… 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

Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious microorganism with fewer than 10 inhaled bacteria causing the fatal disease tularemia.  This bacterium has been weaponized and could be used for bioterrorism, prompting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to classify F. tularensis as a Category A biodefense agent.  In addition to the threat of an intentional release, F. tularensis causes a variety of naturally occurring human infections that can be acquired by inhalation, arthropod bites, oropharyngeal exposure, or by contact.  My long term goals involve understanding the pathogenesis, persistence, and transmission, of F. tularensis.  Ultimately, I am interested in identifying novel therapeutics to combat this pathogen and other bacterial pathogens.

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

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Evan Lau

Principal investigator: Evan Lau, PhD
Students: Amanda Semple, Ryan Dague, Travis Habursky, Wendi Wentzell

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.