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Genetics Mentor Projects

Genetic Diversity and Variation in Populations of the Endangered Cactus Sclerocactus wrightiae (2018)

The effects of herbivory on genetic diversity in rare and endemic plants has not been studied in depth. Climate change models predict an increase in new pests and disease due to increased temperatures and CO2; expanding the range of pests. Sclerocactus wrightiae is an endangered cactus endemic the Colorado Plateau (Capitol Reef National Park & surrounding areas). In 2015 an


Pollinators and Paternity... How effective are pollinators are moving pollen about. (2018)

Pollinator effectiveness: In many plant species, pollinators are the main agents for the dispersal of genetic material within and between populations. Pollinators vary in foraging ranges, the number of flowers they visit in one feeding bout, and the distance they travel between bouts, all factors which will determine the number and diversity of pollen they carry, and therefore genetic material


Understanding changes in genetic diversity when producing seed for restoration (2018)

Genetic diversity is an important quality in seeds used for ecological restorations.  Sourcing seeds from multiple wild populations increases overall genetic diversity. To produce enough seeds for large-scale restorations, multi-source seed production beds are used to combine seeds from wild populations, increase genetic diversity, and


Using Genetics to help Hawaiian's endangered flora (2018)

Preventing Extinction: Hawaii is the extinction capital of the United States. One group that has some of the highest number of endangered species are the Hawaiian Lobeliods. This unique taxonomic group represents some of the most unusual members of the Campanulaceae family. Considerable effort is being invested in preventing the extinction of many of the critically endangered species in this


Analyses of large-scale datasets in diatoms, an essential group of photosynthetic organisms. (2017)

The Wickett lab invites interested undergraduates to apply for an REU in computational bioinformatics and phylogenomics. We are currently investigating the nearly 200 million year history of diatoms, a fascinating group of unicellular organisms that number between 100-200,000 species, and account for around 1/5th of global photosynthesis. Our lab primarily utilizes cutting edge software for


Conservation genetics and ex situ management of Oglethope oak (2017)

The primary objectives of my master's thesis research are to compare the in situ and ex situ diversity of Quercus oglethorpensis (Oglethope oak) using neutral microsatellite markers, and to trial population management software (PMX) for applications in plant conservation, or more specifically, compare the effects of different ex situ


How can ex situ conservation help to save Hawai'ia's disappearing flora. (2017)

Many members of the Hawaiian flora are classified as exceptional species, where living plant collections are the only currently available ex situ conservation option. For example, Brighamia insignis (Campanulaceae), an endemic Hawaiian succulent species, is functionally extinct in the wild with only one remaining extant individual. It is cultivated ex situ in at least 57 botanical collections


Identification of pollinators of Artocarpus species (2017)

Pollination is one of the most important drivers of plant evolution. Artocarpus, a genus of more than 70 fruit trees in the mulberry family (Moraceae), provides a unique opportunity to answer important evolutionary questions about pollination while contributing to the development of valulable underutilized crops. Native to tropical Asia, Artocarpus contains both wild species


Inbreeding and decline in plant fitness (2017)

There are several factor that may lead to a population’s extinction, one of these is inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is the reduction in fitness within a population as a result of inbreeding. This is a major issue in conservation because the negative effects of inbreeding depression affect all aspects of reproduction.


This project focuses on identifying life-history traits


Predictive provenancing: can southern-sourced seeds be used in Midwest restoration efforts? (2017)

Rapid anthropogenic climate change is currently causing range shifts and changes in phenology for many species. Many plant populations have been shown to be adapted to local environmental conditions. Restoration managers have hence primarily sourced their seed from local areas relative to the restoration site. However, the genotypes present in these populations used as seed sources may be ill-


Staying connected: How floral variation and local pollinators shape gene flow in downy Indian paintbrush (2017)

Different floral traits-- the color, shape, and scent of flowers-- can attract different groups of pollinators to flowers of a particular species. For many flowering plants, pollinators are primarily responsible for moving the genes of plants (via pollen) between different individuals, and among populations. In population genetics, the movement of gene is termed gene flow, which affects many


Using DNA barcodes to help clarify taxonomic identity (2017)

DNA barcoding is short genetic sequences used to identify a particular species. With the rapid growth and ease of sequencing, DNA barcodes have been recorded for many higher order species. This means that if we can obtain a small piece of tissue from a taxonomically ambiguous organism we can extract, amplify and sequence their DNA to read their barcode. This barcode can then be uploaded to an


Analyses of large-scale datasets in diatoms, an essential group of photosynthetic organisms. (2016)

Key words: Evolution, Genetics, Phylogenomics, Next Generation Sequencing


The Wickett lab invites interested undergraduates to apply for an REU in computational bioinformatics and phylogenomics. We are currently investigating the nearly 200 million year history of diatoms, a fascinating group of unicellular organisms that number between 100-200,000 species, and likely account for 1/5th


Diversity Lost: Using Herbarium specimens to investigate diversity in now extinct populations of Eastern Fringed Prairie Orchid (Platanthera luecophaea) (2016)

Project Description:


Habitat fragmentation of Midwestern prairies has lead to the loss of large tracks of once contiguous prairies. Orchids species have been particularly impacted by the loss of their habitat, which is the reason they often considered bio-indicators of high quality ecosystems and are of special conservation concern. Platanthera leucophaea (The Eastern Fringed Prairie


Floral trait variation in evening primroses (Onagraceae) (2016)

The evening primrose family, Onagraceae, shows spectacular inter- and intra-specific variation in floral morphology, floral scent and mating systems. As part of a large NSF-funded Dimensions of Biodiversity project, we have documented both inter- and intra-specific variation in floral traits in 14 species of Onagraceae and have found striking intraspecific polymorphisms in many taxa. In these


Growing apart?: Documenting range-wide floral variation to investigate a possible pollinator shift in Castilleja sessiliflora (2016)

The adaptation of plants to different kinds of pollinators is considered a driving force of the floral diversity seen among angiosperms. Shifts between pollinators that are accompanied by changes in floral traits provide a key opportunity to investigate the role of pollinators in driving floral trait evolution. Many studies of pollinator shifts, however, fail to address changes in pollinators


How bad can inbreeding be? Mating system variation and inbreeding in Oenothera primiveris. (2016)

Mating system is directly related to inbreeding and in some cases will lead to a loss of fitness known as inbreeding depression. The relation between mating system and ID has been study in different organisms, and there is a strong relationship but variation is inevitable. In self-incompatible populations (can't self), they will express greater inbreeding depression than self-compatible, due


Next-generation of Oenothera xylocarpa (2016)

Oenothera xylocarpa is a rare endemic found in rich pumice soils found in high elevations of the Sierra Nevada.  This species is only located in three isolated regions in California and Nevada. Using Next-generation sequencing techniques we are interested in exploring how isolated are the populations in these regions and how much diversity remains within these populations. This data will be


The role of relatedness in competition between prairie species (2016)

Do plants compete more strongly with closely or distantly related species? Does a non-native species that is closely related to a native species have a better chance of invading? Our group wants to determine if closely related species compete more strongly than distantly related species, based on the hypothesis that related species have


Developing genetically appropriate seed mixes of vulnerable plant species for restoration (2015)

Vulnerable plant species, which are often classified as rare or endangered in certain parts of their ranges, are unique in that they are neither common, nor highly threatened with extinction. However, local populations are often small and fragmented, which makes them ideal candidates for restoration. Threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, limited gene flow between fragmented


Genetic diversity on Sale - what diversity can you get in nursery purchased plant (2015)

The use of a genetically diverse native plants material in restoration and urban gardens is coming increasingly important. However, producing genetically-diverse native plant material can be incredibly challenging. Each step of production, from collecting the raw material to sowing the seed into a restoration site, has the potential to decrease the genetic diversity of the produced material.


Hybridization concerns for restoration of threatened Indian Paintbrush (2015)

There are only 11 known populations of Castilleja levisecta in the wild. Restorations efforts by multiple institutions has seen plants being reintroduced to sites in Oregon, where until recently it was extinct, and sites in Washington and British Columbia, Canada. These restoration efforts are important part of the recovery plan for this species. Although these reintroduction seem promising,


Inheritance of Scent (2015)

Our studies of Oenothera harringtonii (Arkansas Valley Evening Primrose) have revealed geographic variation of floral scent compounds despite evidence of high gene flow. Scent variation in O. harringtonii is mainly associated with a single compound, linalool; which is sometimes found in large quantities. We observe geographic variation in floral scent and have identified two primary chemotypes


Mycorrhizal associates of forest trees of the Yucatan Peninsula (2015)

The objective of this project is to identify ecologically important symbiotic and saprotrophic fungi from understudied seasonally dry tropical forests in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula using cutting edge tools. The rapid development of fungal ecology as it has entered the molecular age has highlighted many remaining fundamental knowledge gaps, including the huge number of tropical fungi that have


Phylogenetic Investigation of Fusarium spp. isolated from Vanilla roots (2015)

Vanilla planifolia is an economically valuable orchid that is widely used for flavors and fragrances. Worldwide, the Vanilla industry usually encounters recurring threats from Fusarium oxysporum, a fungal pathogen that causes root and stem rot. Studies have revealed that Vanilla farms lose up to 67% of plants when infected by Fusarium oxysporum. Studies also


Phylogeny and Genomics of Onagraceae (2015)

New genomics-focused techniques have allowed us to generate large volumes of data for both phylogenetic and functional analysis. In particular, the relatively new field of phylogenomics has allowed us to improve the resolution of relationships between related species, with the emphasis on nodes that have been recalcitrant with more traditional techniques. For this project students will be


Pollinator limitation and population genetics of a federally threatened orchid (2015)

Habitat fragmentation of Midwestern prairies has lead to many consequences for plant species, including disruption of plant pollinator interactions. Pollinator limitation in fragmented habitats can lead to reduced seed set, subsequent reduction of population size, and higher likelihood of inbreeding.  Additionally, orchids are of special conservation concern because they can act as bio-


Pollinator traits & characteristics of flowers in the evening primrose family (2015)

Angiosperms, or flowering plants, appeal to various pollinators by exhibiting floral characteristics such as color, scent, and the times of the day their petals open based on the pollinators they wish to attract (Dodd et al 1999) These evolutionary adaptations increase the chances that pollination by a particular pollinator will occur and, thus, increase the likelihood that a seed will be


Population genetics during a range expansion in the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans (2015)

Species undergoing range expansions often experience rapid population growth at the range edge. Rates of inbreeding may be high in populations at the range edge due to smaller population size and isolation. Mangroves are tropical woody plants that are currently expanding their range into more temperate zones and have doubled in area in northern Florida in the last 25 years. There are three


Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2015)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in


Analysis of breadfruit domestication (Artocarpus altilis, Moraceae) (2014)

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis, Moraceae), a traditional staple crop in Oceania, is poised to become an important international crop in the coming century, with major implications for food security in the tropical developing world. Previous research by Zerega et al. identified the wild progenitor of breadfruit (A. camansi) as well as a domestication gradient from New Guinea east into Polynesia


Clonal Growth and gene-flow in in the gypsophile Lepidospartum burgessii (2014)

Lepidospartum burgessii is a rare gypsophiliccshrub with limited distribution in New Mexico and Texas. Most of the known plants are restricted to two large populations, with a few small, isolated populations scattered in the surrounding area. The low recruitment observed in the two largest populations may be due to low seed set resulting from high inbreeding and/or self-incompatibility. We


Evaluating genetic diversity of living collections of Hawai'ian species, Brighamia insignis (2014)

Brighamia insignis, (olulu or alula in Hawaiian), is a Hawaiian lobeliad endemic to the islands of Kauai and Niihau. The species was listed as federally endangered in 1994 when there were only five populations totaling 45 to 65 individuals total. It is now listed as critically endangered, as there remains only a single wild individual clinging to the slopes of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai.


Genetic and stable isotope analyses of fungi from Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (2014)

The objective of this project is to identify ecologically important symbiotic and saprotrophic fungi from understudied seasonally dry tropical forests in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula using cutting edge tools. The rapid development of fungal ecology as it has entered the molecular age has highlighted many remaining fundamental knowledge gaps, including the huge number of tropical fungi that have


Genetics for good: helping to conserve a rare plant in the Pacific Northwest (2014)

Plant genetics involve more than GMO crops and gene splicing! Native plants have genes, too, and they could mean the difference between a population's survival and extinction. Our research looks for possible genetic divergence between wild and reintroduced populations of Castilleja levisecta, or golden paintbrush. Golden paintbrush is a small, charismatic, hemiparasitic plant that


Green Roof Ecology (2014)

Green roofs have the potential to provide habitat and other resources for native plant and animal species in urban environments. Previous research has found that a variety of such species do use green roofs but further investigation is needed to determine how these habitats can be designed to make greater contributions to urban biodiversity conservation. This project will focus on evaluating


Moss Genomics - New techniques for old lineages (2014)

Research in the Wickett lab makes use of high-throughput (next generation) DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to gain insight into how genome and gene-family diversification is related to the evolution of morphological, ecological, and molecular novelty in plants. In particular, we are currently sequencing genomes and transcriptomes to understand how genomic processes such as polyploidy, gene


Scent variation: its role in attracting both pollinators and herbivores in Evening Primroses (2014)

The plant tribe Onagreae (Onagraceae; the evening primrose family) and its associated insects pollinators (Sphingidae hawkmoth) and herbivores (Mompha microlepidoptera and Hawkmoth larvae) is a model systems for studying the role of floral scent in shaping the evolution of plants and their associated organisms across western North America. Floral scent is known to be an important trait in


Using native winners to improve restoration outcomes on the Colorado Plateau (2014)

Restoration of habitat degraded by invasive species, wildfires, or other disturbances is occurring on a large scale in the western United States. These restoration efforts are often limited by lack of knowledge about which species will perform best in these degraded sites, and limited availability of affordable, appropriate native seeds. Research at the Chicago Botanic Garden is being carried


When seed sourcing matters for restoration on the Colorado Plateau (2014)

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. One key decision that has to be made when carrying out a restoration is determining where the seed should come from. Until recently it has been assumed that local sources are best, because they are most likely to be adapted to the climate and environmental conditions


Care for Rare (2013)

This past summer I worked as a conservation project management intern with Andrea Kramer, Executive Director of BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International) to manage two different conservation projects that were in the progression/development stage. 


The first project, Care for the Rare, is a conservation effort backed by BGCI, that provides gardens all over the world with a free


Development of Molecular Markers for studies in Oenothera genus (2013)

Neutral genetic diversity within plants is often used to track important evolutionary processes including gene flow, species and population divergence, and evolutionary ancestry. Microsatellite primers are a useful way to quantify genetic diversity and track gene flow. In order to measure genetic diversity among these species, we need to first find marker regions


Genetic Diversity of Wisconsin Populations of Cirsium pitcheri (2013)

Recent studies of genetic diversity in two of the five known populations of Cirsium pitcheri present opposing picture of the state of affairs. One population had low diversity and high inbreeding, while the other had high diversity and low inbreeding. To determine if the low diversity is a state wide problem or restricted to the one populations, genetic diversity will be measured in additional


Genetic variation and spatial distribution of Castilleja species along the west coast of the United States. (2013)

Castilleja is a taxonomically tricky and morphologically variable plant genus in the western United States. The species in this genus have been known to naturally hybridize and have overlapping ranges yet are considered distinct from one another. We will be comparing the genetic variation within a population of Castilleja species and among populations of Castilleja species on the west coast


Genetics of Isoetes bulteri (2013)

Isoëtes butleri is an endangered lycopod (fern ally). In Illinois this species  has exhibited recent population declines, and managers are interested what factors influence population size.  This project is studying three ecological factors that may influence population size, PRS soil probes to determine differences in the soil nutrient levels, competition from the community may also influence


Genetics of Nursery grown Castilleja levisecta, the golden paintbrush (2013)

Golden paintbrush is a small, charismatic, hemiparasitic plant that historically grew in the prairies of western Oregon and Washington. Extirpated in Oregon since the 1940s, current efforts for reintroduction show promise for recovery. Our research looks for possible genetic divergence between wild and reintroduced populations of Castilleja levisecta, or golden paintbrush. We are currently


Morphological and molecular identification of mycorrhizal plants and fungi from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. (2013)

In this project, an REU intern will have the opportunity to explore the community ecology of mycorrhizae (plant-fungal symbioses) in the seasonally dry tropical forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The laboratory component of this project will provide experience identifying fungal spores using microscopy, as well as identifying plants and fungi using the direct sequencing of DNA "barcode


Moss genomic research (2013)

Research in the Wickett lab makes use of high-throughput (next generation) DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to gain insight into how genome and gene-family diversification is related to the evolution of morphological, ecological, and molecular novelty in plants. In particular, we are currently sequencing genomes and transcriptomes to understand how genomic processes such as polyploidy, gene


Nutrient assimilation and management practice in communities of Cypripedium candidum in the Chicago Region (2013)

Orchids belong to one of the most abundant families on earth and tend to be very specific in their habitats. Many exotic species are commercially grown in greenhouses, but our local terrestrial species are not so easily domesticated. As a result, their preservation is challenging, and conventional reintroduction and restoration techniques are intractable for many species. We do know that


Genetics of Isoetes bulteri (2012)

Isoëtes butleri is an endangered lycopod (fern ally). In Illinois this species  has exhibited recent population declines, and managers are interested what factors influence population size.  This project is studying three ecological factors that may influence population size, PRS soil probes to determine differences in the soil nutrient levels, competition from the community may also influence


Pollen-mediated gene flow in fragmented and continuous populations of Oenothera harringtonii (Onagraceae), a threatened Colorado endemic (2012)

This project will determine the extent to which habitat fragmentation is affecting gene flow in Oenothera harringtonii, an annual Colorado endemic whose habitat is increasingly disturbed by numerous development activities. Oenothera harringtonii has night-blooming flowers that are pollinated primarily by hawkmoths in the evening and matinal bees in the early morning hours. Hawkmoths are known