Ilan Ruhr

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Comparative physiologist, using integrative biology to study how changes in an animal’s environment lead to altered phenotypes, across multiple levels of biological organisation.

A core tenet of my research is the August Krogh principle: for every question in biology there is an organism uniquely suited to provide an answer. To this end, I study ectotherms that have evolved extreme tolerance to environmental stressors, and my long-term goal is to understand how these stressors alter physiological and molecular phenotypes. As a comparative physiologist, I tackle each study at multiple levels of organisation to address key questions that use integrative and multi-disciplinary approaches, including whole-animal respirometry, epifluorescent microscopy, immunohistochemistry, microrespirometry, and epigenetic approaches.

My interests can be broken down into two related objectives: (1) developmental programming of physiology and (2) phenotypic plasticity of organ function. My research is centered on how the external environment can have transitory (in adults) and life-long (in developing embryos) effects on physiology. My overarching goals are to understand how an environmental disturbance (e.g., hypoxia, temperature, pollution) alters metabolic, mitochondrial, cellular, and organ phenotypes and to decipher the molecular signatures (e.g., methylation, gene expression) underlying phenotypic plasticity. My other equally important goal is to train students to engage in research, explore their own interests, and become independent, critical thinkers.

I will teach Comparative Physiology and Anatomy of Vertebrates (BISC 203) and lead lab sections for Introduction to Organismal Biology (BISC 111) this autumn. I will also teach a seminar in Environmental Physiology, in which we explore the adaptations animals possess to survive under conditions lethal to humans. In this seminar, students undertake a semester-long, independent research project, during which they conduct an in-depth analysis of an animal that lives in extreme conditions. We will also cover topical questions in environmental physiology, through a combination of lectures, invited seminars, review of the primary literature, class discussions, and oral presentations.

Aside from teaching and researching, I am also committed to public-outreach events that focus on educating and exciting the public, especially underrepresented minority groups, about opportunities in science. I believe that a diverse and inclusive lab should lead by example and embody the multicultural communities found at Wellesley College and in Greater Boston. I take a very personal interest in outreach events, because individuals who are LGBTQ+, minorities, or immigrants might be inspired to do research in the future.

As for me, I was born in Perú and immigrated with my family to Vancouver, Canada. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have lived in the UK, the US, Germany, and Japan. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling, cooking new foods, reading, and going out to explore nature.