Students Present at National Botany Conference – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Present at National Botany Conference


This summer, HWS biology faculty and students presented the results of their summer science research at the national Botany 2018 conference in Rochester, Minn.

With Assistant Professor of Biology Shannon Straub and post-doctoral fellow Julien Boutte, HWS students Maddie Cullinan ’19, Meredith Fennell ’20, Therese Mandracchia ’19 and Carl Wagner ’19 each discussed their inquiries into plant evolution using data generated by next generation DNA sequencing technologies.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, the students delivered their research presentations again at the Student Research Symposium, as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend.

At the July conference, Straub discussed her work to illuminate the evolutionary development (phylogeny) of the Apocynaceae family of flowering plants, while Boutte’s research explored gene duplication in milkweeds, which offer an ecological and evolutionary model for studying reproductive biology, plant defenses and plant-animal interactions.

Maddie Cullinan '19 and Meredith Fennell '20 study a Mandevilla x amabilis​ plant. This summer, Cullinan and Fennell are working on understanding the evolutionary relationships among plants in the milkweed and dogbane family (Apocynaceae) using DNA sequence data.

Cullinan and Fennell’s presentations also concerned Apocynaceae, with Cullinan seeking to resolve the phylogenetic relationship of the closely-related tribes Echiteae, Mesechiteae, and Odontadenieae within the family, while Fennell used next generation sequencing to assess the phylogeny of the tribe Apocyneae using whole chloroplast genomes.

Mandracchia analyzed a large DNA sequence data of four similar dwarf milkweed species to determine the relationships among them and help distinguish them in spite of their morphological similarities. Also focusing on milkweed, Wagner’s research into the diversification of North American milkweeds utilized next generation sequencing to efficiently produce the large data sets necessary to determine the relationships among species that differentiated rapidly.

Additionally, Straub, Boutte, Cullinan, Fennell and Wagner hosted a conference-wide workshop on next generation sequencing technology and data analysis.

Therese Mandracchia '19

“The students were instrumental in helping the roughly 35 participants work with the Geneious software package, which they became experts at using during their summer research,” says Straub.

Earlier in the summer, as part of the HWS Summer Science Research Program, the students participated in a science outreach day at West Street School in Geneva, discussing their research, playing related games, and working on crafts with rising fourth graders attending summer school.