Picture of Laura Vaughan

Laura "Kelly" Vaughan


Chair & Associate Professor of Biology


College of Arts and Sciences

Office Location:

Bristol Campus: White Hall 205

Office Phone:



The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.   John Locke

Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. Stephen Hawking

Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. Robert A. Heinlein


I grew up on a farm that has been in our family since the 1700's in Holston Valley, right outside of Bristol. I have always been a science nerd and growing up on the farm gave me both a foundation in how nature works, but also an awe in the amazing complexity of our world and a drive to ask 'why?'. I attended Berry College in Rome, GA where I obtained a BS in Biochemistry and Animal Science (I was going to Vet school until I decided that 1) I didnt like cows that much and 2) I enjoyed research). I then went on to Texas A&M to earn a PhD in Biochemistry (because, in my naiveté, it was the broadest field and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life). I then spent 10 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then Research Assistant Professor in the Biostatistics Department. During that time I reinvented myself twice- first moving from bench work to Statistical Genetics and then to Bioinformatics- where I think I may finally have found my niche.

Although I had built a successful research career, I felt something was missing. I had always known that I wanted to return to my roots, both in terms of returning to the area and teaching at a liberal arts school. As much as I love the challenge of research, I missed the dynamics of the classroom and the interactions with students. Family is an important part of my life, and I could not pass up the opportunity to return home and join the King community. Teaching has pushed me to become a better scientist, which in turn makes me a better teacher.

In the spring of 2015, my second semester at King, I was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer (non-functional neuroendocrine carcinoma). As of summer 2015, I am cancer free after undergoing chemotherapy and surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Throughout the whirlwind of the few months between diagnosis and surgery, the support I received from my King family was an important part of my recovery. As I have said may times over, there are too many coincidences to be coincidence, the Hand of Divine Providence is most apparent. Between my eclectic academic background and my personal journey, I hope to serve as both an example and mentor to my students as they find their way to their own vocation.

I am committed to providing students with undergraduate research experience and have built a research lab where students can gain valuable experiences and skills exploring questions related to obesity, diabetes, neruodegenerative disease using the model organism C.elegans. I have, and will continue, to take students to local, regional and national research conferences so that they can begin to build their scientific community. I am also passionate about Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and mentoring young scientists.

I am blessed with a wonderful husband, a precocious daughter, fantastic friends and an amazing family. In my free time you can find me on the farm where I grew up, riding horses, spending time with my family and living life to the fullest.


Research Assistant Professor Department of Biostatistics, Section on Statistical Genetics, The University of Alabama at Birmingham   

Post-Doctoral Fellow Department of Biostatistics, Section on Statistical Genetics, The University of Alabama at Birmingham   

Ph.D. Biochemistry. Department of Biochemistry, Texas A&M University.         

B.S. Biochemistry major, Animal Science minor. Berry College.

Recent Publications and Presentations

Current research

Genes do not act in isolation, yet current statistical methods often assume that not only genes, but single markers are independent. At the same time, we are beginning to realize that individual variants often have small effects on disease status and will not be identified using current methodologies. Pathway based analysis methods aim to utilize biological annotations to capture knowledge of the relationship among genes and identify groups of genes that work together to lead to an outcome, but would not be identified individually. I apply these methods to an array of genomics data (association, expression, epigenetic, etc) to not only integrate biological knowledge, but also different types of data to gain a more holistic view of the genetics of common traits. In addition to focusing on the relationship between genes, a growing part of my research focuses on capturing and utilizing information about non-genic regions of the genome. This is accomplished through database mining of resources related to genome annotation such as the ENCODE project. I also have a strong interest in the application of reproducible research principles to genomics. 

Courses recently taught

BIOL 2110 LAB General Biology I Lab
BIOL 2110 LECT General Biology I
BIOL 3250 LAB Bioinformatics Lab
BIOL 3250 LECT Bioinformatics
BIOL 3700 LAB Biochemistry Lab
BIOL 3700 LECT Biochemistry
BIOL 3760 LAB Genetics Lab
BIOL 3760 LECT Genetics
BIOL 3900 LECT Special Topics in Biochemistry & Toxicology
BIOL 4910 LECT Senior Thesis Research in Biology
BIOL 4920 LECT Senior Thesis Research in Biology
IDST 4500 LECT Interdepartmental Science and Mathematics Seminar