Willhite Research Interests

Undergraduate research in the biomedical / biochemical field:

The biology division of Natural Sciences has been involved for four summers with a collaborative research project that seeks to give primary research experience to undergraduates as a supplement to their course work at TWC. Collaborating faculty include Dr. Steve Wright ( Carson-Newman College), Dr. Terry Bunde ( Maryville College), and Dr. Willhite (TWC). Each summer experience is a 10 week project during the summer months paying a competitive stipend and living expenses to students. Students must apply and the process is competitive based upon interest shown and background. Participating students from TWC expressed that this program gave them a much deeper understanding of what “real” research is all about. In fact, two of the participants have gone on to pursue research in either graduate school or industry. See Dr. Willhite if you are interested in this exciting opportunity.


Effects of lipid-protein interactions on the function of a yeast G-protein coupled receptor, Ste2p:

YeastThe research pursued in the undergraduate research project mentioned above is focused on the effects of membrane lipids on the function of a yeast mating receptor. Although yeast are admittedly not the most exciting of creatures, this project using yeast as the model organism is a research topic full of implications for human medicine. The type of receptor being studied (G-protein coupled receptor) is very common in humans with such important roles as sight, smell, hormone signaling, and cell-cell signaling. In fact, over 50% of the drugs on the market are thought to effect G-protein coupled receptors as part of their mechanism of action. Additionally, much of the research to date has involved the effects of antifungal agents on the activity and conformation of a G-protein receptor. These same antifungals are commonly used drugs used to treat fungal infections in humans.


Implementation of web-based software and multimedia in the classroom:

Computers and web-based applications are quickly becoming the primary means of sharing and gathering scientific information. For this reason it is imperative that undergraduates become familiar with the latest in technology in the science lecture and laboratory. In every course, my students are exposed to web resources to aid in the course work. In genetics, cell, and molecular courses students are exposed to 3-D molecular imaging and manipulation. In genetics, students carry out online fruit fly crosses using the virtual Fly Lab. In seminar, students make heavy use of online journal databases in writing a review paper and Powerpoint to create their final presentation. The most recent project has involved the development of an online course in Bioinformatics, an emerging and vital field that lends itself to online instruction.