Seminar Speakers for Darwin Day 2017
Dr. Smith's research focuses on understanding and modeling
floral trait evolution. She has previously explored pollination ecology and floral phenology of Solanum
She is the leading expert on Iochroma
and has provided a model system through this clade, to study floral
Beg, borrow and steal: The nefarious history of flower power
Darwin recognized two key aspects of evolution: adaptation through natural selection and shared history
through common ancestry. Because species adapt by tinkering with the material acquired from their ancestors,
the story of evolution is often one of contingency, where the string of past events shape the path by which innovation occurs.
Following this year's theme of plant adaptation, I will discuss how events early in the history of flowering plants laid the
foundation for major adaptations in petals millions of years later. For example, plants and their algal relatives arose through
an endosymbiotic event in which a single-celled aquatic eukaryotic organism engulfed a photosynthetic bacterium. Initially, the
benefit of this event was likely the ability of that eukaryote to harvest energy from photosynthesis. However, over time, the
plant genome captured genes from this bacterium, and many of these genes came to be used to make colorful flower pigments as well
as flower scents. Although Darwin's understanding of evolution was strongly shaped by his fascination with flowers, he would have
never guessed this deep and complex history of many floral innovations, often relying on ancient events and stolen genes.