Our group studies in the genetic mechanisms responsible for how wild plant populations adapt to their natural environments. We study this in monkeyflowers, a diverse group of wildflowers native to western North America.
One major focus is the evolution of floral color patterns across populations of the common monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus. During floral development, patterns of pigment are painted on to the petals of many plants, and these pigments often serve to attract and direct bee pollinators toward pollen and nectar rewards. We have found several natural variants affecting the nectar guide pigmentation patterns of the common monkeyflower in both the visible and UV spectrums, and we are pursuing genetic studies to determine what specific molecular changes have occurred to disrupt these patterns. In doing so, we hope to learn more about the mechanisms that specify where and when petal cells develop pigmentation and the ecological processes that maintain variation in these patterns in nature.
We are also pursuing projects to examine how Mimulus guttatus populations have adapted to unique soil conditions (copper mine tailings and calcium-poor serpentine soils). This coming term we will be advancing transgenic experiments to test the roles that specific genes might play in helping populations that inhabit these soils thrive there as well as testing gene expression differences among populations.
The student will grow monkeyflower populations for trait mapping or characterization of lines where candidate genes have been targeted with RNAi or CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. They will score pigmentation or other phenotypes, conduct pollinations to do further genetic crosses, and harvest tissue and seed. The student may also be involved in examining patterns of candidate gene expression. Attention to detail and good record keeping are essential. Experience with plant husbandry is desirable. The student will also be invited to participate in weekly Blackman lab group meetings.
Students with strong interests in evolution, development, and genetics will find the experience most rewarding. Attention to detail and good record keeping skills are essential. The student should be comfortable and enthusiastic about working in greenhouse and growth chamber conditions for extended periods, and they will be expected to follow guidelines for safely doing so.