Keene State professor eager to explore plant’s mysteries
Keene State College associate professor of biology Kristen Porter-Utley conducts field work in southern Mexico during her previous study of the systematics of passionflowers. (COURTESY)
Over the summer and fall Porter-Utley plans to generate and use the molecule sequence data of 100 plants in the 551 species Ochnaceae plant family to produce a preliminary evolutionary tree for the large family of pantropical plants.
It’s a big plant family, but no one has ever studied it on a molecular level, she said.
A Keene State College Faculty Development Grant is funding the study.
“Where did these plants originate and how did they spread and when did they spread into the different areas of the world?” are the questions Porter-Utley is working to answer. “What we are really interested in is how these plants throughout the world are related to each other.”
Many of the Ochnaceae species, like the forests they grow in around the world, are rare or threatened.
“None of the flowers (in this plant species) produce nectar. They are pretty much all dependent on pollen gathering,” she said. “So many of those pollinators are threatened and impact the plants.”
Porter-Utley most recently conducted a longterm study of passion flower plants that led to field work in southern Mexico.
In January, Porter-Utley plans to submit her data in an application for a National Science Foundation grant that could fund more extensive study in the field, perhaps in Madagascar or South America, she said.
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