Elena Keeling

Professor Elena KeelingElena Keeling, Ph.D.


M.S., Regenerative Medicine Program

33-271 office
53-305 lab



B.S. Yale University
Ph.D. University of California, San Francisco

Research Interests

  • Development and regeneration in colonial ascidians
  • Telomer length
  • Algal lysis with pulsed electric fields for biofuel applications
  • Biology education

Advising Interests

  • Biology education
  • Cell and Molecular biology
  • Developmental biology
  • Health professions
  • New students (freshmen & transfers)


My primary research interest is development and regeneration in the colonial ascidian Botrylloides violaceus. Colonial ascidians have the capacity to undergo complete regeneration from a poorly characterized population of circulating stem cells. As invertebrate chordates, they are more closely related to vertebrates than other animals with strong regenerative abilities. My goal is to learn more about molecular and cellular aspects of their stem cells and regeneration process. Some current projects include characterizing blood cell populations during development and regeneration, measuring telomerase activity as a marker for regenerative ability, and attempting to identify homologs of genes implicated in regeneration in other species. Student projects can incorporate microscopy, molecular biology, histology, developmental biology, and marine invertebrate zoology.
My second research area is an interdisciplinary collaboration with engineers and physicists to study the electrical properties of algae and optimize techniques for quantifying algal cell lysis. The goal is to explore pulsed electric fields as a method of releasing lipids for biofuel applications. For more information:
Finally, my science education research has explored scientific literacy, inquiry-based labs, and the types of questions asked by students about biology. I am also interested in developing mentoring and support programs for under-represented students in biology.


Brown, F. D., Keeling, E. L., Le, A.D. and Swalla, B. J. 2009. Whole body regeneration in a colonial ascidian, Botrylloides violaceusJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B Molecular and developmental evolution 312B: 885-900.

Keeling, E. L., K. M. Polacek# and E. L. Ingram. 2009. A statistical analysis of student questions in a cell biology laboratory. CBE-Life Sciences Education 8: 131-139.

Polacek, K. M.# and E. L. Keeling. 2005. Easy ways to promote inquiry in a laboratory course. Journal of College Science Teaching 35: 52-55.

Levine, E., O. Byron-Cooper*, M. Desch-O’Donnell* and C. Metzinger*. 2003. Interindividual variation in mitochondrial enzyme activity in male monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus L. (Nymphalidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 57 (4):284-290.

Levine, E. 2001. Reading your way to scientific literacy: interpreting scientific articles through small-group discussions. Journal of College Science Teaching 31(2): 122-125.

Levine, E., A. S. Cupp, L. Miyashiro and M. K. Skinner. 2000. Role of transforming growth factor- alpha and the epidermal growth factor receptor in embryonic rat testis development. Biology of Reproduction 62: 477-490.

Levine, E., A. S. Cupp and M.K. Skinner. 2000. Role of neurotrophins in rat embryonic testis morphogenesis (cord formation). Biology of Reproduction 62: 132-142.

Levine, E., C. H. Lee, C. Kintner and B. M. Gumbiner. 1994. Selective disruption of E-cadherin function in early Xenopus embryos by a dominant negative mutant. Development 120: 901-909.

*undergraduate student,, #former M.S. student

Research Activities

Botrylloides stained with DiI, merged confocal image (Eric Vaught).

Michael Totagrande collecting Botrylloides.

Amelia Wing collecting Botrylloides at Morro Bay

Luz Gomez counting algae.

Grace Davis with algae culture.

Martin Sanchez drawing blood from Botrylloides.

Heidi collecting samples at the Cal Poly Pier.

Research Conference Presentations


Bryan Andrews, Eric Vaught, Gina Leaming & Daniel Haensel, CSM Student Research Conference May 2012.

Raquel Kahler, Elena Keeling & Annie Sheu, CSM Student Research Conference May 2012.

West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference 2009.

West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference 2009.

Mira Samara, Eric Vaught, & Annie Sheu, CSUPERB Conference January 2012.

Scott Heinichen & Amelia Wing, West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference 2010.

West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference 2009.

CSUPERB Conference 2009.


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