Behavioral studies are concerned with what animals do in their environment, and therefore are a link between the nervous system and the ecosystem. Some of our faculty dissect brain mechanisms of behavior while others investigate behavioral components using traditional model organisms. Integrative studies extending from field observations to molecular mechanisms of behavior are carried out on non-traditional model organisms. Increasingly all behavioral work in the department is been examined in an evolutionary context. Behavioral researchers in our department are part of a broader network in Puerto Rico that includes scientists at the Institute of Neurobiology and Caribbean Primate Center.
Cellular and Molecular Biology
The Biology Department has identified the area of Cellular/Molecular Biology as an area for future growth. Presently, researchers in this area are interested in various aspects of gene expression, including the identification and characterization of genes and their products associated with particular biological processes a well as the mechanisms that regulate mRNA and protein levels. Others use molecular biological techniques for population analyses, species characterization, and applications to microbial and ecological studies. Investigators share common equipment facilities such as, cell culture, microarrays, confocal microscope, gene sequencing among others. This group has strong interactions with other scientists on the island particularly with those in the Basic Science departments at the University of Puerto Medical School and with colleagues on the mainland.
Several investigators in the Department of Biology share a common interest in studying developmental processes, in particular the identification of genes and proteins that affect development. Other areas of interest include the embryogenesis and regeneration of the muscular and nervous systems, the genetics of aging and studies on differential gene expression during development.
Ecology and Systematics
We have a diverse group of researchers addressing basic ecological, systematic and evolutionary issues concerning patterns and processes in aquatic, marine, and terrestrial tropical ecosystems with emphasis in the Neotropics. Ecologists work at population, community, ecosystem and landscape levels often utilizing global information systems and molecular techniques while focusing on applied solutions for tropical forestry, conservation, restoration and bioremediation. Systematists employ traditional, phylogenetic and molecular techniques to examine taxonomic, evolutionary and phylogeographic problems in microbial, fungal, zoological and botanical systems. These studies are enhanced by close collaboration with scientists at the Department of Environmental Studies at UPR-RP, and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry .
Evolution and Genetics
We have a dynamic group of researchers examining the impact of soil use in the tropics on the soil microbiota and microbial quality of tropical waters, ecological interactions between mycorrhizal fungi and orchid seed sporulation, and the microbial composition of specialized foregut structures in animals and the genetic variability of gastric Helicobacter pylori strains.
The Biology Department has an active group of researchers with interests in the field of Neuroscience. The group encompasses all aspects of the Neurosciences, from the molecular to the organismal level. Particular strengths are in areas of ion channel molecular structure-function relationships, developmental neuroscience and studies in higher brain functions such as learning and drug addiction. Investigators share common equipment facilities such as, cell culture, microarrays, confocal microscope, gene sequencing among others. Similarly, they have joined efforts to successfully obtain funding from NSF and NIH. The neuroscience group in the Biology Department maintains strong interactions with other scientists on the island (particularly with those at the Institute of Neurobiology and in the Basic Science departments of the University of Puerto Rico Medical School and on the mainland.
The department of Biology has been enthusiastic about incorporating research into education, in line with UPR’s mission. Several professors in our department are engaged in the venture of investigating on how to increase the conceptual understanding of biological concepts in our students, and how to motivate them to do more scientific research. One example is the Seamless Biology Classroom in which conference and laboratory instruction in Zoology and Botany were fully integrated.