devin Sindeldecker, Edward Beaumont, Elliot Collins, Emily Clark, Jenna Ingram, Jennifer Hickman, Jessica Payne, Jialin Liao, Kevin Cook, Kristen Sikorsky, Leah Figurski, Makayla Smith, Matthew Ford, Rebecca Barnes, Taylor Rogerson
The Horzempa laboratory investigates the pathogenesis of Francisella tularensis – a pathogenic bacterium with bioterror implications.  We are interested in studying the biology of this organism so we can develop new vaccine strategies and therapeutics.  We have discovered that F. tularensis invades host erythrocytes, and are currently studying the mechanism of this novel interaction.  
We are also investigating natural compounds in collaboration with the National Center for Natural Products Research with the goal of discovering novel antibiotics.  To date, we have discovered and patented a new antibiotic compound, and have published on our novel vaccine platform strategy.

Assessing Zinc Nutriture


Matthew Zdilla

The Zdilla Lab is involved in research aiming to produce new clinical measurements and discover new links between human structure and function.

  • A novel method of assessing zinc nutriture: (Starkey, Saling, Basil)
    A new, noninvasive, method of assessing the adequacy/inadequacy of zinc nutrition based on the taste perception of zinc is being developed.  The implications of the new clinical measurement technique are wide-ranging from gaining insight into immune function and reproductive function to predicting predispositions to cavities, anorexia, and problems with brain function.
  • Correlating salivary carbonic anhydrase VI (gustin) with zinc taste perception and immunity: (Starkey)
    An enzyme in saliva known as “gustin” may have a great influence over how we taste metals, such as zinc.  It also plays a role in the pH balance of our oral cavity.  The enzyme may also be a window into our immune function.  We are measuring gustin concentrations in saliva and exploring its correlations with human health.
  • Circumvallate papillae characteristics and zinc taste perception: (Hunt, Gibson)
    Taste buds, the small structures that house our taste receptors are located, predominantly, in organs called papillae.  We are using endoscopy and intraoral photography to view circumvallate papillae located at the far back of the tongue in order to learn more about how their characteristics are related to our ability to taste zinc.
  • Fungiform papillae characteristics and zinc taste perception: (Quikel, Dennis)
    Fungiform papillae are organs located, chiefly, at the tip of the tongue.  These organs house taste buds.  We are analyzing the density and physical characteristics of these papillae to explore their relationship with the ability to taste zinc.

Methanotrophic Bacteria

Fig.1.Color1   Click on figure to view details

Evan Lau
Students: Zach Dillard, Marcus Kinker, Dan Lukich, Nicki Mihalik, Samantha Waychoff, Katie Yauch

Our research includes field sampling and collections, as well as molecular biology (e.g., PCR, transformation and cloning, sequencing and sequence analyses) in the laboratory.
Methane is a greenhouse gas. Methanotrophic bacteria are the only organisms capable of removing methane gas before their entry into the upper atmosphere. Methanotrophic bacteria are placed in the Phyla Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. In our lab, we are using next-generation high throughput multiplex sequencing and other molecular biological techniques to sequence and identify genes specific to methanotrophic bacteria (including 16S rRNA, methane monooxygenase and methanol dehydrogenase) to analyze their phylogeny and study their ecology in forest soils, peat bogs and peat mosses in W. Virginia. Once the methanotrophic bacterial communities in these environments have been described, we can study and compare geographical and temporal differences in microbial communities and their response to climate change.