Applications are now closed and open again November 1, 2022.

Biological Interactions Summer Research Program

Biological Interactions Summer Research Program provides intensive, full-time bioscience research and professional development for undergraduate students as they prepare for graduate school and research careers in biology.

2022 Program Dates: May 31 – Aug 6, 2022 (All spots have been filled for 2022)

The application period opened November 1, 2021, and closed February 15, 2022. 

Interested in a research career? Experience the richness of the research environment at a premier research university with this hands-on summer program. You’ll get an invaluable glimpse of what graduate-level study and research careers might entail, while being surrounded by a supportive community of peers and stimulated by extra activities that help add meaning, encourage critical thinking, and allow you to explore and prepare for your post-graduate future.

Biological Interactions is designed for undergraduates who might not otherwise have this kind of research opportunity. There is no cost for the program and participants receive a stipend, summer housing, and travel to and from Madison. Underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation college students are strongly encouraged to apply, as are students from smaller institutions without broad research facilities.

Program participants live close to campus and perform full-time research for 10 weeks under the guidance of trained research mentors. Weekly professional development seminars allow participants to learn from each other’s experiences and contextualize their research projects within the overarching theme of predicting phenotype. Additional events and activities build community, support career and graduate school exploration, and help students build useful skills, such as science writing. Students present their projects at a final symposium and write research reports to summarize their findings.

The Theme: Phenotype, Genotype, and the Environment

There is a seemingly endless amount of variation found in living organisms which results in many and varied phenotypes. This variation allows individuals to adapt and thrive in ever changing, complex environments. Science has made great gains in cataloging the building blocks of diversity through genome sequencing efforts; however, an organism’s phenotype is not always what scientists would predict due to the interaction of the genome and the environment. The NSF-REU Biological Interactions Summer Research Program seeks to help diverse undergraduate students explore biology through observation of phenotype and to investigate the influence of genotype, environment, and interactions of the two on phenotype.

2021 Support and Benefits

  • $6,000 stipend
  • Housing in an apartment near campus included
  • $600 food allowance
  • Health insurance (if not already covered)
  • Access to campus libraries and recreational facilities

– Note, once we have chosen students to participate in the program we work to find a research group that is aligned with the student’s research interest. The projects below are a good representation of the type of research in the program, but additional projects may be available.

* has participated in Research Mentor Training

Jean-Michel Ané*, Bacteriology

The student will learn about mechanisms underlying the establishment of symbiotic associations between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and legumes and cereals. The student will do this by studying the role of a symbiosis receptor-like kinase KIN3 in Medicago truncatula (barrel medic) and Oryza sativa (rice).

David Baum*, Botany

The student will investigate chemical ecosystem theory by developing and implementing mathematical models of the origin of genetic polymerization systems. In so doing, the student will learn about adaptive evolution in prebiotic chemical systems and address whether these systems have a tendency to yield genetic encoding of catalytic polymers, such as peptides and RNAs.

Corinna Burger*, Neurology

The student will use a rodent model of Alzheimer’s disease to investigate the role of environmental enrichment in ameliorating cognitive deficits associated with neurodegenerative disorders. The student will learn how to perform behavioral assays as well as how to use a viral delivery systems to study factors such as Tau that are implicated in cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Briana Burton, Bacteriology

The student will investigate the mechanisms that allow naturally transformable bacteria to take up DNA from the environment, a process that sometimes leads to the acquisition of new functions. The student’s project will involve performing a genetic selection screen for transformation mutants in Bacillus subtilis and molecularly and phenotypically characterizing the mutants.

Tim Donohue, Bacteriology/Wisconsin Energy Institute

The student will work in a lab that seeks to engineer microbes that produce valuable products from abundant renewable resources. They will learn how to generate green chemicals from new designer microbes.

Claudio Gratton*, Entomology

The student will address the question of whether modern cropping systems can be made more compatible with biodiversity conservation and also benefit agriculture. In particular, the student will investigate how diversification of cropping systems through addition of perennial or annual cover, conservation habitats, or regenerative practices such as grazing, influences the interactions between beneficial insects, such as bees and predatory beetles, and the services they provide to people. 

Audrey GaschMedical Genetics

The student will exploit natural variation in genome sequence of wild yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to investigate mechanisms of stress tolerance. To accomplish this, the student will perform experiments using modern computational approaches in comparative and functional genomics as well as wet lab approaches.

Jo Handelsman*, Plant Pathology

The student will build upon previous Tiny Earth experience to study antibiotic production of soil microbes. Specifically, this student will support the antibiotic discovery pipeline of the Tiny Earth Chemistry Hub (located in the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery) through metabolomic profiling and genetic characterization of antimicrobial-producing bacterial isolates as well as test the role of known antibiotics on novel activity. 

Melissa Harrison, Biomolecular Chemistry

The student will use Drosophila as a model to study the relationship between transcription factor structure and function. Specifically, the student will use Cas9-mediated genome editing to mutate specific domains or residues within transcription factors and molecular and cellular approaches to investigate their necessity for embryonic development.

Chris Hittinger and Jassim Al-Oboudi, Wisconsin Energy Institute

The student will investigate the ecological and genomic basis behind stress tolerance in wild yeast populations, with a focus on Torulaspora delbrueckii isolated from soil. The student will learn standard microbial culturing, DNA sequencing and analysis, and statistical analysis techniques to understand the factors that influence how wild T. delbrueckii evolve in response to their environments.

Meyer Jackson, Neuroscience

The student will investigate how neurons communicate with one another. Experiments will employ electrical, electrochemical, and optical techniques to study single cells in culture, and circuits of neurons in brain slices. Research projects will explore molecular mechanisms underlying neurotransmitter release, and synaptic mechanisms underlying information processing and storage.

Robert Landick*, Biochemistry

The student will investigate the role that amino acids on the surface of bacterial RNA polymerases play in regulating transcription. The student will use synthetic biology approaches to identify variable surface-exposed amino acids of RNA polymerases from a diverse, unexplored evolutionary lineage of bacteria and in vitro transcription to study their regulatory activity.  

Hiroshi Maeda*, Botany

The student will study how plants monitor amino acid status to maintain amino acid homeostasis. The student will use genetic mapping approaches to determine the molecular nature of previously identified mutants that suppress Arabidopsis dwarf phenotypes caused by partial amino acid-deficient mutants.

Darcie Moore, Neuroscience

The student will use mouse neural stem cells in quiescence and quiescence exit. These cells upregulate vimentin protein during exit, a marker of the epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) seen during cancer. The student will determine if other markers of EMT are upregulated during exit, and manipulate the expression of these genes to determine their effect on neural stem cell quiescence exit.

Marisa Otegui*, Botany

The student will use Arabidopsis as a model to investigate how plants regulate membrane trafficking and signaling. The student will use state-of-the-art imaging approaches to generate and characterize mutant lines to analyze the distribution of endomembrane and trafficking markers.

Jason Peters, Pharmaceutical Sciences

The student will use CRISPR-based genetic tools to explore gene function in the promising biofuel producer, Zymomonas mobilis. Knowledge gained from these studies may allow us to engineer Z. mobilis strains with higher biofuel yields to help mitigate climate change.

Lauren Riters, Integrative Biology

The student will study how emotions, motivation, and reward guide social behaviors, and in particular how they shape communication and social interactions in songbirds. To do this, the student will observe vocal-social interactions in songbirds in aviaries and measure gene expression in specific brain regions.

Rebecca Smith and Cullen Vens, Wisconsin Energy Institute

The student will investigate the role that individual cells and tissues play in coordinating the production of biofuel-related products in bioenergy crops, such as Sorghum bicolor. By using revolutionary transcriptomics techniques, the student will contribute to uncovering cell-specific differences in gene, protein, and metabolite expression, thus furthering the goal of generating Sorghum cell atlases.

John Svaren*, Comparative Biosciences

The student will study the genetic networks involved in coordinating lipid synthesis during peripheral nerve myelination by Schwann cells. Specifically, the student will use metabolic and bioinformatic analyses of rat nerve bundles to investigate how epigenetic modifications control the transcription of genes during myelination.

David Wassarman*, Medical Genetics

The student will use Drosophila as a model to test the hypothesis that traumatic brain injury accelerates the normal aging process. The student will injure flies using a spring-based device and quantify morphological, physiological, and molecular markers of aging with the goal of determining if following traumatic brain injury, flies of a given chronological age have markers representative of an older age.

  • Strong career interest in biological science research
  • Undergraduate student status for Fall 2022
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status
  • Grade point average of at least 3.0 (see Frequently Asked Questions for more info)

Students who are African American, Hispanic, Native American, Southeast Asian, Native Alaskan or Native Pacific Islander OR who are from low-income homes OR who are the first in their family to attend college OR who attend small liberal arts institutions without broad research facilities are strongly encouraged to apply.

The application opens annually on November 1 and closes on February 15. All spots have been filled for 2022. Spots and applications for 2023 will open on November 1, 2022.


During the application process you will need to provide:

  1. Name and email address for at least one person (faculty member preferred) who will provide a letter of recommendation. Two letters of recommendation are allowed.
  2. Electronic version of your college transcript (scanned hard copies if electronic transcripts are not available); unofficial transcripts are acceptable.
  3. Three short personal essays (3900 character maximum per essay)
    • How would your participation in a summer research program at UW–Madison contribute to your future goals and career plans?
    • Which area(s) of research are of interest to you and why?
    • Although previous research experience is not required to be considered for participation in our summer program, please describe any past research experience. This may include research experiences as part of a course if you do not have any other research experiences.

Selection and Placement

Selection and laboratory placement of students will take place in January, February, and March. Applicants who are not placed will be notified by the end of April.

Why should I come to UW-Madison for a summer research program?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has one of the strongest biological research communities in the U.S. It offers graduate training programs in over 40 areas of biological research. Participants report that this program has helped them determine whether graduate school is right for them, check out UW-Madison for grad school, and learn particular research techniques.

Housing costs are covered. What does that mean?

Participants in the summer research program are housed in the Regent apartment building, which is within walking distance of laboratories and State Street (i.e., downtown Madison). Participants from other summer programs are housed in the same building.

I noticed there are other summer research programs in the biological sciences at UW-Madison. Can I apply to more than one?

All of the summer research programs at UW-Madison share one application. When you apply, you will rank your choice of programs. You can be considered for multiple programs with one application.

How many students do you accept?

Each year the program accepts 12-20 students into the program from a pool of about 350 applicants. The size of the program is contingent upon funding.

Is the program open to minority students only?

No. The National Science Foundation (NSF), has endorsed opening Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs like Biological Interactions to non-minority students who attend small liberal arts colleges as well as to minority students. Both minority students from all universities and non-minority students from small universities (without broad research opportunities) are encouraged to apply.

What are the ethnicity/gender ratios for the program?

~87% underrepresented minority and ~70% women

My grade point average isn’t quite 3.0. Should I apply anyway?

We occasionally accept promising students whose GPAs are less than 3.0. Be sure to tell us WHY you are a ‘promising’ student in your essay, and if possible, make sure your recommendation letters indicate that this experience would be worthwhile for you and that you’ll perform successfully.

I’m a UW-Madison student. Can I apply to the program?

Yes. Preference may be given to members of underrepresented minority groups (African American, Hispanic, Native American, Southeast Asian, Native Alaskan or Native Pacific Islander), low-income and first-generation college students, and other underserved groups, depending on funding requirements and other considerations.

How are applications reviewed?

An initial screen of applicants is made by program staff. Files from the best-qualified applicants are forwarded to particular faculty mentors based on research interests expressed by students in their applications. Each mentor reviews the applications and determines which student is the best fit for their research. The program then contacts the selected student to confirm their interest in a specific project and offer them a summer research position.

Can I enroll in summer school or have a job while participating in the program?

No, participants do research full-time (at least 40 hr/week). The idea is to enjoy an intensive research experience when you are freed from the schedules and obligations of coursework.

Thank You to Our Funders

Leadership Team

Amber Smith

Credentials: Ph.D.

Position title: Associate Director of WISCIENCE, Director of Research Mentor and Mentee Training


Phone: (608) 265-0850

Room 118C
445 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706

David Wassarman

Credentials: Ph.D.

Position title: Professor of Genetics


4262 Genetics-Biotech Center Bldg
425 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706

  • Amber Smith, Ph.D., Biological Interactions Program Director, PI (NSF award # 20502567)
  • David Wassarman, Ph.D., Co-PI

Contact us with any questions at