Emmett Smith, Ph.D.

Associate professor of biology

Email:[email protected]
Pronouns: They/them

Department: Biology
Exercise, Sports and Health Studies

Program: Icelandic Field Studies

Location: Stanley Hall Room 141 and CoLab 107
801 National Road
Richmond, Indiana 47374

About me

If I’m not in the classroom or in my office, look for me at the Equestrian Barn where you’ll find me riding my American Quarter Horse, Maker Sweet Dreams (we call her Sista). I enjoy reading on my front porch, playing video games, traveling, and hiking.


  • Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Certificate in College Teaching, Worcester State University
  • B.S. Purdue University

Professional memberships

  • Indiana Academy of Science (IAS)
  • American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)
  • Research Experiences in Microbiomes Network (REMNet)
  • American Society for Microbiology (ASM)

Why do I teach at Earlham?

Earlham is a unique community that I am happy to be part of. Not only do I grow intellectually by pursing research and scholarship, I also grow emotionally and spiritually each semester. I am stimulated by conversation with colleagues across the college, not just in my department or division. I am inspired by the students who bring passion and conviction to this campus and my classroom.

I teach the following courses: Biol 112: Cells, Genes and Inheritance; Biol 341: Cell Physiology; Biol 351: Human Genetics and Genomics; Biol 464: Advanced Cell Physiology; Biol 466: Molecular Genetics; ESem 150: The Perfect Human – The Promises and Perils of Human Genome Engineering; AWPE 100: Riding Lessons (horseback); OFCC124: Orientation: Icelandic Field Studies (Epic Advantage)

Research projects

My research is part of the Icelandic Field Studies program, one of the Epic Advantage experiences offered to Earlham students at no cost. Every summer we travel to Iceland, where my team of students studies environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA can be captured from many sources, including water, soil, and even air! We use eDNA to monitor climate change by analyzing the communities of microbiomes in Icelandic soils, particularly in the forefield of the glaciers Sólheimajökull and Kvíárjökull. We sample eDNA from the fjord at Seyðisfjörður to identify how oceanic species are affected by boat traffic and fish farming. We are working with Icelandic archaeologists to identify ancient eDNA at sites of interest along the East Icelandic coast which may yield clues as to the health and dietary habits of early Icelandic settlers. I am particularly interested in methods of DNA extraction and sequencing.

Scholarly interest

DNA is my favorite molecule because it contains the recipe of life. Beyond just containing the genetic information, DNA is tightly regulated, compacted, and modified by epigenetics which influence gene regulation. In graduate school I studied the role of enhancer elements and their effect on the expression of CFTR, the gene which when mutated causes cystic fibrosis. I still enjoy thinking about this question: How can the human genome, which contains only 20-22,000 genes, create the complex and fantastic diversity of cells in the human body?

I am deeply interested in CRISPR human genome editing and the ethics surrounding this technology. I teach an Earlham Seminar class devoted to this topic. Each year that I teach this class, I find my views changing and adapting as new research is published and new essays, books and critiques are written. It is a fascinating topic to discuss with students.

Published works

E.M. Smith, B. Lajoie, G. Jain and J. Dekker. Invariant TAD boundaries constrain cell type-specific looping interactions between promoters and distal elements around the CFTR locus. 2016. AJHG Vol. 98 pg. 185–201

E.M. Smith. The three-dimensional structure of the Cystic Fibrosis locus. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Medical School. 2014.

N. Naumova*, E.M. Smith*, Y. Zhan* and J. Dekker. Analysis of long-range chromatin interactions using Chromosome Conformation Capture. 2012. Methods Vol. 58 pg. 192-203

N. Gheldof*, E.M. Smith*, T.M. Tabuchi, C.M. Koch, I. Dunham, J.A. Stamatoyannopoulos and J. Dekker. Cell-type- specific long-range looping interactions identify distant regulatory elements of the CFTR gene. 2010. NAR Vol. 38 pg. 4325–4336

*Authors contributed equally to this work

We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.
We continue to monitor the effects of an industrial fire 1.1 miles from campus.