Dr. Louise Nicholson

Associate Professor

Department of Biology, Geology and Environmental Sciences


After completing her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the United Kingdom, Dr. Nicholson came to the United States to continue her research at Yale, where she was a post-doctoral research associate and then a associate research scientist. In her research, she developed novel experimental approaches for identifying the connections made between nerve cells and new tools for manipulating gene expressions in the fruitfly (Drosophila), a model genetic organism. This research used molecular-genetic techniques to create these tools and generate transgenic organisms, cell biology and microscopy methods to visualize nerve cells, and behavioral genetics methods to examine the effects of manipulating gene expression on fruitfly behavior.


  • Contemporary Issues in Biology
  • Genetics


  • Nicholson, L., Singh, G.K., Osterwalder, T., Roman, G.W., Davis, R.L., and Keshishian, H. (2008). Spatial and Temporal Control of Gene Expression in Drosophila Using the Inducible GeneSwitch GAL4 System. I. Screen for Larval Nervous System Drivers. Genetics 178 : 215-234.
  • Nicholson, L.M.C., and Keshishian, H. (2004) Neuromuscular development: connectivity and plasticity. In: Sink, H. ed. Muscle Development in Drosophila, Landes Bioscience, 2004.

Research Interests

Dr. Nicholson is interested in how the nervous system gets wired up correctly during development and in understanding how genes control this process. To look at this process, she uses the fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster. Fruitflies have a much simpler nervous system than humans, but it develops in a very similar way and uses the same molecules (neurotransmitters, receptors and signaling pathways) as humans.

Student Research Projects

Some examples of previous projects are: using fruitflies to identify nerve cells involved in pain responses; identifying genes that give different types of nerve cells their specific identities; and making flies in which different types of nerve cells are fluorescently labeled with green fluorescent protein, a protein from jellyfish that makes them able to be fluorescent.

Service Learning Projects

Dr. Nicholson has participated in a volunteer mentor-tutor program for disadvantaged students, and was a science fair mentor and judge.

In The Classroom

"I incorporate current events and topical issues such as influenza vaccines, stem cells and cloning into my BIO 103 contemporary issues class, and students read and respond to recent newspaper articles. I try and involve students in in-class activities and debates rather than solely reply on traditional lecturing. (I am sure that all the professors who teach BIO 103 do the same, though.) I try and teach genetics as a series of problems, and emphasize how we have solved these problems, also that we don't know everything and that scientists make mistakes in their interpretations. I incorporate current events and recent scientific breakthroughs, and frequently relate processes to human diseases so that students can see why they matter."

  • B.Sc.: Genetics, University of Glasgow, Scotland
  • Ph.D.: Developmental Genetics, University of Southampton, U.K.

Email: nicholson@pennwest.edu

Phone: 724-938-4388

Office: Frich Hall Room 310