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Dr. John Sproul: Unearth the Unknown

New Assistant Professor of Biology

A light-skinned man wearing a button-up shirt smiles.

The College of Life Sciences is pleased to welcome Dr. John Sproul as one of the newest faculty in the Department of Biology. Sproul brings years of experience researching the genomes of various species, particularly beetles.

Sproul studies genes by focusing on understudied regions of chromosomes. Researchers have identified the functions of some sections of DNA or sections known to regulate genes, yet many overlooked segments seem to be nothing but repetitive DNA sequences. Sproul shines a light on these neglected, repeated sections to understand the evolution of an entire genome. Slight differences in these regions can separate one species from another.

This species separation is particularly evident in beetles. There are an overwhelming 400,000 species of beetles, meaning about one in every five organisms that has a scientific name is a beetle. Many of these beetle varieties are unknown to the scientific community at large, making them an ideal group to study and classify. Sproul studies beetle DNA to better understand the fundamental rules of genome evolution.

One of Sproul’s most memorable research experiences was taking his family to collect beetles in Glacier National Park. After analyzing both external phenotypes and the genomes of the collected beetle samples, he realized he had found a new beetle species. He eagerly classified the species as well as one other in an article, naming the beetles in honor of his wife and kids who accompanied him: Bembidion oromaia (for his wife, Elizabeth) and Bembidion geopearlis (for his children George and Pearl).

Sproul’s interest in insect diversity and DNA evolution ignited after joining a lab as a BYU student, inspiring his switch from premed to biology. He earned his PhD from Oregon State, where he focused on phylogenomics and species delimitation. He continued his research at the University of Rochester as a postdoc and worked as faculty at the University of Nebraska Omaha. When asked what advice he would give to students, Sproul shared that they should find and pursue something they are passionate about. He encourages students to participate in the many opportunities in the College of Life Sciences, like working in a lab.

Sproul is excited to work at BYU in a community of faith that stimulates both his empirical and spiritual sides. He looks forward to being an example to the students of a scientist who has found how to balance science and faith in his career and personal life.