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 mechanisms that underlie the evolutionary origin of new plant forms. My work combines phylogenetic, morphologic, molecular, and genomic techniques to discover how evolutionary changes in gene structure and function have produced the wide array of plant forms we see around us.
My research falls into three categories. The first includes projects that use a comparative phylogenetic approach to studying plant development and evolution. One project uses genomic and molecular techniques to identify genes involved in the evolution of fleshy fruits from ancestral dry fruits in Solanaceae (tomato and tobacco family). During Solanaceae evolution there was a shift from dry (e.g. tobacco) to fleshy (e.g. tomato) fruits. In addition, there are examples of independently evolved fleshy fruits and secondary reversion to dry fruits. We are studying the molecular basis for these differences and similarities among these fruit types, in an attempt to identify the processes that produced a new fruit type (fleshy) as well as those that underly convergence and reversion.
A second area of research involves study of the evolution of the MADS-box gene family. These genes have been shown to be key regulators of flower development, among other processes. We are interested in the functional evolution of one MADS-box gene lineage, APETALA1. This gene is crucial for flowering in model species such as the mustard Arabidopsis, but evidence suggests its role has not been constant during angiosperm evolution. Changes in this gene during plant evolution may have played a role in the origin of different flower forms. Additional projects are focussed on characterizing MADS-box genes in mosses and fern gametophytes.
The third component of my research is a continuation of my dissertation work on floral morphology of Vochysiaceae. This tropical family is known for its beautiful and unusual flowers, which have a reduced number of organs and distinctive symmetry. Many questions remain regarding the structure and development of these flowers, as well as in the relationships of the species and genera.