The nearly endless diversity of floral shape, color, and size, has captivated humans throughout history. How gene changes affect these traits is a compelling question in biology. Close observation of diverse flowers uncovers significant constraint on how they form. Approximately 70% of flowering plant species falling into a group that fundamentally have five parts (e.g., five petals) and strict patterns of how these parts are oriented. The greatest distinction is between flowers that are radially symmetrical, with all the petals equidistant from each other, and flowers that are bilaterally symmetrical with a single plane of symmetry that divides the flower in half from top to bottom. This project uses Dipsacales (honeysuckle and its relatives) to examine the genetic basis of evolutionary shifts in flower symmetry. Diversification in the Dipsacales shows multiple shifts between radially symmetrical groups and different forms of bilateral symmetry. The shifts to bilateral symmetry correlate with duplications in certain genes, suggesting that multiple copies of these genes are needed to form a more complex bilaterally symmetrical flower. This project will build on previous evolutionary examinations of these "floral symmetry genes" to determine how shifts in where and when these genes operate affect shifts in floral symmetry among related groups.
Nearly all scientists had an inspirational teacher or parent who exposed them to science, highlighting the need to reach as many students as possible with active science education. St. John's University, situated in the most diverse county in the country, with a student body dominated by under-represented groups, provides investigators the opportunity to expose students from all levels and backgrounds to science. The project will provide research opportunities for diverse undergraduates as well as high school students from Forest Hills High School. These students will learn modern molecular biology techniques through hands on experience and close mentoring.