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I am a professor of plant systematics in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois. My research focuses on the systematics of the plant family Apiaceae (with emphasis on its largest subfamily, Apioideae) and the detection and characterization of the distribution of major structural rearrangements of the chloroplast genomes of flowering plants.

Apiaceae subfamily Apioideae comprises some 300 genera and 3000 species and is distributed worldwide. The group contains many edible (e.g., carrot, parsnip, dill, celery, parsley, cumin, anise), medicinal, or highly toxic (e.g., poison-hemlock, water-hemlock) members and presents a rich source of evolutionary and taxonomic problems. My long term goal, which by necessity will be a multinational, interdisciplinary, and collaborative effort, is to produce an explicit, species-level phylogenetic hypothesis for the large and taxonomically complex Apiaceae subfamily Apioideae using molecular and morphological characters. Our results to date have contributed to a phylogenetically-based system of classification for the group and have provided a framework in which to examine evolutionary patterns and processes.

Unique structural rearrangements of the chloroplast genome are useful as systematic characters, in part because their rarity suggests phylogenetic stability. Any change in gene or intron content, or arrangement of its DNA, can have significant phylogenetic implications for the shared presence of any particular rearrangement can indicate common ancestry. Such characters provide major insights into plant evolution by demarcating natural groups at a variety of taxonomic levels. Several families of flowering plants have highly rearranged genomes and these are being studied in an effort to explain how these structural mutations were derived from the typically conserved chloroplast DNA arrangement. Such information is important to elucidate molecular evolutionary phenomena affecting whole genome evolution.

Students interested in pursuing graduate work in my lab are encouraged to contact me. See Department of Plant Biology Grad Admissions for admissions information.

Integrative Biology majors willing to pursue independent research projects in my lab (IB 390 and IB 490) should contact me as well. Click Research Courses in IB for more information.  

Address: Department of Plant Biology, 265 Morrill Hall, 505 South Goodwin Avenue, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801-3707 USA
Office Location: 239 Morrill Hall
Telephone: (217) 333-1275
Fax: (217) 244-7246

sdownie "at" life.illinois.edu

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Click here to learn more about the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign