The Biology Department's program of studies is sufficiently flexible to prepare students to pursue careers in molecular and cellular biology, botany, microbiology, physiology or zoology as graduate students. Some students pursue jobs in biotechnology, education, marketing and sales, among other fields. Programs in the department also prepare students for professional fields such as dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, medical technology, nursing or physical therapy.
As a student of biological sciences at Pacific, you will work with faculty members who have expertise in a variety of different biological systems. You will explore your field of study through undergraduate experiential learning and research opportunities. You will also enjoy small upper-division classes that allow direct interaction with your professors, as well as the use of modern facilities and cutting-edge biological instrumentation. Unlike larger institutions that rely on graduate students to gather scientific data, Pacific offers unparalleled research opportunities for undergraduate students.
Our programs prepare you for health-based professional fields that include dentistry, pharmacy, medicine, biotechnology, nursing or physical therapy. Faculty advisers work closely with University of the Pacific's Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry admissions committees to ease student transition from pre-professional to professional programs. The Department of Biological Sciences also offers a graduate program leading to a Master of Science degree. The MS Program enables students to work closely with faculty members in research and teaching.
A 2000 graduate, Der Thor majored in Biological Sciences. He is currently working as an assistant professor at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, University of the Pacific, San Francisco Campus. His favorite part of the job comes with the territory, that is, working with students.
To students who are interested in studying biology, Der says that the academic environment at Pacific fosters great opportunities to grow academically. "It's a great place to get real undergraduate research experience," he says. "The faculty have diverse research expertise so you will find a project to make your own."
Undergraduate research opportunities
Pacific's undergraduate program in Biology provides students with the intellectual foundation and practical skills to conduct original research in the area of biological sciences.
- More than 70% of Biology majors engage in undergraduate research while at Pacific.
- During the past 10 years, over 35 undergraduate students have co-authored significant research papers.
- Biology undergraduates have the opportunity to become fully integrated members of cutting-edge research laboratories as well as experience field research biology.
The Biology Department has 17 active faculty members and 5 emeriti. All members perform laboratory/and or field research, actively involving student participation.Since the College of the Pacific is considered a primarily undergraduate research institution (PUI), the advancements of research projects in the Biology Department largely depend upon experimental work performed by undergraduate research students.Whereas larger research institutions primarily use Ph.D. candidates or post-doctoral students to gather scientific data, at Pacific, undergraduate students fulfill this role.
Liora Edelstein, Cherie Musgrove and Justin Bala-Hampton
These students performed research experiments in Dr. Wrischnik's lab using the experimental technique known as RNA interference (RNAi) to efficiently “knock out” genes in fruit flies. The students participated in the construction of the RNAi vectors, which were designed to destroy the function of DNA repair genes in fruit flies. In addition to learning the basics of molecular biology, these three students learned how to microinject DNA into fly embryos to get their DNA inserted into the fly genome. The latter research was made possible by the Department's sophisticated microinjection equipment.
Melissa worked in Dr. Wrischnik's laboratory building several types of DNA vectors that facilitate visualization of the expression of DNA repair genes in fruit flies during development. She used the department's new, high-end inverted fluorescence microscope to visualize where these genes are expressed in live and fixed organisms. She also performed real-time PCR analysis to help confirm when these genes are expressed during fruit fly development.
Khanh cloned several of the homologous recombinational repair proteins from the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis, a single-celled organism with a very ancient lineage. By using the department's ABI DNA Sequencer to analyze her clones, she revealed new information about the evolution of this repair pathway, as well as generated data to help understand the evolution of sex in single-celled organisms.
Coby La Mattina
Coby has been working in Dr. Vierra's laboratory on elucidating the molecular properties of black widow spider silk. She routinely dissects the abdominal silk-producing glands from the spiders to isolate RNA molecules that encode silk proteins. Applying quantitative real-time PCR analysis, Coby has determined the expression profiles for several different silk genes. In addition, she has learned how to screen cDNA libraries to hunt for new spider silk genes found in egg case silk, which represent one of the most ancient silk threads in spiders. These studies have relied on the use of mass spectrometry and molecular biology.
Russell Yee, Henry Chang and Shannon McNary
These students also work in Dr. Vierra's laboratory on the isolation of new silk genes from black widow spiders, as well as silk overexpression in bacteria and yeast. For the past two summers, they have worked full-time on the manipulation of spider silk genes using recombinant DNA methodology. Their studies have led to a better understanding regarding the molecular constituents of black widow silk, which has helped advance our knowledge with respect to the incredible tensile strength and elasticity found in silk threads. Long-term objectives include being able to produce synthetically for commercial applications, which include the use of synthetic silk for ropes and cords, medical sutures, bullet proof vests, and lightweight airplane wing materials.
Biological Science Facilities
Biology students and faculty make themselves at home in our two-story, 56,000 square foot building completed in 2008. The lower floor has state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and the upper floor is equipped with 15 modern research laboratories for faculty and students, as well as specialty equipment rooms.
Sophisticated Lab Equipment
Our department is fully equipped with modern molecular and cellular biological research equipment used by faculty, undergraduate and graduate students. Hands-on training and experience with this instrumentation helps prepare students for graduate school and careers in science.
This specialized microscope is especially useful for obtaining a series of optical sections of a sample, which then can be reassembled to form a three-dimensional representation of a specific cellular structure. In her cancer research, Dr. Lisa Wrischnik has used this microscope to study the cellular localization and trafficking patterns of several cysteine proteases (enzymes) that are expressed in the human parasite Trichomonas vaginalis.
A fluorescent microscope is used to evaluate specimens by analyzing fluorescent light emitted from them. Fluorescent dyes or markers may be attached to the sample to illuminate a certain area of interest. This equipment is an important tool for cell biologists to study the localization and movement of proteins within the cell.
This equipment, consisting of a spotter, automated hybridization chamber and scanner, "prints" genes onto the surface of a glass slide—up to 50,000 genes can be deposited on a single slide. Dr. Craig Vierra and his students have used this robot to print the first spider DNA chips in the world. They are using these DNA chips to monitor changes in gene expression profiles in the silk-producing glands after forcibly removing silk fibers from spiders.
Our Masters degree program provides students with a broad background in the biological sciences that serves as preparation for entry into Ph.D. degree programs, employment in the biotechnology industry, and teaching positions at the high school and community college levels.
Biological Sciences Center 103