B I O L O G Y
Published by New Mexico Tech Department of Biology
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5 YEAR B.S./M.S
Department of Biology
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Socorro, NM 87801
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C O N T A C T
Dr. Tom Kieft
I'm an environmental microbiologist with interests in the ecology and biogeochemistry of microbes in extreme or unusual environments. I have studied the microbiology of deep groundwater environments for 20+ years. Sampling has involved deep drilling and also access to the subsurface biosphere via deep mines. I'm currently working on NSF-funded projects investigating the deep biosphere in South African gold mines (http://deepbio.princeton.edu/samp/sindex.htm) and planning for geomicrobiological research at the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) in the Black Hills of South Dakota (http://www.dusel.org/).
Dr. Rebecca Reiss studies molecular evolution, which is the change in DNA sequence over time. Determining DNA change is easy, but the estimation of time is difficult. The projects in her lab are diverse in that they involve bacteria, packrats, and primates, but they all are systems in which DNA changes can be associated with an independent estimate of time. The microbial communities that surround leaky underground storage tanks quickly evolve the ability to break down xenobiotics and incorporate the products into their own metabolism. The evolution of the enzymes that break down the pollutant ethylene dichloride at a site in Northern New Mexico are the subject of a project in her lab. Another method to track the evolution of DNA sequences is to examine DNA from fossils, a technique known as ancient DNA (aDNA). In Rebecca's lab, DNA extracted from carbon-dated packrat pellets up to 40,000 years old is analyzed by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to determine its condition. It is known that in primates the movement of mitochondrial sequences into the nucleus is a continuous process. By comparing the evolutionary history of these nuclear-located mitochondrial pseudogenes with their progenitor mitochondrial sequence the time when the sequences moved can be estimated.
Dr. Snezna Rogelj is a cell biologist who studies how environmental pollutants and various drugs affect human immune system. Her students look at the ability of white blood cells to recognize each other and respond various inflammatory stimuli when exposed to pollutants and medicinal drugs (e.g. tamoxifen, an anti-cancer drug and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana). Dr. Rogelj is interested in biofilms, ubiquitous complex three dimensional bacterial communities that are widespread in nature and play an important role in human disease. In collaboration with Dr. Frank Huang in Environmental Engineering Department at NMT, she studies the structure, composition, growth and enzymatic means of mitigation of medically relevant biofilms. One promising approach to biofilm removal is based on the use of degradative enzymes co-produced with antibiotic bacitracin by the biofilm-forming and biofilm-degrading bacteria Bacillus subtilis. Dr. Rogelj is also involved in numerous other collaborative projects; spanning the fields of chemistry, materials science, mathematics and physics.
Dr. Kevin Kirk is an evolutionary ecologist who studies life history traits. He is particularly interested in the response of lifespan to dietary restriction. Feeding animals less food makes them live longer, and we still do not understand why this works, either physiologically or evolutionarily. Kevin is also interested in population and community ecology, and has used planktonic rotifers as model systems to investigate factors that affect species diversity.
Out department actively collaborates with other departments at New Mexico Tech, including Chemistry, Materials Engineering, Computer Science, and Earth Science, as well as with researchers at other institutions.
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