Elizabeth R. Everman, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma

As a young scientist carrying out her first independent research project, Elizabeth Everman discovered the empowering feeling of becoming a subject expert, as well as the addictive pull of solving real-world scientific mysteries. Now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Oklahoma, Everman leads a research program that uses a combination of quantitative and evolutionary genetics approaches to study heavy metal stress resistance.

Dr. Everman has published much of her research around copper resistance and toxicity in Drosophila melanogaster in GENETICS and G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics, and we spoke with her about her career and research.

How did you become interested in science?

As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to develop and carry out an independent research project. My project examined invasion patterns of an invasive frog species on Hawai’i Island and was my first exposure to the fields of molecular and population genetics. My mentor at the time wasn’t a geneticist, so working on this project meant that I needed to find my own opportunities to learn and use molecular techniques, as well as conduct the analysis. It was the first time I realized I could become an “expert” on something, and that feeling of learning something new on my own that I could use to solve a real-life biological mystery was addictive and empowering.

What is your current specialty? What do you like most about it?

Toady, I study the genetic, physiological, and behavioral responses to heavy metal stress using a combination of population, quantitative, and evolutionary genetics approaches. This work is important to me because it has such wide-ranging implications and can shed light on how heavy metal pollution can influence ecosystem and human health.

Tell us a bit about your laboratory. What are your research goals and objectives?

In nature, organisms experience a wide range of stressors that influence their ability to reproduce, survive, and adapt over time. Our research focuses on the roles that genetic variation, phenotypic plasticity, and behavior play in response to anthropogenic sources of stress. Current areas of research include characterizing the genetic control of resistance to copper toxicity and dissecting the genetic relationship between physiological and behavioral responses to heavy metal stress.

We study the Drosophila melanogaster model system through a combination of large mapping populations and wild-collected populations to determine the genetic and evolutionary factors that influence physiological and behavioral copper stress resistance.

What impact do you hope your research will have? Can you provide any examples of practical applications?

As my lab continues to investigate the links between physiological and behavioral responses to metal stress in an evolutionary context, we hope to better understand how these traits are genetically controlled and linked. Heavy metal toxicity is particularly damaging to developing individuals and has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans, and more basic research is needed to understand how individuals may be more or less susceptible to the most damaging effects of exposure. Our goal is to contribute to filling that basic research need.

How does your work fit into the overall literature in your field?

There is a lot of excellent research that examines how heavy metal pathways are coordinated and respond to stress, but much of this research has been carried out in single genotypes or in a relatively limited set of genotypes. In contrast, we are examining the genetic control of physiological and behavioral responses to heavy metal toxicity using large mapping panels or in flies collected from natural populations. My goal is to help broaden our current understanding of how the toxicity response works by examining these patterns in many genotypes and by incorporating the effects of evolutionary response.

Education and Training:

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Macdonald Lab, Molecular Biosciences, University of Kansas with Stuart J. Macdonald
  • PhD in Biology, Kansas State University withTed J. Morgan
  • BA in Biology, William Jewell College


  • Everman ER, Macdonald SJ. Gene expression variation underlying tissue-specific responses to copper stress in Drosophila melanogaster. G3 (Bethesda). 2024;14(3):jkae015. doi:10.1093/g3journal/jkae015

  • Everman ER, Cloud-Richardson KM, Macdonald SJ. Characterizing the genetic basis of copper toxicity in Drosophila reveals a complex pattern of allelic, regulatory, and behavioral variation. Genetics. 2021;217(1):1–20. doi:10.1093/genetics/iyaa020

  • Everman ER, McNeil CL, Hackett JL, Bain CL, Macdonald SJ. Dissection of complex, fitness-related traits in multiple Drosophila mapping populations offers insight into the genetic control of stress resistance. Genetics. 2019;211(4):1449–1467. doi:10.1534/genetics.119.301930

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