Doug Risser

Douglas Risser

Associate Professor
Room 244
Biological Sciences Center
Email Address:
Phone Number:

PhD, Microbiology, University of Hawaii, 2009

BSc, Zoology, University of New Hampshire, 2000

Teaching Interests

As an instructor, my proximate goal is to ensure that students are prepared for their future, whether that future is a biology related career in academia, industry or health sciences, or something completely different. This means that in addition to providing a strong background in concepts central to biology, I help students develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills. In this context, hands on, experiential learning is critical. No one would expect you to learn how to hit a baseball just by reading a book, and the same principle applies to learning the necessary laboratory skills to succeed in biology-related disciplines. Experiential learning also gives students an opportunity to participate in active research projects that allow them to experience and come to understand the scientific method first hand.

My ultimate goal is for students to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the biological world, something I try to accomplish by constantly connecting basic biology to everyday life, whether by discussing the latest disease outbreak in microbiology class, or explaining, in introductory biology, how the same fundamental chemical properties that lead to the formation of cell membranes can help you clean the bacon grease off your frying pan. In both lecture and laboratory settings, I always strive to build relationships with students that foster a friendly environment and encourage an open dialogue.

Research Focus

My research is focused on the biology of the developmentally diverse heterocyst-forming cyanobacteria with an emphasis on a combination of global-omics, molecular/genetic, cell biology and biochemical approaches.

I am particularly interested in two differentiated cell types, nitrogen fixing heterocysts and motile hormogonia and how these cell types function to establish symbioses with eukaryotic organisms where the cyanobacteria provide a source of fixed nitrogen. It has been estimated that these types of symbioses account for nearly 50% of all terrestrial biological nitrogen fixation.  

I work with Nostoc punctiforme as a model organism for heterocyst-forming cyanobacteria and have the capability to recreate the symbiotic infection process in the lab with the bryophyte hornwort Anthoceros punctatus, one of many symbiotic plant partners N.punctiforme associates with.