UF study: ‘Rules’ may govern genome evolution in young plant species

January 19th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows a hybrid plant species may experience rapid genome evolution in predictable patterns, meaning evolution repeats itself in populations of independent origin.

Researchers analyzed genes of a naturally occurring hybrid species, Tragopogon miscellus, and the study, published online today in Current Biology, suggests genome evolution in hybrid plants may follow a set of “rules” that determine which parental genes are lost. The research may be used to create higher and more stable yields in other hybrid polyploid plants, including agricultural crops such as wheat, corn, coffee and apples. (more…)

UF research on newly formed plants could lead to improved crop fertility

January 7th, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida study shows genomes of a recently formed plant species to be highly unstable, a phenomenon that may have far-reaching evolutionary consequences.

Published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to document chromosomal variation in natural populations of a recently formed plant species following whole genome doubling, or polyploidy. Because many agricultural crops are young polyploids, the data may be used to develop plants with higher fertility and yields. Polyploid crops include wheat, corn, coffee, apples, broccoli and some rice species.

“It could be occurring in other polyploids, but this sort of methodology just hasn’t been applied to many plant species,” said study co-author Pam Soltis, distinguished professor and curator of molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “So it may be that lots of polyploids – including our crops – may not be perfect additive combinations of the two parents, but instead have more chromosomes from one parent or the other.” (more…)

Florida Museum graduate student receives $13,500 NSF grant to study pitcher plants

June 13th, 2011

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History graduate student Nicholas “Nic” Miles recently received a $13,500 National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to study carnivorous pitcher plants.

Miles will study three pitcher plant families from Australia, Southeast Asia and the Americas to determine if leaves evolved from a flat to a tube-like structure the same way in all three.

“Pitchers are an amazing adaptation for plants, and their evolution is even more amazing because they evolved at three independent times during the history of plants,” said Miles, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in botany. (more…)

Florida Museum of Natural History graduate student receives biology teaching award

May 10th, 2010

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History graduate student Paul Corogin recently received the University of Florida biology department’s Graduate Student 2009 Teaching Award.

Corogin is researching plant systematics and taxonomy under the supervision of Walter Judd, a UF biology professor who has an affiliate appointment with the Florida Museum. Corogin’s research focuses on the systematics of trees and shrubs of the genus Sideroxylon (Sapotaceae) in southeastern North America.

The biology department recognizes one or two outstanding graduate teaching assistants every year. A committee of faculty members selects the award winners after reviewing student evaluations, a nomination letter and letters from faculty advisors. (more…)

Fla. Museum researcher wins award for excellence in tropical botany

May 5th, 2009

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History botanist and herbarium curator Norris Williams has won the Smithsonian Institution’s prestigious José Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany for his 40-year career studying orchids.

The award is given annually to a botanist and scholar of international stature who has made significant contributions to the field of tropical botany. Williams, who is author or co-author on nearly 100 academic papers, received the medal March 28.

His two primary areas of research are floral chemistry, which involves identifying floral fragrances that attract orchid pollinators, and molecular phylogenetics, which involves the study of evolutionary relationships among neotropical orchids. Williams did most of his field work in Panama and Ecuador and has studied orchids in the wild from Mexico to Bolivia.

Florida Museum director Douglas Jones said Williams’ colleagues and friends are thrilled he won the award. (more…)

UF graduate students recognized for Florida Museum research

June 26th, 2007

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winner of the coveted 2007 Austin Award, given annually by the Museum’s University Teaching Committee to recognize excellence in natural science research, and the 2007 Ripley P. Bullen Award, named after an influential Florida Museum archaeologist of the 1940s and 1950s.

Recipient of the Austin Award, Ashley Morris, graduated from the University of Florida with her Ph.D. in Botany in December and now is a faculty member at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Morris was nominated for the award by advisor Pamela Soltis, a curator at the Florida Museum.

“I was quite honored of course that she would consider the nomination, and even more surprised about winning given the quality of the work of my peers in the Florida Museum,” Morris said. (more…)

April 17 NOVA show featuring UF-Chinese research traces evolution of flowers

April 9th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Joint research between Florida Museum of Natural History and Chinese scientists to discover and interpret the world’s earliest known flowering fossil is the subject of a PBS NOVA documentary, “First Flower,” which debuts at 8 p.m. April 17.

The origin of flowers is one of botany’s deepest mysteries, and in the NOVA documentary, Florida Musuem paleobotanist David Dilcher guides viewers through segments of the amazing story of the evolution of flowers.

“There’s no doubt about it, flowers are all about sex,” said Dilcher, a graduate research professor and paleobotany curator at the Florida Museum and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. (more…)

Fla. Museum plant scientists receive award for outstanding service

November 22nd, 2006

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History scientists Doug and Pam Soltis and David Dilcher, and William Stern, University of Florida Botany Professor Emeritus, recently received centennial awards from the Botanical Society of America for their outstanding service to the plant sciences and the society.

The Soltises oversee the Florida Museum molecular genetics lab and are world leaders in plant genome research. Doug Soltis also currently is chair of the UF Department of Botany. Dilcher, a Florida Museum graduate research professor in the Division of Paleobotany and Palynology, is well-known for his research of the origin of flowers and the reproductive biology of the first flowering plants.