Faculty Research


Research is an important part of faculty life at Rhodes.  If you are a student interested in research, these summaries of faculty research interests may serve as a guide to direct you to a particular faculty member. If you see a possible match, contact the faculty member to discuss what opportunities may exist for you to be involved.




Sarah Boyle

Dr. Boyle studies how human actions impact the distribution, ecology, and conservation of fauna and flora. Her research also addresses the extent to which a species modifies its behavior when living in areas of high disturbance.  Dr. Boyle conducts research in Central and South America, as well as locally in Memphis. Current student projects involve behavioral research at the Memphis Zoo and the analysis of local forests using GIS. More about Dr. Boyle′s research



Michael Collins ResearchMichael Collins

Dr. Collins’ research interests are broad but center on examining the determinants and consequences of species diversity at local, regional, and global scales. His research employs observational, field, computational, statistical, and GIS approaches to understand issues in community ecology, conservation biology, avian ecology, and invasive species. Dr. Collins is excited to begin field studies in the Memphis area and encourages students to swing by his office to meet him, especially if they have an interest in avian conservation biology or field ecology.  More about Dr. Collins′ research 


Kelly Dougherty

Dr. Dougherty investigates the biophysical underpinnings of epilepsy. She uses a combination of molecular biology, biochemistry, electrophysiology, and computer modeling to study the relationship between voltage-gated ion channels and neuronal excitability.  Currently, her work is focused on understanding the mechanism of action for several common antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) and anesthetics.   People are often surprised to learn that most AEDs and anesthetics were developed empirically, with very little understanding of the underlying mechanisms.  It is therefore less surprising, that primary, secondary, and even tertiary drug targets often emerge years after the drug has entered the marketplace. Understanding these alternative AED mechanisms is especially important, given that the seizure activity of nearly one third of epileptics cannot be controlled with existing AEDs. Dr. Dougherty enjoys working with students, and is excited about incorporating them into her research program. 

Mel Durrett

Dr. Mel Durrett wants to better understand how students learn biology, with the goal of strengthening students’ retention of fundamental skills and concepts. For her dissertation she investigated nutrient cycling on seabird islands in New Zealand, where birds tunnel under the forest floor, tilling and scratching leaves and guano into the soil. She has also worked with a variety of taxa in Interior Alaskan rivers, lakes and wetlands: plants, aspen leaf miners, drifting aquatic invertebrates, salmon, and small mammals. Dr. Durrett really loves talking about biology and is always excited to learn more about the local ecology of Memphis!

Jonathan Fitz Gerald

One of the agriculturally significant aspects of plant growth is seed size. This is largely determined by the development of the seed endosperm. Dr. Fitz Gerald′s work focuses on the Arabidopsis gene AtFH5, a formin involved in the development of the posterior endosperm. Using a combination of molecular biology, genetics and microscopy, his aim is to understand both the role of AtFH5 in endosperm development and the pathways that regulate AtFH5 expression. Interestingly, after fertilization AtFH5 is expressed only from the maternal genome. Paternal silencing is regulated by a homologue of the animal Polycomb group complex. In animals, Polycomb complexes maintain cell identity during development. In Arabidopsis, is Polycomb maintaining male and female identity of the parental genomes? Ongoing projects include the examination of mutant plants where AtFH5 expression is altered and molecular screening for AtFH5 interacting proteins.



Terry Hill

Dr. Hill’s research deals with the genetic determinants of growth and division in fungal cells.  Particular areas of interest are the identification of proteins participating in construction and constriction of actomyosin rings at division sites and the molecular basis for targeting of proteins to their sites of action in the cell. In collaboration with Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes (Department of Chemistry), this laboratory is generating and characterizing mutant strains of the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans that have defects in cell growth or division, which is providing information on the mechanisms underlying these processes.  Among genes currently under study, are actin, type II myosin, protein kinase C, and a fungal IQGAP protein.   Other recently published work has dealt with proteins in the fungal Golgi apparatus, which are important to protein glycosylation and to cell morphogenesis.  The cells pictured at the left are those of fungi bearing a mutation in the Golgi membrane transporter for GDP-mannose.  Their distorted shapes relate to failure to correctly glycosylate glycoproteins involved in structure of cell walls.  More about Dr. Hill′s research



 zetakiAlan Jaslow

Dr. Alan Jaslow′s research interests are in the areas of vertebrate functional morphology and animal behavior. His research in behavior focuses on animal communication and mainly acoustics. He is working with the vocalizations made by Giant Pandas at the Memphis Zoo. Research projects in functional morphology have focused on both the evolution of middle ears in amphibians, and the functional significance of leg bone diameter and thickness in different sized mammals. He has also looked at these scaling phenomena in the growth patterns in tarantulas. More about Dr. A. Jaslow′s research



Carolyn Jaslow

Dr. Carolyn Jaslow’s research focuses on reproductive biology.  She is particularly interested in the factors related to infertility and miscarriage, including hormonal, physiological, and anatomical anomalies associated with recurrent pregnancy loss.  More about Dr. C. Jaslow′s research.




Rachel Jabaily

Dr. Jabaily studies the evolutionary relationships between plants by generated molecular sequences and building phylogenetic trees. She is interested in discerning patterns in the great diversity of plants, particularly within the Australian family Goodeniaceae and South American genus Puya (Bromeliaceae). Other research collaborations involve studying the development of floral form and interactions of plants and pollinators in the field. Dr. Jabaily′s work has implications for the naming and conservation of species and she is excited to incorporate undergraduates into her research program. Dr. Jabaily is also head of the Rhodes College herbarium, which serves to document the plant diversity of the greater Memphis area.  More about Dr. Jabaily′s research


David Kabelik

Dr. Kabelik′s research examines the neural circuits that regulate social and conversely aggressive behaviors, and how steroid hormones modulate these circuits and behaviors. He conducts this work in the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) model system, as well as in several Sceloporus species (Spiny/Fence lizards) that vary in aggression levels, thus allowing for evolutionary comparisons of brain circuitry. Dr. Kabelik is excited about integrating students into this research, and about his upcoming Animal Physiology and Neuroscience courses.  More about Dr. Kabelik′s research



Gary Lindquester

Dr. Lindquester studies the role of a protein known as interleukin 10 (IL-10) that is produced by the human pathogen, Epstein Barr virus (EBV). He and his students generated a recombinant murine gammaherpesvirus containing the EBV IL-10 gene to study its effects on infection, latency, and pathogenesis in a mouse animal model.  They found that expression of this gene increases acute pathogenesis of the virus as measured by enhanced enlargement of the spleen and increased virus production; however, it does not affect the establishment of latency or reactivation. The specific mechanism by which expression of the viral IL-10 gene enhances acute pathogenesis remains to be determined.



Laura Luque de Johnson

Dr. Luque de Johnson investigates the molecular mechanism of tight junction formation during plasmodium invasion of red blood cells. The plasmodium organism is the causal agent of Malaria, a disease of which more than 1 million people die every year and 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting. Tight junction formation is believed to be the irreversible step in the invasion of red blood cells by the plasmodium organism. My lab focuses on EBA-175, a plasmodium surface protein believed to play a crucial role in tight junction formation. In my lab, we are characterizing the role of EBA-175 dimerization in tight junction formation. Through mutational analysis we disrupt EBA-175 dimerization and study the effects on tight junction formation and red blood cell invasion. Understanding the molecular mechanism that governs the morphological changes that take place inside the red blood cell during plasmodium invasion will improve our ability to control malaria.   



Mary Miller

The growth and division of eukaryotic cells is a highly regulated process. A variety of events important for successful division must be carried out in the proper order, at the proper time, and in the proper location. This coordinated series of events is described as the “cell division cycle” or “cell cycle”. Successful regulation of the cell cycle is paramount to the survival of single and multi-celled organisms ranging from budding yeast to man (Movie of dividing yeast courtesy of M. Tyers). Errors in this process usually result in cell death, and at times trigger the accumulation of oncogenic properties, leading eventually to cancer. In Dr Miller′s lab, three critical aspects of regulated cell division are studied using the model system Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

  • Dr. Miller uses genetic, genomic, and biochemical approaches to understand regulated cellular division in her studies of cyclin proteins.  The Miller lab studies the regulated movement of cyclin proteins that are important for the transition from the G1 to the S phase of the cell division cycle.
  • Genome wide transcriptional and phenomic approaches are used to understand the mechanism of action and the impact on regulated cellular division of the anti-cancer drug KP1019.  KP1019 is a ruthenium based agent that has shown promising performance in phase I clinical trials.  In yeast, the Miller lab (the collaboration with Pam Hanson and Laura Stultz, BSC) find that KP1019 triggers a DNA damage response and cell cycle specific growth arrest.
Cynthia Ryder

As a microbiologist, Dr. Ryder’s research interests lie in the realm of bacteriology, both environmental and clinical.  During her thesis research, a portion of her work with Pseudomonas aeruginosa centered on better understanding virulence factors expressed by the organism in a clinical setting.  Specifically, the expression of a polysaccharide called psl that is important for attachment of P. aeruginosa to biotic and abiotic surfaces.  Dr. Ryder continues and expands this work by investigating the expression of several virulence factors in clinical and environmental strains of this ubiquitous organism, including comparing clinical and environmental strains from the same geographic area.  Since Pseudomonas aeruginosa is rarely transmitted from person to person, this data could lead to a better understanding of which environmental bacterial strains are capable of initiating clinical infection.


Oliver Sturm

Dr. Sturm is interested in the application of mathematical modeling to study the dynamic behavior of biological systems. Biological processes are extremely complex. Even in a simple bacterium we find complex chemical structures that spontaneously assemble and perform elaborate biochemical functions virtually without errors despite the fact that they are under thermal noise and embedded in a dense molecular soup composed of thousands of different entities. Systems biology is a an attempt to discern the design principles underlying complex biological processes such as for instance biochemical signal transduction. To understand the dynamic properties of a biological process we attempt to model the system using a suitable mathematical formalism and to simulate its behavior by running computational simulations. The actual “model building” requires an interdisciplinary approach and is usually done in collaboration with mathematicians, as it requires mathematical and computational skills. Ideally the model generates insights in the design principles of biological systems and helps us to understand and predict its dynamic properties. The final goal is to verify the model by testing modeling predictions experimentally in the actual biological system.

Thilina Surasinghe

Dr. Surasinghe’s research focuses on the impacts of current and historical land uses on stream ecosystems. His recent research studies have focused on community organizational and biotic homogenization along urban-rural gradients; landscape-scale conservation planning and reserve designing; revision of biodiversity and natural resource policies; and ecology of freshwater ecosystems.