The goal of my laboratory exercises are to provide students with the context and skills necessary so that they can answer the What?, How? and Why? questions that they may have about the natural world.
I focus on these questions as they are the ones that I like to ask; and my search for answers lead me to become a biologist. An example of a what question is "What insects are living the Middlebury River?". In Ecology and Evolution lab we answer it by going to the river and sampling it to see who is there. A how question might be "How do taste receptors work?". In Cells and Genetics we answer that by using computer models to explore protein structure and polymerase chain reaction analysis to explore genetic differences in taste ability. Why questions are my favorite kind; an example of a why questions is "Why are bacteria that are exposed to antibacterial hand soaps no longer being killed by them?". In Ecology and Evolution we answer that by exploring the process of natural selection.
In my personal scholarship I ask and try to answer similar questions about a wide variety of biological systems. The primary research system I have used is a number of species of cavity-dwelling forest ants from Vermont and northern New York but I have also worked on molecular genetics projects exploring the genetic basis for infertility in mice, captive breeding protocols for endangered species using an insect model system and mating behavior in field crickets.
*Indicates a Middlebury College student
Backus, VL and JM Herbers 2009 Demogrpahy and Reproduction in the Cavity-dweling Ant Stenamma diecki (Emery) (Hymenotpera: Formicidae). The Northeastern Naturalist. 16(1):113-124.
Ward, JO, LG Reinholdt*, WM Motley*, LM Niswander*, DC Deacon*, LB Griffin*, KK Langlais, VL Backus, KJ Schimenti, MJ O’Brien, JJ Eppig, and JC Schimenti 2007 Mutation in Mouse Hei10, an E3 Ubiquitin Ligase Disrupts Meiotic Crossing Over. PLoS Genetics. 3(8):1550-1563