The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars, providing crucial laboratory support to promising young researchers. Congratulations to assistant professors Andrea Sweigart and Dave Nelson of department of genetics, who were each awarded five-year, $1 million grants by this program:
Sweigart is an evolutionary biologist who studies quantitative genetics and the processes that give rise to biological species, known as speciation. The grant will support further research on hybrid sterility, a subject whose origins go back to the time of Aristotle but which confounded Darwin as it seemed to run counter to his concept of natural selection. Sweigart has spent years collecting data on the genetic basis and evolution of hybrid sterility in Mimulus, an ecologically diverse genus of wildflowers found west of the Rocky Mountains.
"One of the big questions is how species diverge, even when they are growing in close proximity," Sweigart said. "Mapping these genes will allow us to identify what causes Mimulus hybrids to become sterile and help us understand the forces that initially led to their divergence."
Nelson's research focuses on how plants sense different signals in their environment, specifically one set of compounds found in smoke that stimulate seed germination after a fire, and another class of compounds called strigolactones that control root architecture, shoot growth and stimulate interaction with beneficial fungi in soil. While the two compounds are different, Nelson's research uncovered a common element: both signals control plant growth through the same genetic pathway.
"These signals that can tell a seed whether or not it's a good time to grow, or cause a plant to modify its structure based on nutrient availability," Nelson said. "We want to find that chain of events that leads from signal perception to developmental change."
The awards to Nelson and Sweigart make four CAREER awards in the department of genetics in the last two years - beyond impressive. Congratulations to our faculty and administration for continuing to do many things right: attracting and retaining bright, young faculty members takes resources but also requires much more than that - a collegial atmosphere, great facilities and students. Congratulations to Nelson and Sweigart on the recognition and support, and to the department for all the effort behind their successful program.