This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2020, Research Using Biological Collections. The fellowship supports research and training of the Fellow that will utilize biological collections in innovative ways. Many plants produce nectar, a sugary liquid, as a reward and food source for animals that protect or pollinate the plant. Nectar is produced from a tissue called the nectary, which can be found on various parts of the plant, including leaves and flowers. Despite this important character, outstanding questions remain to be addressed about the evolution of nectar and nectaries, particularly in the monocots, a group of plants that include grasses and orchids and agriculturally important crops, such as corn, wheat, pineapple, banana, and palm. Most monocots have septal nectaries, a distinctive type of nectary not found in any non-monocot plant. Hypotheses about the septal nectary have been proposed, and genetics may provide an additional lens to address these hypotheses. However, nothing is known about the genetic underpinnings of septal nectaries. By using living plant collections at the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, the Huntington Botanical Gardens, and California Botanic Garden, along with advanced imaging and sequencing technologies, insights will be made into the evolution of nectaries and how the septal nectary may have contributed to the diversification of monocots. Additionally, these gardens are invaluable venues for the Fellow to engage the public on the importance of nectar in agriculture, evolution, ecology, and conservation through educational outreach activities and public talks to diverse audiences as well as through social media outlets.
The Fellow will describe the morphology and anatomy of septal nectaries across four stages of development for ten monocot species by using histology, scanning electron microscopy, and microCT scanning. To identify core genes involved in nectary development and nectar secretion, the Fellow will sequence the transcriptome from nectary and non-nectary tissues across development and perform comparative analyses within and across species. These analyses will determine whether septal nectaries have similar genetic and developmental programming compared to more well-studied flowering plants. Resulting data have the potential to explain nectary origins and persistence in monocots. The multiple training opportunities in this project will assist the Fellow in building an interdisciplinary research program as an independent researcher with strong collaborations with botanic gardens. The Fellow will also mentor students from underrepresented groups and facilitate workshops for early career scientists to discuss contemporary issues in science.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.