At this summer’s Botany 2017 conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Professor of Biology Shannon Straub, Postdoctoral Research Associate Julien Boutte, Abby Foote ’17 and Brianna Moore ’18 presented the results of their research on DNA sequencing, genetic analysis and phylogenetics, the evolutionary development and diversification, of certain plant families.
At the conference, which is organized by leading national scientific societies focused on the study of plants, Straub and Boutte both delivered talks during the oral paper sessions, presenting findings from an ongoing project to understand evolutionary relationships of North American milkweed plants.
Straub’s presentation focused on the plants and their evolutionary relationships, “from collecting chloroplast genomes to understand the evolutionary relationship of large groups of species in the milkweed family” — which comprises about 5,000 species — “to better understanding the biodiversity of the family, what evolutionary events led to that diversity and the nature of their coevolution with insect herbivores,” Straub explains.
Boutte, who is funded by a post-doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation Pipeline, discussed his work on a program to speed up and optimize gene analysis, which has implications not only for studying milkweed but any organism with DNA.
Foote’s poster presentation focused on her research to clarify the evolutionary relationships among members of the Rauvolfioideae subfamily of the milkweed plant family. By assembling the sequences of whole chloroplast genomes, the research resolves several previously unresolved nodes of the family’s evolutionary tree.
During Foote’s presentation, her first at such a conference, she took confidence in Straub’s reassurance: “You know more about your research than anyone at the conference.”
“This turned out to be true,” Foote says, as she successfully navigated “the questions and challenges that people presented to me during the poster session.”
Moore’s presentation, which examined the genetic differences that determine sex in the dioecious shrub willow, centered on her analysis of genetic markers that can be used to identify an individual plant’s sex early in development.
Straub, Boutte and Foote, along with researchers from Oklahoma State University, also facilitated a workshop on next generation DNA sequencing methods, touching on the chemistry-related components of the sequencing technology, bioinformatics, lab techniques and data analysis.
In addition to the presentations and workshop, Foote and Moore were also able to network with other scientists in different specializations and discuss what a career in botany might hold in store.