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Vickie L. Backus

Associate Laboratory Professor in Biology

 work(802) 443-5647
 Spring 2021: M 10AM-11AM, T 10AM-11AM & 7PM-8PM or by appt.
 McCardell Bicen Hall 432
 University of Vermont

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.


The subject of my current research is the natural history of this tiny forest ant, A. rudis.

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.




Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

BIOL 0140 - Ecology and Evolution      

Ecology and Evolution
In this introduction to ecology and evolutionary biology we will cover the topics of interspecific interactions (competition, predation, mutualism), demography and life-history patterns, succession and disturbance in natural communities, species diversity, stability and complexity, causes of evolutionary change, speciation, phylogenetic reconstruction, and population genetics. The laboratory component will examine lecture topics in detail (such as measuring the evolutionary response of bacteria, adaptations of stream invertebrates to life in moving water, invasive species and their patterns of spread). We will emphasize experimental design, data collection in the field and in the laboratory, data analysis, and writing skills. This course is not open to seniors and second semester juniors in the Fall. 3 hrs. lect./disc./3 hrs. lab DED SCI

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020

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BIOL 0145 - Cell Biology and Genetics      

Cell Biology and Genetics
In this introduction to modern cellular, genetic, and molecular biology we will explore life science concepts with an emphasis on their integral nature and evolutionary relationships. Topics covered will include cell membrane structure and function, metabolism, cell motility and division, genome structure and replication, the regulation of gene expression and protein production, genotype to phenotype relationship, and basic principles of inheritance. Major concepts will be illustrated using a broad range of examples from plants, animals, and microorganisms. Current topics in biology will be integrated into the course as they arise. (For students matriculating in Fall 2019 or later: CHEM 0103 or equivalent) 3 hrs. lect./3 hrs. lab DED SCI

Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022

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Selected Publications

*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

Department of Biology

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753