Deborah A. Roach
Plant Evolutionary Ecology
University of Virginia - Biology Department - Gilmer Hall Room 047
Office: (434)982-4858 Lab: (434)982-5273

Undergraduate Courses 


Biology of Aging (Biol 3140)

Course Description: Why do we age?  How can some species, like lobster, escape aging? We would all like to understand human aging but, as you will see, even if that is our motivation we cannot experiment with humans and it is only through experiments with other species that the hypotheses about the causes of aging can be tested. Beyond the lab, we can also look at species in the wild, such as lobsters, mayflies, and trees to uncover extreme variation in the patterns of aging in the natural world.

How do evolutionary theories, ecology, cell biology and genetics help us to understand variation in the patterns of aging across species from bacteria to plants to Drosophila? Different disciplines across biology study aging with different tools and we will integrate these approaches to synthesize what is known about aging across multiple fields. Most people come to this subject expecting one answer so please do not get frustrated when you find that there are many reasons that organisms age.  This is a very active field of research and we do not know all of the answers.

My secret goal is to provide you with skills to understand how science is done.  You will learn how to read primary scientific literature and how to interpret data.  In the future when you read in the New York Times about the latest discoveries, you can put them into context and make your own evaluation about the validity of the new findings.  Someday, in your lifetime, someone will develop an intervention to slow the process of aging in humans, and you will have to address the implications of these discoveries for society.

Course Objectives: In this course you will learn about the biology of aging across all species and you will develop skills to think like a scientist. Specifically I expect that you will be able to,

  • Identify and explain variation in the patterns of aging.
  • Know how aging might be manipulated in the future. 
  • Synthesize different disciplinary approaches to understand aging.
  • Acquire and demonstrate an ability to read primary scientific literature, to interpret results and to understand how science is done.
  • Develop a lifelong interest in aging, and in science in general.

Ecology and Evolution (Biol 3020) (Co-taught with Laura Galloway)

 Course Description: This course will examine the mechanisms of evolutionary change, with an emphasis on the ecological, genetic, and evolutionary principles needed to understand the diversification of life on earth.  Major topics will include adaptation, molecular evolution and macroevolution, and the ecology of natural populations.

Learning goals: The overall goals of this course are that you will 1) develop an understanding of how evolutionary change occurs in populations, 2) learn how ecology and evolution exert an influence on one another, 3) learn how evolution creates biodiversity, 4) learn how to interpret experiments that demonstrate evolutionary and ecological principles and 5) use your acquired knowledge to be an informed citizen.

Specifically, at the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Understand how the interactions of organisms with their biotic and abiotic environments result in evolutionary change through natural selection
  • Understand the mechanisms by which evolution occurs and how these operate at both the level of the DNA and the organism
  • Understand the diversity of life including genetic variation across populations, mechanisms of speciation, evolutionary influences on development and human evolution
  • Understand why it has been said that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’



Teaching Awards and Recognition

  • University Academy of Teaching 2011
  • Cavalier Distinguished Teaching Professorship 2006-08
  • SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award Finalist 2007
  • Mead Endowment Honored Faculty Award 2005 
  • Biology Department Distinguished Teaching Award 2005 
  • University of Virginia Lilly Teaching Fellowship 2002-03