Moving Ahead: It's Only Natural

New Faculty Members
NEW FACULTY MEMBERS: FRONT (L-R) Bryan G. Hopkins, PWS; Joel Griffitts, MMBio; Sam St. Clair, PWS; Chad Hancock, NDFS; Chin Yo Lin, MMBio; Jeff G. Edwards, PDBio BACK (L-R) Julianne H. Grose, MMBio; Rickelle Richards, NDFS; Tory L. Parker, NDFS; Brian D. Poole, MMBio; Steven L. Petersen, PWS; Bradford Berges, MMBio; David M. Thomson, PDBio; Richard A. Gill, Bio NOT SHOWN Paul R. Reynolds, PDBio; Joshua A. Udall, PWS; Brock McMillan, PWS; Thomas S. Smith, PWS; David L. Erickson, MMBio; Edward R. Wilcox, Bio; Marc D. Hansen, PDBio

It is the classic chicken or the egg conundrum: Are the brightest students choosing to major in the life sciences at BYU because of the quality of the faculty? Or are quality faculty coming to Provo because of the caliber of the students? Whatever the answer, outstanding students continue to enroll, and impressive new faculty stand ready to teach them. In fact, the College of Life Sciences has hired 18 new faculty members since May 2006. Many of them have recently completed postdoctoral research, and all of them are coming with compelling research agendas and the most current training. More will follow. "What excites me is the enthusiasm and ideas they bring with them," says Professor Brent Nielson, Chair of the Department Microbiology and Molecular Biology (MMBio). "There is so much cutting-edge technology, and they are pursuing so many fresh ideas."

The new technology and ideas are important as the College of Life Sciences focuses its energies on a science and biotechnology-based curriculum. In turn, that focus will better prepare students for graduate or professional school or for immediate career opportunities. A manageable faculty-to-student ratio and an emphasis on mentored experiences with faculty and off -campus internships are key to that preparation. "That's the way education should be," says Dr. Keith A. Crandall, Chair of the Department of Biology. "And that's what excites new faculty: the integration of teaching and research at BYU."  The College is recruiting promising new faculty from top-ranked schools. According to Crandall, three factors attract them: the exceptional facilities and internal support; the beautiful, often familiar, mountain surroundings; and the prospect for collaborative opportunities with the outstanding faculty that are already here or soon will be. "And there's a fourth thing people don't realize until they get here," he continues. "The treasure trove of undergraduates at BYU."

 Likewise, there is a wealth of fascinating and important projects for undergraduates to work on. For example, Professor Bradford Berges, hired in July by MMBio, has created mice with a human immune system to study how various diseases affect humans. Professor Tory L. Parker, a new member of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science (NDFS) faculty, is researching the natural substances in fruits and vegetables that provide benefi cial antioxidants that lead to better health. "New faculty generates a lot of excitement and energy," says Professor Michael L. Dunn, new Chair of NDFS. "And they can't wait to share that with our students."

Their enthusiasm is catching, in part because professors are so willing to share the spotlight with their students. Some professors mentor 5 or 6 students per semester; others oversee as many as 30 students in their labs. Often those students end up as co-authors, even lead authors, of papers published in leading scientific journals. There are other benefits as well, Dunn says. "By getting our students involved in our research, they learn to do research, and that increases their knowledge base."

 Students may take a lab for credit, or a professor may pay them using external grants, university sponsored "mentoring environment grant" awards, or some other source of funds. In any case, it is not unusual for a professor to have a backlog of students waiting to do research. To meet the demand, "some of the professors in my department have a pretty elaborate team structure," explains Dr. James P. Porter, new Associate Dean and Chair of the Department of Physiology and Developmental Biology (PDBio). "They actually have four or five different teams, each with a different research emphasis, and generally, with a more senior undergraduate as team leader."

Most of Dr. Porter's students want to attend dental or medical school, so they jump at the chance to do actual research to make themselves more competitive- and because they enjoy it. Some are helping in Porter's study of cardiovascular control in rats. "I let them do some pretty cools things, and they just love it."

To Porter, the possibilities for new faculty are as endless as they are exciting. For example, he says that NDFS just hired a professor who specializes in muscle metabolism. As a result, PDBio might hire one or two faculty in the near future to build an inter-department team that studies diabetes-related matters in light of the molecular basis of muscle metabolism. "We also have a goal to strengthen the developmental biology side of this department," he says.

Faculty are also doing exciting research in the field, often far afield. In the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences (PWS), for instance, current fieldwork takes professors and students to South America to study genetics, alpacas and llamas, or forage development; or to Alaska to study bears. "Today we deal with wildlife rather than livestock in the college," says Dr. Val J. Anderson, Chair of PWS.

In September 2006, PWS hired Professor Joshua A. Udall. In short order, he wrote a National Science Foundation Grant for a 454 Life Sciences' Genome Sequencer, one of the most technologically significant products on the market, according to R&D magazine. That Sequencer now makes it possible for both faculty and student to collect and analyze completely different data than they could before. Opportunities like that have made the College of Life Sciences the place to be. Enrollment in PWS, for example, has jumped 200 students in the last two years. According to Anderson, "That increase indicates that students are as excited as we are about the direction the College is going." Naturally.

Like Father…

Professor Sam St. Clair

Professor Sam St. Clair joined the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences in 2007. He earned both his B.S. and M.S. in botany at BYU and  is Ph.D. at Penn State in plant physiology in 2004. He did postdoctoral research at both Stanford and the University of California Berkeley from 2004 to 2007.

Dr. St. Clair gained his passion for biology as a young boy doing field research with his dad in the wilderness areas of the western U.S. Continuing that tradition, his 10 and 4-year old sons spent time in the field doing research with him this summer.

Professor Sam St. Clair and his father Dr. Larry St. ClairDr. Sam St. Clair(RIGHT) with his father Dr. Larry St. Clair doing field research in the Idaho Panhandle.
Mentoring students on research projects has been the highlight of St. Clair's first year at BYU. Coming from an intensive research environment with mostly Ph.D. and postdoctoral researchers, he was skeptical about the contribution undergraduate students could make to his research, given their limited research experience. "However, capable undergraduate students have drastically increased the productivity of my research program over the last year," he says.

They've also been actively publishing: Four undergraduates will earn co-authorship on two manuscripts this year and another is finalizing data collection for two manuscripts on which he will be the lead author. Currently, St. Clair and his students are working on two major research projects in the lab. One is an effort to understand how extreme and increasingly more common climatic events such as drought and frost damage affect the sensitivity of plant communities to insect and pathogen attacks. "A new project at Lytle Ranch Preserve in southwest Utah examines how the invasion of nonnative annual grasses from Eurasia are displacing the Mojave desert native vegetation by increasing the frequency and intensity of fires," he says.

Dr. St. Clair and his wife Bryn have four young children. He loves to run, mountain bike, and read.

Leavening Education

Professor Julianne H. GroseJust before Fall semester began, Professor Julianne H. Grose joined the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Fortunately, she only had to drive 45 miles to accept her new position. After receiving her B.S. in chemistry with an emphasis on secondary education from the University of Utah, she remained to work on her Ph.D. in biology, studying under John Roth, a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Grose is fascinated by the regulation of cellular metabolism. Her Ph.D work focused on bacterial systems and the control of niacin, an essential cofactor or vitamin in all cells. That work led to three first-author publications, one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and two in the Journal of Bacteriology. She is excited to share her expertise. "I'm anxious to involve students in the study of metabolism at the microbial level," she says.

Professor Julianne H. Grose and Mark Herzag
Dr. Grose in her lab with student Mark Herzag. " You can't truly learn science without doing it."
Recently, Dr. Grose has focused on a yeast system, using genetic and biochemical approaches to understand how yeast cells regulate their metabolism in response to environmental stimuli. "Genetics allows you to ask the cell a question and let it guide you to an answer," she says.

Postdoctoral fellowships from the National Research Service and a grant from the University of Utah Cancer Research Training have funded her research in the past. "I am interested in the regulation of cellular metabolism, or in other words, how cells sense and respond to nutrients and environmental stressors," she says.

With her background in secondary education, Dr. Grose strives to combine science and teaching in the classroom and lab. "You can't truly learn science without doing it, and more importantly, you can't learn to truly appreciate it," she explains.

She and her husband Joel are the parents of three children. They love camping and hiking, particularly in southern Utah's red rocks.

Science for the Homeless

Professor Rickelle RichardsFor Professor Rickelle Richards, family is everything. From her 19 nieces and nephews to low-income parents trying to feed their children, she is passionate about the welfare of families. In fact, that passion guided her studies. She earned a B.S. in nutrition science at Utah State, a Masters of Public Health with an emphasis in maternal and child health at Tulane, and her Ph.D. in human nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
Professor Rickelle Richards working on her research
Dr.Richards(KNEELING) studies how homelessness affects nutrition during pregnancy.
She has also worked at the Tulane Xavier National Excellence in Women's Health and as a Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System Program intern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Richards joined the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science in September 2007. Her research interests embrace community nutrition and environmental and policy issues related to a family's ability to access an adequate food supply. She has published on factors that influence food choice and food access among homeless parents and
children and on how these factors impact diet and weight. "Through my research, I hope the voices of those who struggle to provide an adequate and safe food supply to their household can be heard by policymakers who address food inequities," she says.

She is currently studying the impact of homelessness during pregnancy on maternal nutrition-related behaviors and infant health; development and evaluation of online nutrition education materials for a local WIC program; and factors influencing shopping and cooking behaviors among low-income families. At BYU, she has had help with her research. "It's been such a rewarding experience working with these students, seeing their ideas turn into tangible products, and benefitting from their contributions," she says. Dr. Richards served a mission to the Germany Munich Mission. She enjoys gardening, cooking, running, hiking, traveling, sewing, and knitting, among other things.

Pulmonary RAGE:

Professor Paul R. ReynoldsThough Professor Paul R. Reynolds joined the faculty of Physiology and Developmental Biology in September 2007, he is no stranger to BYU. He earned both his B.S. and M.S. in zoology here before moving to the Cincinnati Children's Research Hospital and University of Cincinnati to work on his Ph.D. in molecular and developmental biology. He then did postdoctoral training in internal medicine at the University of Utah and received a Parker B. Francis Fellowship. "That fellowship provides pulmonary biologists protected time to research any avenue they choose," he says.

Reynolds uses his time researching chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disorder characterized by chronic inflammation and emphysema. Research shows that active and secondhand cigarette smoke exposure causes 80-90 percent of all COPD cases in the U.S.; however, only one in five heavy smokers develops the disease, suggesting a prominent genetic component in disease susceptibility.

In an effort to figure out how prominent, Dr. Reynolds is focusing on the role of RAGE, a receptor that normally functions during embryonic development of the lung, but whose expression increases in lung disease and may be a contributing factor. "We have characterized RAGE as an important gene in tobacco-induced pulmonary inflammation," Reynolds says.

Dr. Reynolds with Cami Allison and Charles Willnauer
Dr. Reynolds(TOP) mentors students like Cami Allison and Charles Willnauer to give them opportunities to contribute to pulmonary disease research.
His research is attracting attention. He recently received a $500,000 grant from the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute to further characterize the mechanisms that exacerbate COPD. His lab has discovered additional roles for RAGE in the inflammatory pathways activated by fine particulate matter air pollution in asthmatic lungs. "My mentored students will have a great opportunity to contribute to the field by seeking to uncover potential therapeutic targets in inflammatory pathways that influence the progression of pulmonary disease," he says.

When he is not teaching, he enjoys spending time with his wife Jennifer and their four children, traveling or doing virtually anything out of doors.