Check out the pubs page for the latest projects + some selected projects below

The molecular basis of inflorescence traits in sunflower

Key to the success of the sunflower family is its inflorescence (a capitulum or flower head) which resembles a single, large flower but is actually an aggregate of many small flowers. This unique floral structure plays an important role in pollinator attraction and is a major determinant of yield in many of the family’s crop species.  Despite the importance of the capitulum, little is known about the genes involved in its development. Work in our lab will increase available genomic resources for the family and result in the development of novel tools for gene editing in the family. This work will discover genes involved in the development of the capitulum inflorescence and provide valuable information that will facilitate efforts for optimizing inflorescence architecture in related crops.

Sunflower microbiome in the face of drought stressors

In collaborative work led by Dr. Shawn Brown at the UofM, we are working to understand the changes that are induced in sunflower microbiomes under drought stress. An understanding of how plant microbiomes ameliorate abiotic stressors is foundational to goals that aim to leverage plant microbiomes for improvements in sustainability, conservation, and crop productivity. Knowledge of crop-microbe interactions can lead to better crop outcomes and may facilitate improved yield in the face of stressors.

Conservation in the endangered whorled sunflower 

The federally endangered whorled sunflower, Helianthus verticillatus Small (Asteraceae), is known only from a handful of populations in the southeastern United States (including small populations in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia). Recent field and laboratory work aimed at studying this species has revealed greater levels of morphological and genetic diversity than were previously known. Understanding the extent and partitioning of this diversity across populations can inform recovery planning and actions through a better understanding of the taxonomy and potential for successful reintroduction strategies.

Phylogeny and evolution in Asteraceae 

Studies of genomic and evolutionary mechanisms that have driven the success of Asteraceae have been hampered by the lack of a well-resolved phylogeny. We have used a phylogenomic framework to fully resolve the Asteraceae backbone. This work supported a late Cretaceous origin followed by explosive diversifications that resulted in the family’s 25,000+ extant species. Ongoing work explores how large-scale gene duplications have influenced diversification in the family. Using 1KP transcriptome data and new transcriptomes from the most undersequenced members of the family (tribes Barnadesieae, Nassauvieae, and Mutisieae), we have identified novel genome duplication events allowing us to explore their role in the early evolution of the family. A unique feature of the phylogenomic tools we use in the lab is their ability to resolve relationships at multiple taxonomic levels, e.g., within tribes or genera. We have studied the evolutionary history of large groups of taxa, “The Fab 5”, five tribes that together comprise more than 10,000 species, or within notoriously complex genera like Packera which is wrought with hybridization and polyploidy.

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