The Department of Biology is the focal point of life science research at Penn State, and it enjoys close ties with other departments in the Eberly College of Science, especially the Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Statistics. The Biology faculty participate in intercollege graduate programs in ecology, genetics, physiology, and plant biology, and interdepartmental and intercollege research collaborations are common. Some Biology faculty also are members of the The Huck Institute for Life Sciences, the Center for Gene Regulation, and the Penn State Institutes of the Environment.
Plant Biology research spans the breadth of biological organization with core areas in plant physiology, signal transduction pathways regulating light and hormone responses, genetic control of flower development, dynamic control of the cytoskeleton of plant cells, structure and function of the plant cell wall, evolution and function of microRNAs, ecology and evolution of mating systems. In addition to basic research, Plant Biology faculty are investigating a number of applied questions related to stress environment, invasive plant species, and, developing plants as an energy resource.
Ecology research includes basic issues in population dynamics, community interactions, effect of climate change on species diversity, disease dynamics at the population and community level, dynamic relationship of species interactions and the impact on communities, symbiosis of deep sea organisms, the impact of viruses and parasites on the ecology and evolution of host species, response of marine organism to longterm and catastrophic habitat changes, and plant-insect interactions in shaping reproductive strategies.
Neurobiology research encompasses basic questions of how neurons communicate with each other at the molecular and cellular level, synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity, the development of neurons and the central nervous system, how memory is stored and retrieved, the cause and cure of neurological diseases including anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, aggressive behavior and species interactions, and pain perception in vertebrates.
Evolution and Genomics research includes a large swath of questions that overlap with all other research areas in the Department of Biology. In addition, major research is focused on questions related to origin and dating of species, the birth and death of genes, chromosomal evolution, evolution of viruses, the role of mutation in evolution, human and mammalian population genomics, the evolution of major plant lineages, recent evolutionary and demographic history of mammalian species.
Cell and Development research is focused on various questions including how protein trafficking in the cell is regulated, the function and regulation of the cytoskeleton, regulatory pathways of cell growth and cancer, molecular basis of diabetes and obesity, regulatory pathways controlling embryonic development, and regulation of flower development and meiosis in plants.
Integrative Biology encompasses most of the research programs in the Department of Biology. Specific examples of multilevel research in the Department includes the ecology, evolution, and molecular biology of flight; reproductive strategies of plants in the context of viral infection, population dynamics, and the environment; multi-organ communication, nutrition, and molecular biology of diabetes and obesity; and molecular immunology of host response to parasites and viruses and their impact on nature population dynamics, chemistry and physiology of symbiosis of deep sea organisms and extreme environments.
Centers and Institutes for Interdisciplinary Research