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Craig Tepper
Professor of biology

  Faculty Profile  

Craig Tepper and student Alice Juarez.

Most of the grants I pursue provide stipends and supplies for student research projects. Over the past five years, our research has resulted in an average of three to four student presentations per year at a variety of research symposiums.

In my laboratory, Cornell students generate most of the research results. I direct the research and write the grant proposals, but undergraduates have conducted almost all of the day-to-day research. My time is usually spent solving student-generated protocol problems with little time left for me to work on my own research project. The McConnell Fellowship I was awarded this year allows me to spend my sabbatical working on my research projects, something I haven't done since my last sabbatical seven years ago.

I am using my McConnell Fellowship to pursue two research projects. The first is a collaborative effort with geology professor Ben Greenstein investigating the taxonomic relationship between the Millepora complex of fire coral. The second project is a collaboration with biology professor Andy McCollum in which we are analyzing a series of genes we have cloned that are responsible for the predator-induced defensive morphological changes in the tadpole Hyla versicolor.

Fire coral are represented by two species in the tropical western Atlantic that display multiple growth forms. These multiple growth forms create ambiguities as to whether the two species represent independent lineages or are part of one species group. My lab is addressing this problem at the molecular level by examining DNA fingerprints of these species. The McConnell Fellowship provides money to buy equipment, supplies, and fund a seven-week stay in the Bahamas for me to collect coral and conduct the DNA fingerprint analysis.

Research by professor McCollum has shown that tadpoles of the gray tree frog switch from shallow to deep tail fins in response to byproducts released after predation on tadpoles by dragonfly larvae. It appears that these deeper-tailed tadpoles are less susceptible to predation than their shallow-tailed brethren, but the exact mechanisms resulting in the appearance of altered tails are unclear. If we can isolate the genes that regulate this tail fin response, it could be the first step toward understanding the mechanisms by which environmental signals are translated into morphological changes. Using funds from the McConnell Fellowship, my lab has cloned a number of genes that may be responsible. I am now screening these cloned genes to determine whether they play a role in the formation of the deep tails.

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