Lisa K Elfring
- Assistant Vice Provost, Office of Instruction/Assessment
- Associate Specialist, Biology Education
- Associate Professor, BIO5 Institute
I have been in love with biology since I was four years old, when I can remember looking through my mother's nursing textbooks and asking about the pictures and what they meant. When I was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, I participated in undergraduate research on mammary-gland development, and that experienced opened my eyes to the excitement of biology as a research career. My interest in how genes control the development of animal embryos led me to do graduate and postdoctoral research using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as my experimental organism.
When I contemplated how I wanted to contribute as a professional to the biology field , I realized the most rewarding parts of my work were the interactions I had with students and the general public, helping them to understand why and how my research related to big questions in biology. This led me to pursue a career in biology teaching. I was fortunate to come to the University of Arizona to work with middle- and high-school biology teachers, helping them to increase their own understanding of biology. With their guidance, patience, and feedback, I worked to develop my understanding and skills in applying evidence-based teaching strategies, and eventually began teaching undergraduate biology classes in molecular and cellular biology.
I have now taught at the University of Arizona for over 20 years, and have taught students from first-semester freshmen to medical students and graduate students, and everywhere in between. I have spent much of the past decade working to improve our teaching in large-enrollment Introductory Biology courses, and teaching smaller classes that help students to find their own path in the life sciences. I get such a thrill when I hear from a former student who shares how they are using what they learned in their chosen profession. Teaching is truly the profession that creates all others.
I have recently cut back on my own teaching to lead the University of Arizona's Office of Instruction and Assessment, which supports the entire University community of instructors by providing technical tools, training, and support in using student assessment data to improve teaching. It is a tremendous honor to work with this talented group of people to build teaching capacity across the University of Arizona.
- Ph.D. Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology
- University of California, Santa Cruz, California, United States
- Genetic and molecular analysis of the Drosophila brahma (brm) locus
- B.A. Biology
- University of California, Santa Cruz, California, United States
- Associate Professor, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2007 - Ongoing)
- Senior Lecturer/Biology Educator, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (2002 - 2007)
- Adjunct Lecturer/Biology Educator, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona (1998 - 2002)
- Postdoctoral Fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research (1994 - 1998)
- UA College of Science Galileo Circle Copernicus Award
- University of Arizona College of Science, Spring 2016
- UA Honors College Excellence in Teaching Award
- University of Arizona Honors College, Spring 2016
- AAAS/American Physiological Society BioScience Ed Net Fellowship
- American Association for the Advancement of Science/American Physiological Society, Spring 2012
- UA College of Science Distinguished Advising Award
- University of Arizona College of Science, Spring 2011
- Arizona BioScience Educator of the Year
- Arizona BioIndustry Association, Fall 2010 (Award Nominee)
- American Society for Microbiology Biology Scholars Research Residency
- American Society for Microbiology, Spring 2010
- Mortar Board Faculty Recognition Award
- Mortar Board Honorary, Spring 2008
- UA College of Science Excellence in Science Education Award
- University of Arizona College of Science, Fall 2007
- National Academies of Science Education Fellowship in the Life Sciences
- National Academies of Science, Summer 2005
- American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship
- American Cancer Society, Spring 2005
My research interests are in student learning and faculty teaching, so my "laboratory" is the undergraduate biology classroom. I am interested in how students can use quantitative skills to increase their understanding of biological processes; how students use evidence to reason about biology; and how instructional approaches impact student learning. I am also interested in how instructors learn to become more effective teachers through use of different teaching methods, strategies that utilize teaching teams in large classes, and how departmental and institutional structures can provide incentives for helping instructors to do the hard work of becoming better teachers.
I am interested in how students learn biology, because I really feel as if an understanding of biology is essential for every single person in our society. Afer all, we all have bodies, and we need to understand how they work and what happens when they do not work well. When I am teaching, my "research lab" is my classes, which most recently have been MCB 181R, Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology; and MCB 410, Cell Biology. I use evidence-based teaching approaches that promote conceptual understanding and equity in the classroom. My goal is that every student should learn important biology concepts AND strategies that will serve them as learners no matter what they are trying to learn.
Special Topics in ScienceHNRS 195I (Spring 2019)
Directed RsrchMCB 492 (Fall 2018)
Special Topics in ScienceHNRS 195I (Spring 2018)
ThesisBIOC 910 (Fall 2017)
Honors ThesisMCB 498H (Spring 2017)
Cell&Development BiologyMCB 305 (Fall 2016)
Honors ThesisMCB 498H (Fall 2016)
Introductory Biology IMCB 181R (Fall 2016)
Special Tutoring WkshpMCB 497A (Fall 2016)
Secondary Biol Lab CurrBIOC 633 (Summer I 2016)
- Burd, G. D., Tomanek, D. J., Blowers, P., Bolger, M. S., Cox, J., Elfring, L. K., Grubbs, E. A., Hunter, J., Johns, K. A., Lazos, L., Lysecky, R. L., Milsom, J. A., Novodvorsky, I., Pollard, J. R., Prather, E. E., Talanquer, V. A., Thamvichai, R., Tharp, H. S., & Wallace, C. (2016). Developing faculty cultures for evidence-based teaching practices in STEM: A progress report.. In Transforming Institutions: 21st Century Undergraduate STEM. West Lafayette, IN.: Purdue University Press.
- Burd, G. D., Burd, G. D., Tomanek, D. J., Tomanek, D. J., Blowers, P., Blowers, P., Bolger, M. S., Bolger, M. S., Cox, J., Cox, J., Elfring, L. K., Elfring, L. K., Grubbs, E. A., Grubbs, E. A., Hunter, J., Hunter, J., Johns, K. A., Johns, K. A., Lazos, L., , Lazos, L., et al. (2015). Developing faculty cultures for evidence-based teaching practices in STEM: A progress report.. In Transforming Institutions: 21st Century Undergraduate STEM. West Lafayette, IN.: Purdue University Press.
- Hester, S., Buxner, S., Elfring, L., & Nagy, L. (2014). Integrating quantitative thinking into an introductory biology course improves students' mathematical reasoning in biological contexts. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(1), 54-64.More infoAbstract: Recent calls for improving undergraduate biology education have emphasized the importance of students learning to apply quantitative skills to biological problems. Motivated by students' apparent inability to transfer their existing quantitative skills to biological contexts, we designed and taught an introductory molecular and cell biology course in which we integrated application of prerequisite mathematical skills with biology content and reasoning throughout all aspects of the course. In this paper, we describe the principles of our course design and present illustrative examples of course materials integrating mathematics and biology. We also designed an outcome assessment made up of items testing students' understanding of biology concepts and their ability to apply mathematical skills in biological contexts and administered it as a pre/postcourse test to students in the experimental section and other sections of the same course. Precourse results confirmed students' inability to spontaneously transfer their prerequisite mathematics skills to biological problems. Pre/postcourse outcome assessment comparisons showed that, compared with students in other sections, students in the experimental section made greater gains on integrated math/biology items. They also made comparable gains on biology items, indicating that integrating quantitative skills into an introductory biology course does not have a deleterious effect on students' biology learning. © 2014 S. Hester et al.
- Baldwin, T. O., Elfring, L., & Offerdahl, E. (2008). Ph.D. in Biochemistry (Education)!. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36(4), 251-252.More infoPMID: 21591202;
- Lee, L. A., Elfring, L. K., Bosco, G., & Orr-Weaver, T. L. (2001). A genetic screen for suppressors and enhancers of the Drosophila PAN GU cell cycle kinase identifies cyclin B as a target. Genetics, 158(4), 1545-1556.More infoPMID: 11514446;PMCID: PMC1461742;Abstract: The early cell cycles of Drosophila embryogenesis involve rapid oscillations between S phase and mitosis. These unique S-M cycles are driven by maternal stockpiles of components necessary for DNA replication and mitosis. Three genes, pan gu (png), plutonium (plu), and giant nuclei (gnu) are required to control the cell cycle specifically at the onset of Drosophila development by inhibiting DNA replication and promoting mitosis. PNG is a protein kinase that is in a complex with PLU. We employed a sensitized png mutant phenotype to screen for genes that when reduced in dosage would dominantly suppress or enhance png. We screened deficiencies covering over 50% of the autosomes and identified both enhancers and suppressors. Mutations in eIF-5A and PP1 87B dominantly suppress png. Cyclin B was shown to be a key PNG target. Mutations in cyclin B dominantly enhance png, whereas png is suppressed by cyclin B overexpression. Suppression occurs via restoration of Cyclin B protein levels that are decreased in png mutants. The plu and gnu phenotypes are also suppressed by cyclin B overexpression. These studies demonstrate that a crucial function of PNG in controlling the cell cycle is to permit the accumulation of adequate levels of Cyclin B protein.
- Fenger, D. D., Carminati, J. L., Burney-Sigman, D., Kashevsky, H., Dines, J. L., Elfring, L. K., & Orr-Weaver, T. (2000). PAN GU: A protein kinase that inhibits S phase and promotes mitosis in early Drosophila development. Development, 127(22), 4763-4774.More infoPMID: 11044392;Abstract: Following completion of meiosis, DNA replication must be repressed until fertilization. In Drosophila, this replication block requires the products of the pan gu (png), plutonium (plu) and giant nuclei (gnu) genes. These genes also ensure that S phase oscillates with mitosis in the early division cycles of the embryo. We have identified the png gene and shown that it encodes a Ser/Thr protein kinase expressed only in ovaries and early embryos, and that the predicted extent of kinase activity in png mutants inversely correlates with the severity of the mutant phenotypes. The PLU and PNG proteins form a complex that has PNG-dependent kinase activity, and this activity is necessary for normal levels of mitotic cyclins. Our results reveal a novel protein kinase complex that controls S phase at the onset of development apparently by stabilizing mitotic cyclins.
- Elfring, L. K., Daniel, C., Papoulas, O., Deuring, R., Sarte, M., Moseley, S., Beek, S. J., Waldrip, W. R., Daubresse, G., DePace, A., Kennison, J. A., & Tamkun, J. W. (1998). Genetic analysis of brahma: The drosophila homolog of the yeast chromatin remodeling factor SWI2/SNF2. Genetics, 148(1), 251-265.More infoPMID: 9475737;PMCID: PMC1459776;Abstract: The Drosophila brahma (brm) gene encodes an activator of homeotic genes related to the yeast chromatin remodeling factor SWI2/SNF2. Here, we report the phenotype of null and dominant-negative brm mutations. Using mosaic analysis, we found that the complete loss of brm function decreases cell viability and causes defects in the peripheral nervous system of the adult. A dominant-negative brm mutation was generated by replacing a conserved lysine in the ATP-binding site of the BRM protein with an arginine. This mutation eliminates brm function in vivo but does not affect assembly of the 2-MD BRM complex. Expression of the dominant-negative BRM protein caused peripheral nervous system defects, homeotic transformations, and decreased viability. Consistent with these findings, the BRM protein is expressed at relatively high levels in nuclei throughout the developing organism. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to investigate the functions of conserved regions of the BRM protein. Domain II is essential for brm function and is required for the assembly or stability of the BRM complex. In spite of its conservation in numerous eukaryotic regulatory proteins, the deletion of the bromodomain of the BRM protein has no discernible phenotype.
- Elfring, L. K., Axton, J. M., Fenger, D. D., Page, A. W., Carminati, J. L., & Orr-Weaver, T. L. (1997). Drosophila PLUTONIUM protein is a specialized cell cycle regulator required at the onset of embryogenesis. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 8(4), 583-593.More infoPMID: 9247640;PMCID: PMC276111;Abstract: Unfertilized eggs and fertilized embryos from Drosophila mothers mutant for the plutonium (plu) gene contain giant polyploid nuclei resulting from unregulated S-phase. The PLU protein, a 19-kDa ankyrin repeat protein, is present in oocytes and early embryos but is not detectable after the completion of the initial rapid S-M cycles of the embryo. The persistence of the protein during the early embryonic divisions is consistent with a direct role in linking S-phase and M-phase. When ectopically expressed in the eye disc, PLU did not perturb the cell cycle, suggesting that PLU regulates S- phase only in early embryonic development. The pan gu (png) and giant nuclei (gnu) genes also affect the S-phase in the unfertilized egg and early embryo. We show that functional png is needed for the presence of PLU protein. By analyzing png mutations of differing severity, we find that the extent of the png mutant phenotype inversely reflects the level of PLU protein. Our data suggest that PLU protein is required at the time of egg activation and the completion of meiosis.
- Brizuela, B. J., Elfring, L., Ballard, J., Tamkun, J. W., & Kennison, J. A. (1994). Genetic analysis of the brahma gene of Drosophila melanogaster and polytene chromosome subdivisions 72AB. Genetics, 137(3), 803-813.More infoPMID: 7916308;PMCID: PMC1206040;Abstract: The brahma gene is required for activation of the homeotic genes of the Antennapedia and bithorax complexes in Drosophila. We have isolated and characterized 21 mutations in brahma. We show that both maternal and zygotic functions of brahma are required during embryogenesis. In addition, the severe abnormalities caused by loss of maternal brahma expression show that the homeotic genes are not the only targets for brahma activation. The complex pattern of interallelic complementation for the 21 brahma alleles suggests that brahma may act as a multimer. In addition to mutations in brahma, we have isolated mutations in four other essential genes within polytene chromosome subdivisions 72AB. Based on a compilation of similar studies that include about 24% of the genome, we estimate that about 3600 genes in Drosophila can inutate to cause recessive lethality, with fewer than 900 additional genes essential only for gametogenesis. We have identified three more transcripts than lethal complementation groups in 72AB. One transcript in 72AB is the product of the essential arflike gene and encodes a member of the ARF subfamily of small GTP-binding proteins. Two other transcripts are probably the products of a single gene whose protein products are similar to the catalytic subunits of cAMP-dependent protein kinases.
- Elfring, L. K., Deuring, R., Mccallum, C. M., Peterson, C. L., & Tamkun, J. W. (1994). Identification and characterization of Drosophila relatives of the yeast transcriptional activator SNF2/SWI2. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 14(4), 2225-2234.More infoPMID: 7908117;PMCID: PMC358589;Abstract: The Drosophila brahma (brm) gene encodes an activator of homeotic genes that is highly related to the yeast transcriptional activator SWI2 (SNF2), a potential helicase. To determine whether brm is a functional homolog of SWI2 or merely a member of a family of SWI2-related genes, we searched for additional Drosophila genes related to SWI2 and examined their function in yeast cells. In addition to brm, we identified one other Drosophila relative of SWI2: the closely related ISWI gene. The 1,027-residue ISWI protein contains the DNA-dependent ATPase domain characteristic of the SWI2 protein family but lacks the three other domains common to brm and SWI2. In contrast, the ISWI protein is highly related (70% identical) to the human hSNF2L protein over its entire length, suggesting that they may be functional homologs. The DNA-dependent ATPase domains of brm and SWI2, but not ISWI, are functionally interchangeable; a chimeric SWI2-brm protein partially rescued the slow growth of swi2- cells and supported transcriptional activation mediated by the glucocorticoid receptor in vivo in yeast cells. These findings indicate that brm is the closest Drosophila relative of SWI2 and suggest that brm and SWI2 play similar roles in transcriptional activation.
- Cox, J., Elfring, L. K., & Bolger, M. S. (2017, January). The University of Arizona AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Project. Society for the Advancement of Biology Education - WEST.
- Hester, S. D., Southard, K. M., Wince, T., Elfring, L. K., Nagy, L. M., & Bolger, M. S. (2016, July). Probabilistic Reasoning in Undergraduate Genetics ProblemSolving. Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research.