COSAM Faculty Focus - Katherine Buckley, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences
The Auburn University Department of Biological Sciences is continuously making strides in marine biology research and new faculty member Dr. Katherine Buckley is contributing to that effort.
Dr. Buckley joined the staff as an assistant professor in August and has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Hood College, a Ph.D. from The George Washington University, and conducted two postdoctoral fellowships: one at the University of Toronto and the other at Carnegie Mellon University.
Originally from Lititz, Pa., Dr. Buckley’s research focuses on the evolution of immune responses in sea urchins.
“This department was a great fit because it has strengths in not only host-microbe interactions and evolution, but also marine biology and development,” shared Dr. Buckley. “My research basically sits at the intersection of those core areas, which means I have lots of people to potentially collaborate with and turn to for advice.”
Dr. Buckley originally became interested in immunology after conducting undergraduate research in a plant immunology lab. While earning her Ph.D. she began studying sea urchins. During her postdoctoral work she transitioned to studying immune responses in the sea urchin larval stage.
“When I was in graduate school, the sea urchin genome was sequenced and we were really surprised by the complexity of immune genes present in the genome,” she said. “So, it was a good time to start understanding how these immune genes worked in the context of the animal.”
She is currently teaching a Host Microbe Interactions course. Her research with sea urchins includes fertilizing eggs to grow and infect larvae in her lab. She is working to understanding how immune systems evolve with an emphasis on what happens in the gut.
“We use sea urchin larvae as a simple model system to uncover interesting things about vertebrate immunity,” explained Dr. Buckley. “The sea urchin immune system has important similarities with human innate immunity. By understanding how these small larvae survive in the ocean – a microbe-rich environment – for two months, we can learn fundamental things about how animal systems work.”
Dr. Scott Santos, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, said the hiring of Dr. Buckley saw as a significant addition to the department’s already strong research areas in microbiology, development and immunology.
“Soon after her committing to joining DBS, I heard from a colleague whom I worked with at the National Science Foundation that Auburn University in general and DBS in particular had made a great choice in hiring Dr. Buckley given his knowledge of her work, which is something I wholeheartedly agree with,” he said.
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