Biology professor earns grants for desert plant research

Willamette University Biology Assistant Professor Chris Smith has earned two prestigious grants that will support his research into desert plants — work he has also done collaboratively with several undergraduate students.

A two-year, $48,000 grant from the Murdock College Research Program for Life Sciences will bolster Smith’s research investigating the genes in Joshua trees involved in their adaptation to pollinators — key to understanding natural selection in the plant. Smith and three students will be continuing with this research this summer through the Science Collaborative Research Program. (Learn more about this research.)

Smith also earned an early-career, cross-disciplinary faculty training grant from the National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network Microevolutionary Molecular and Organismic Research in Plant History Program. Through the program, Smith will travel to the University of Georgia, Athens to gain technical training and skills for assembling and annotating data from yuccas.

He will then use the data to investigate associations between allelic variation, gene expression and the evolution of floral form.