Form Meets Function

Science and Tech
January 24, 2013
Biological sciences professor Marshall McCue, Ph.D., wants to learn not just how living things work, but why they work the way they do. Why can a snake survive without food for up to one year whereas some birds can only tolerate one day of fasting? What happens when bats sleep?

“I am interested in using cutting–edge research techniques to explore how different organisms have adapted to meet the complex environmental challenges posed by their unique habitats,” McCue explained.

Dr. Doolittle in the lab

McCue doesn’t specialize in the intricate workings of just one species; instead, he has studied everything from snakes to insects to quails.

In 2012, his research took him to Poland where he examined how bats sleep. Alongside scientists there, he  investigated the bioenergetics of European bats that reduce their body temperature as they sleep during the daytime—a physiological state called torpor.

McCue’s broad use of research animals is inspired by the Krogh Principle and from his fascination with the whole organism, not just a single physiological function.

“Over the past decade,” McCue said, “I have observed a continual paradigm shift away from studying organisms as whole systems and toward a technologically driven, reductionist approach that fails to appreciate the unique emergent properties of each organism. I strive to balance these two factors in my teaching and research.”

Zoo planet

His interest in animal physiology began as he first learned about the “extraordinary diversity of form and function of organisms with which we share this planet.” It is that appreciation of the complexity and flexibility of animal life that he wants to pass on to his students.

“Ultimately, I want my students to have a deeper appreciation of the different biological mechanisms that permit different organisms to survive, and often thrive, in nearly every habitat on Earth,” McCue said.

“I want my students to understand that we share this planet with millions of other species, each of which is adapted to a particular niche–from freezing oceans to hyper–arid deserts to hypoxic mountaintops. In order to fully comprehend this magnificent biodiversity it is critical to contemplate how perpetual environmental changes and ubiquitous environmental challenges are responsible for fine–tuning the form and function of every organism through natural selection.”

More About McCue

Areas of Expertise:

  • Metabolism/Bioenergetics
  • Stable Isotope tracers
  • Physiological Ecology
  • Nutritional Physiology
  • Fatty Acid Biochemistry


  • B.S., University of Florida
  • M.S., University of California Irvine
  • Ph.D., University of Arkansas
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