From the smallest molecule to the largest biome, the study of biology crisscrosses the living world, uncovering its processes and patterns. Working side-by-side, students and faculty collaboratively push the boundaries of discovery.

Why study Biology at Sewanee?

Through a combination of laboratory courses, field courses, and research projects with faculty, our students explore our fundamental understanding of biological complexity. More importantly, our students are introduced to the pressing questions that remain in the life sciences and are exposed to the ways that scientists at Sewanee and beyond are working to address these questions. 

The biology department offers a major in biology for which students can select from three tracks:

  • Ecology and biodiversity: Studying biological complexity from genes to ecosystems and their response to human interactions.
  • Molecular biology: Understanding the fundamental building blocks of life through the exploration of genes and their impact on cell function.

  • Integrative biology: Exploring the interconnectedness of life with a focus on the structure and function of organisms.

The biology department also offers, in collaboration with the psychology department, a major in Neuroscience and, in collaboration with the chemistry department, a major in Biochemistry. 

A sampling of courses

What students research


Kristen Cecala studies the patterns and processes contributing to changing amphibian distributions in the face of landscape changes including land-use and climate change. She is specifically interested in linking observational and manipulative experiments to explore mechanisms of change. Her research also contributes toward development of comprehensive management strategies for freshwater ecosystems.


The lab is broadly interested in the molecular basis of behavior, and uncovering details of the mechanisms of activation of ion channels, especially at the single channel level. Professor Shelley's lab uses sea urchins as an experimental organism, with the aim of elucidating the electrical and biochemical steps that underlie sea urchin behavioral responses to light.


Elise Kikis studies the aberrant proteins that underlie neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease is one of several autosomal dominant disorders in which a polyglutamine (polyQ) expansion leads to “toxic gain of function” caused by the adoption of a misfolded or aggregated state associated with proteotoxicity. Contact her for more information about research opportunities in her laboratory.


Jon Evans studies the dynamics of plant populations and the processes that determine the composition and structure of plant communities over time and across landscapes. He is specifically interested in the role of clonal growth as a mechanism for population persistence in plant communities. As a conservation biologist, he studies the consequences of land-use history, global climate change, and exotic species introductions on long-term change in ecological communities.


Viruses infect all cellular life; they are everywhere. Here at Sewanee we are interested in coronaviruses (CoV), which include the deadly human pathogens SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. In order to understand more about these human coronaviruses, we use a murine coronavirus, mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), as a model system.

Nature vs. Nurture

A Sewanee biology professor and her students look to shed new light on an age-old debate—by scaring some tiny fish. Behind an unmarked door on the ground floor of Woods Labs, Katie McGhee is studying tiny fish from Lake Cheston as she seeks to tease out clues to one of the great puzzles of human life. It’s a question that has vexed everyone from philosophers and criminologists to biologists and theologians: What makes us the way we are? Nature or nurture?


Programs of Study

Students select one of three major tracks in biology:

Requirements for the Minor in Biology

Requirements for the Major and Minor in Biochemistry

Requirements for the Major and Minor in Neuroscience 

Meet some professors


elise a. kikis
Chair and Associate Professor of Biology

Spencer Hall 167A, Ext. 1747

Connecting the Dots