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People at LBC

Jim Smith
Jim Smith, Ph.D.

Department: Biology
Address: W-26C Holmes
Phone: (517) 353-3939

Teaching. In the Lyman Briggs College, where I have a 75% appointment, I teach primarily Introductory Biology. While I now focus almost exclusively on the Lyman Briggs Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology course (LB145; BioII), for a number of years I taught the Lyman Briggs Introductory Organismal Biology course (LB144; BioI), so I have taught on “both sides of the aisle”. I also teach senior seminars in Lyman Briggs, having led seminars on Nature-Nurture and most recently on Evolutionary Medicine. For two semesters, I also taught an undergraduate research course, funded by ConAgra Foods, in which Lyman Briggs students carried out research projects on Orville Redenbacher’s Microwave Popcorn. I have also been involved in Study Abroad, having co-led experiences in both Panama (Tropical Biodiversity) and England (Darwin’s Anniversary).

In the fall of odd numbered years, I teach a 3 credit graduate course entitled, "Molecular Evolution: Principles and Techniques" (ZOL855), a computer workshop-based course in which students gain hands-on experience with computer programs used to infer phylogenetic relationships, primarily using DNA sequence data.

Education Initiatives. The main focus of my scholarship in teaching and learning is in the area of Evolution Education. Toward this end, I am PI on an NSF-funded project in which my colleagues, Merle Heidemann and Peter White, and I are developing, implementing and assessing case studies that synthesize evolutionary concepts across biological sub-disciplines. The goal of these materials is to help students better understand the relationships of mutations, genotypes, phenotypes, Mendelian genetics and biological evolution. Preliminary work has been presented nationally and the initial cases are now available through I have also done some tree-thinking work, and have a paper published with Kendra Cheruvelil on incorporating the use of phylogenetic trees into Introductory Biology. A manuscript describing our assessment of student learning using this approach is in review.

I was a research scholar and have served as a facilitator for the American Society for Microbiology’s Biology Scholars program. In addition, I was a co-leader (with Norman Johnson and Louise Mead) of the "Communicating the Relevance of Human Evolution" working group at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), and serve as a member of the Teacher Advisory Board for the Understanding Evolution website (

Disciplinary Research. My students and I conduct evolutionary biology research in the lab and in the field, with a particular interest in species divergence and coevolutionary patterns of true fruit flies in the genus Rhagoletis and their pupal parasitoid wasps in the genus Coptera. We are also interested in characterizing population structure and host-associated differentiation in the cherry fruit fly, R. cingulata, which is a major pest of cultivated cherries in Michigan. In addition, we are working to understand the evolutionary divergence of the apple maggot, R. pomonella, the blueberry maggot, R. mendax, and the snowberry fly, R. zephyria, with respect to the time frame and genetic mechanisms whereby these species evolved.

My Ph. D. student, Alicia Bray, and I carried out a project in conjunction with colleagues at the USDA Forest Service to try to determine, using molecular genetic markers, the location of the source populations that gave rise to of the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) infestation in the Great Lakes region. This buprestid beetle appears to have arrived in SE Michigan on a container ship, and has destroyed millions of ash trees in Michigan and elsewhere in the US.

    2008 -Research Fellow in the American Society for Microbiology’s (ASM) Biology Scholars Program
    2006 -Sigma Xi
    2005 -MSU College of Natural Science Outstanding Academic Advisor Award

    National Science Foundation, (White, Sawtelle, Valles, Smith, Lahr), Designing, Developing and Assessing a Module-Basted System of Interdisciplinary Education [2016 -2020] $1,181,214
    National Science Foundation, (Pennock, Smith, Lenski, Mead, Ofria), Active LENS: Learning Evolution and the Nature of Science using Evolution in Action [2014 -2019] $2,315,094
    National Science Foundation TUES Grant, (Smith, Heidemann, Urquhart, Murphy, Williams), Integrative Case Studies in Evolution Education [2011 -2013] $199,797
    Society for the Study of Evolution, (Smith), Science Supper: Bringing Together mid-Michigan High School Biology Teachers and Michigan State University Evolution Researchers and Educators [2010 -2010] $800
    U.S. Department of Agriculture - Forest Service, (Jim Smith, Leah Bauer), Geographic Origin of North America's Emerald Ash Borer in Asia [2007 -2007] $92,000

    2012 Forbes AA, Satar S, Hamerlinck G, Nelson AE, Smith JJ. 2012. DNA barcodes and targeted sampling methods identify a new species and cryptic patterns of host specialization among North American Coptera (Hymenoptera: Diapriidae). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 105: 608-612.
    2012 Johnson NA, Smith JJ, Pobiner B, Schrein C. 2012. Why Are Chimps Still Chimps? American Biology Teacher 74: 74-80.
    2011 Bray AM, Bauer LS, Poland TM, Haack RA, Cognato AI, Smith JJ. 2011. Genetic analysis of emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire) populations in Asia and North America. Biological Invasions DOI 10.1007/s10530-011-9970-5.
    2009 Smith JJ, Baum DA, Moore A. 2009. The need for molecular genetic perspectives in evolutionary education (and vice versa). Trends in Genetics, 25: 427-429.
    2009 Smith JJ, Cheruvelil KS. 2009. Using Inquiry and Tree-Thinking to "March Through the Animal Phyla". Evolutionary Education and Outreach, 2: 429-444.
    2009 Forbes AA, Powell THQ, Stelinski LL, Smith JJ, Feder JL. 2009. Sympatric speciation cascades across trophic levels. Science 323: 776-779.
    2009 Kim J, Smith JJ, Tian L, DellaPenna D. 2009. The evolution and function of carotenoid hydroxylases in Arabidopsis. Plant and Cell Physiology, 50: 463-479.
    2008 Jacobs JL, Fasi AC, Ramette A, Smith JJ, Hammerschmidt RH, Sundin GW. 2008. Identification and onion pathogenicity of Burkholderi cepacia complex isolates from the onion rhizosphere and onion field soil. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74 (10): 3121-3129. doi:10.1128/AEM.01941-07
    2007 Gavrilovic V, Bush GL, Schwarz D, Smith JJ. 2007. Rhagoletis zephyria Snow (Diptera: Tephritidae) in the Great Lakes basin: A native insect on native hosts? Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 100(4): 474-482.
    2007 Ma Z, Smith JJ, Zhao Y, Jackson RW, Arnold DL, Murillo J, Sundin GW. 2007. Phylogenetic Analysis of the pPT23A Plasmid Family of Pseudomonas syringae. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 73(4): 1287-1295.
    2007 Humpula JF, Ostrom PH, Gandhi H, John R. Strahler JR, Walker AK, Stafford TW, Smith JJ, Voorhies MR, Corner RG, Andrews PC. 2007. Investigation of the protein osteocalcin of Camelops hesternus: sequence, structure and phylogenetic implications Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 71: 5956–5967.
    2005 Smith JJ, Jaycox MA, Smith M, Bush GL. 2005/6. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA and morphological characters in the subtribe Carpomyina (Diptera: Tephritidae). In: Biotaxonomy of Tephritoidea, Israel Journal of Entomology, 35-36: 317-340.
    2005 Houghton-Thompson J, Prince HH, Smith JJ, Hancock JF. 2005. Evidence of hybridization between Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife) and L. alatum (winged loosestrife) in North America. Annals of Botany 96: 877-885.