Director of Plant Genomics and Cullman CuratorPh.D., City University of New York/New York Botanical Garden
New York (1999)
"Floral morphology and phylogeny of Vochysiaceae"
Expertise: Flowering plant morphology and the molecular mechanisms underlying flower and fruit development
My interests are in the genetic mechanisms that underlie differences in plant structure and function. My work combines genomic, molecular, morphologic, and phylogenetic techniques to discover how evolutionary changes in gene structure and function have produced the diversity of plants we see around us.
We are using molecular techniques to identify genes involved in the evolution of fleshy fruits from dry fruits in Solanaceae (tomato and tobacco family). During Solanaceae evolution there was a shift from dry fruit(e.g., the capsule of tobacco) to fleshy (e.g., the berry of tomato). In addition, there are examples of independently evolved berries in the family. The data allow us to define the molecular processes that are required to make a fleshy fruit, and to determine if species that evolved fleshy fruit separately use the same processes. We are currently focused on the role of the FRUITFULL MADS-box gene lineage in fruit development
Several other projects add a population genetic or ecological component to the research. These include a project focused on the role of epigenetic modification in the domestication of tomato, the genetic basis of a rapid evolutionary shift in flowering time in response to drought in a weedy mustard, the complex relationships between plant and soil microbial diversity in the deciduous forest of the northeast US, and ethnobotanical, chemical, and genomic analyses of Andean blueberries that are tremendously high in antioxidant compounds.
I also continue my interest in the phylogeny and floral morphology of Vochysiaceae, a tropical family known for its beautiful and unusual flowers. Many questions remain regarding the structure and development of these flowers, as well as in the relationships of the species and genera.