Research Faculty and Courses

Biotechnology Research.  Dr. Diana Spencer and Dusti Sloan provide undergraduate research experiences in biotechnology as previewed in the following paragraphs. 

Under the direction of Dr. Diana Spencer, the biotechnology program incorporates research learning experiences into the curriculum of the Molecular Biology and Techniques and the Biotechnology Apprentice courses.  As part of the molecular techniques curriculum, students are required to work on group research projects and develop technical posters/papers of their research projects.  The students have previously amplified sections of the male TCC professors’ “Y” chromosome that indicates specific human early migration patterns.  These sections were sequenced and compared to published data.  And, students extracted DNA from arthropods and amplified regions of the COI mitochondrial gene. This gene has been used in the international project to “barcode” all living organisms using molecular biology.  This material was sequenced and aligned to compare similarities/ differences in the genetic inheritance of the organisms.  Research this semester will study plant DNA barcoding genes.  Dr. Spencer and her students have presented novel research projects from the previous six semesters, however locating the funds to travel and to register for each meeting has been difficult. 

For summer, students enroll in the apprenticeship course; internships are awarded through the Tulsa Area Bioscience Educators and Researchers Consortium (TABERC).  Biotechnology professors Dr. Diana Spencer and Dusti Sloan are executive board members of the organization.  The organization includes nine regional institutions of higher learning and the members have met monthly for the previous three years.  While the students present a slide show presentation for the TABERC Board and guests, the ability for students to present their work from the summer apprenticeship at a regional or state meeting will solidify the research experience of investigating new material and then communicating the results to the scientific community.  Dr. Spencer plans to offer a new research course for the summer of 2012 to further stimulate research opportunities. 

Under the direction of Dusti Sloan, cell culture students will be involved in a research project that examines the quality of water around landfill sites, and whether that water is detrimental to living cells.  Field research will include the collection of water in proximity to landfill sites. Using standard kits, water quality data (i.e. nitrates, phosphates, BOD, etc.) will be collected. In the lab, bacteria will be isolated and preserved to later determine what species are present.  Future analysis of resident bacteria will identify whether the bacteria are harmful to the ecosystem, or whether they are a unique species that has the ability to breakdown contaminants at a particular waste site. After isolating bacteria, the water will be filtered to remove all contaminants, and used to make cell culture medium (compared to a control water source).  The students will utilize cell culture techniques, including growth curve analyses and viability assays, to determine the effects, if any, of chemical contaminants (from the waste site) on cells.


Conservation Biology Research.  Patty B. Smith, Dr. Bryan Coppedge and Mary Phillips provide undergraduate research experiences in conservation biology as previewed in the following paragraphs. 

Under the direction of Patty B. Smith, one to four students enroll in three credit hours of Undergraduate Research in Conservation Biology or Plant Conservation. These students develop and present technical posters/papers of their research experiences and/or projects for local and state meetings.  The Cross Timbers ecoregion located on TCC West Campus and Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden in west Tulsa provides a unique opportunity to biosurvey a native landscape.  The Cross Timbers are pristine, ancient forests, which have existed long before European settlement of North America.  The biosurvey includes collecting, preserving, and archiving voucher specimens.  Voucher specimens serve as permanent records of the biological diversity, such as plants and animals.  Also, other living organisms, such as protozoans and fungi, are collected and/or documented.  Additionally, tree-ring dating (dendrochronology) analyses are recorded for ancient post oaks and other trees found at these study sites.  Recently, TCC West Campus built a contemporary greenhouse for teaching and research experiences.  Native plants from the Cross Timbers and prairie ecoregions are propagated from local stock (seeds and/or cuttings) and transplanted to West Campus flowerbeds.  For example, undergraduate research students designed and developed the Native American Flowerbed, which showcases local plants used for food, medicine, and spiritual ceremonies by Native Americans.  For community service projects, undergraduate research students assist in  the native plant propagation for and design and development of the West Campus flowerbeds, crop propagation for local community gardens, and plant signage at the Oklahoma Centennial Botanical Garden. 

Dr. Bryan Coppedgehas several ongoing and even published research projects from the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (Nature Conservancy) near Pawhuska.  He is planning to involve students in his current research project with twig girdlers.  The twig girdler, Oncideres cingulate, is a beetle native to the eastern United States.  This species, as well as others in the genus, are noted for their peculiar propensity for severing branches from a variety of tree species, then laying eggs on the branches in which their larvae develop the following year.  Most of the damage done by this pruning or girdling activity goes unnoticed, except when the damage occurs in commercial nut or fruit tree settings.  The species is particularly fond of pecan, but also girdles elm, persimmon, hickory, birch and honey locust.  However, other common tree species such as ash, oak, willow, and sycamore are avoided.  Research on this species thus far has focused on assessing damage in pecan plantations and the bionomics and reproductive success on various host species.  A number of questions remain to be explored for this species as follows:

▪ What environmental factors affect larval survival, and how do these factors relate to fluctuations in beetle populations and successive damage from girdling activity?

▪  What host factors or conditions, such as the presence or absence of metabolic compounds or drought stress, affect their selection as hosts?  How does the biochemical makeup of selected branches affect larval development and survival?

▪  What natural enemies (parasites/parasitoids) does the species have?

▪  What effects do outbreaks of girdlers have on tree productivity and biology, such as nut production in commercial pecan orchards or native hickories following severe episodes of girdling?

▪  What are the migratory or dispersal distances for adult beetles? 

Under the direction of Mary Phillips, majors biology students participate in several internship and research project opportunities. Students work with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to collect and analyze paddlefish data used in conservation and management of paddlefish populations in Oklahoma. Students at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife participate in biodiversity surveys and species management projects to determine status of native and endangered species. In 2012, biology students will participate in two international research projects in Costa Rica. Students will monitor species biodiversity in Monteverde and La Selva. They will use field capture cameras and GIS technology to collect and analyze data. The work is part of an international effort to monitor rainforest biodiversity. In addition, biology students will participate in an international barcode project to identify species by using molecular and biotechnology skills. Lastly, biology students participate in engaged service learning projects and develop semester long volunteer research projects. Example of volunteer research projects include: Sutton Avian Research Center where volunteers helped organize, input, and analyze data collected.  The data was used to monitor eagle populations in Oklahoma.  Students learned metadata analysis and collaborated with researchers to restore eagle populations in Oklahoma.