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Biological Sciences

The Pfau Lab, 2016-2017

  • Dr. Russell Pfau
  • Hunter Glisson-Warner (undergrad)- assessment of genetic structure within the pocket gopher, Geomys arenarius
  • Liz Gilliland (undergrad)- genetic diversity of the Texas kangaroo rat, Dipodomys elator

Student Research Opportunities

Undergraduate and graduate students working in my lab gain hands-on experience in using modern, molecular genetic and field techniques. Genetic techniques that students have the opportunity to use include DNA extraction and amplification via polymerase chain reaction and use of our Beckman-Coulter Automated Genetic Analysis System for DNA sequencing, microsatellite analysis, and AFLP analysis. Students benefit not only from hands-on research experience, but also by gaining a working understanding of population-genetic theory and evolutionary biology.

Student research is not limited to the lab. The opportunity also exists for students to be involved in collecting organisms from their native habitat. Field techniques provide the foundation for the broad and rapidly expanding field of molecular ecological research. Field research allows students to gain an intimate understanding of the habitat preferences, geographical distribution, and behavior of the organisms that they will be studying in the laboratory.

Students also have the opportunity to present their research at local, regional, national, and/or international conferences.

Additionally, much of my research is done in collaboration with faculty and graduate students at other universities, providing students the opportunity to meet and work with scientists from universities other than Tarleton.

Ongoing Projects

  • Assessment of Genetic Diversity of the State Threatened Texas Kangaroo Rat, Dipodomys elator, Using Museum Specimens.  Funded by a Texas Parks & Wildlife Section 6 grant (2014-2016).
  • Population genetics of the Texas mouse (Peromyscus attwateri) across its geographic distribution.  In collaboration with Dr. Gregory Wilson at University of Central Oklahoma, Justin Lack, and Vagan Mushegyan.
  • Geographic distribution of shrews in the south-central U.S. using genetic data to identify morphologically cryptic species.
  • Determination of genetic structure among populations (lake and estuary) of the invasive mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii) using mitochrondrial DNA sequencing.
  • DNA sequencing and AFLP analysis of cotton rats to map the geographical location of the hybrid zone between eastern and western lineages of this species. 
  • Population genetics of the gopher Geomys breviceps (in collaboration with Drs. Phil Sudman and Jessica Light (Texas A&M University))

Past Student Research

  • 2015-2016: Hunter Glisson-Warner (undergrad) - assessment of genetic structure within the pocket gopher, Geomys arenarius
  • 2014-2015
  • 2013-2014
    • Wesley Wiegreffe (undergrad) genetic analysis of potential hybridization in red and blacktail shiners
    • Andria Beal (undergrad) - genetic analysis of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) hybrid zone
    • Tim Huebner (grad) - Genetics of an invasive mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii) in Texas reservoirs
  • 2012-2013
    • Wesley Wiegreffe (undergrad) genetic analysis of potential hybridization in red and blacktail shiners
    • Andria Beal (undergrad) - genetic analysis of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) hybrid zone
    • Caryne Hampton (undergrad) - genetic analysis of the cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus) hybrid zone
    • Jacody Coronado (undergrad) - morphometrics of the shrews Blarina brevicauda and B. hylophaga
    • Cheri Porter - DNA isolation from plants
    • Tim Huebner (grad) - Genetics of an invasive mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii) in Texas reservoirs
  • 2010-2012
    • Ben Stevens (grad student) sequenced DNA of the bacterial genus Bartonella in several species of cotton rats in order to determine patterns of diversity within this group of bacteria.
    • Lee Richardson (grad student) used genetic data to map the geographic distribution of two genetic lineages of Sigmodon hispidus and examine patterns of hybridization.
    • Allison Love (grad student) used DNA fingerprinting (AFLP) to study hybridization of red and black-tailed shiners in the Paluxy and Bosque rivers.
  • 2011-2012: Alex Trott (undergrad student) generated DNA fingerprinting (AFLP) data for a population genetic study of the Texas mouse.
  • 2009-2011
    • Ashley Kozora (grad student) determined population genetic structure of the gopher Geomys arenarius in New Mexico and west Texas.
    • Sara Zeisler, an undergraduate, sequenced DNA from cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) to determine geographic distribution of two genetic lineages and to uncover patterns of hybridization.
    • Stephanie Painter (grad student) used real-time PCR to quantify the amoeba Naegleria fowleri and E. colii in Lake Granbury.
    • Jordan Sparkman (undergraduate) focused primarily on development of microsatellite markers for the cotton rat.  Becca Peters  sequenced mitochondrial DNA of shrews in order to study the degree of introgression between two hybridizing species.
  • 2008-2009: Rachel Seay and Rece Laney sequenced mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA, respectively, of the hispid cotton rat in order to locate and characterize a hybrid zone between two genetic lineages of this species.  Becca Peters sequenced mitochondrial DNA of shrews in order to study the degree of introgression between two hybridizing species.  Jordan Sparkman developed microsatellite markers for the cotton rat.
  • 2007-2008: Terry Johnson completed his Master's degree for which he used AFLP analysis to examine patterns of genetic diversity and divergence of Peromyscus attwateri populations across the geographic distribution of this species. Rachel Seay and Rece Laney sequenced mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA, respectively, of the hispid cotton rat in order to locate and characterize a hybrid zone between two genetic lineages of this species.  
  • 2007 - Undergraduate students Bethany Stevens and Alicia Sanders isolated microsatellite loci from Sigmodon hispidus using the FIASCO technique. They sequenced DNA and designed and tested primers for use in PCR amplification of the microsatellite loci that they identified.
  • Kristin Denton completed her Master's degree. Her research focused on examining the genetic diversity of an immune response gene (MHC-DQA) in two closely-related rodent species: Peromyscus attwateri and P. boylii.
  • Caleb Phillips completed his Master's degree at Tarleton and obtained his PhD at Purdue University. While at Tarleton, Caleb examined genetic diversity in cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) using AFLP analysis and has detected hybridization between two divergent lineages in eastern Texas.
  • 2006 - Undergraduate students included Calvin Henard, Sadie Goodwin, and Endra Sookor. Calvin sequenced mitochondrial DNA from east Texas Sigmodon to determine which individuals belonged to divergent eastern or western lineages. This project is focusing on clarifying the nature of a hybrid zone between these two lineages. Sadie sequenced mitochondrial DNA to examine the population genetic structure of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) from islands off the coast of California and Baja California. Endra designed and testing primers to amplify a gene involved in sperm-egg recognition in the cotton rat.
  • 2005 - Calvin Henard sequenced mitochondrial DNA from east Texas Sigmodon to determine which individuals belonged to divergent eastern or western lineages. Valeska Valderas used AFLP to estimate levels of genetic diversity in the Palo Duro mouse (Peromyscus truei comanche) from Palo Duro Canyon, TX. Jennifer Linkenauger sequenced DNA from the pinyon mouse (Peromyscus truei) to address questions of phylogeography among populations from Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Yvette Vaughan worked on a PCR optimization project for a Heredity lab exercise.
  • 2004 - Terry Johnson used AFLP analysis to examine patterns of genetic diversity and divergence of Peromyscus attwateri populations across the geographic distribution of this species.
  • Julia Ranger conducted microsatellite analysis on Peromyscus maniculatus from Baja California and sequenced mitochondrial DNA from the Texas mouse (P. maniculatus).
  • Christina Dobson attempted to extract DNA from skulls of museum voucher specimens for the purpose of sequencing mitochondrial DNA.
  • Spring/Fall 2003 - Lin Winton used single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis and DNA sequencing to identify MHC-DQA alleles from Peromyscus maniculatus and also used microsatellite analysis to compare levels of genetic diversity among island and mainland populations of Peromyscus maniculatus from Baja California.
  • Spring 2003 - Caleb Phillips, Lauren Adams, and Kyle Jordan fine-tuned AFLP analysis for use in evaluating levels of genetic diversity in Peromyscus and Sigmodon species.
  • Fall 2002 - Ken Brooks used microsatellite analysis to determine level of genetic diversity in a population of Peromyscus maniculatus from Oklahoma.
  • Spring/Summer 2002 - Lindsay Smith, Jason Magonye and Ken Brooks used microsatellite analysis to determine genetic diversity and effective population sizes of several Peromyscus populations from southern California and Baja California.
  • Spring/Fall 2001 - Josh Combs tested PCR reactions and experimented with several techniques to observe parasites in insects for use in my Parasitology lab.