Student Researches Roses and Cabbage

Senior biology major Shelly Gaynor shares her interest in genetics and evolutionary biology with the ecological community thanks to the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program. She is interested in polyploidy evolution, a process of genome doubling which leads to organisms with multiple sets of chromosomes. Her research investigates the influence of genome duplication on species of Brassicaceae and Rosaceae- cabbage and rose family species, respectively. Her work has won awards at both Botany 2016 and Botany 2017, national conferences tailored to botany.

At UCF, Gaynor became involved in undergraduate research as a freshman. She worked with Eric Hoffman, Ph.D., and Linda Walters, Ph.D., to find a method for shoreline restoration on the Indian River Lagoon. With their help, she also began an independent project assessing the genetic diversity within populations of smooth cord grass.

“I have really enjoyed my undergraduate at UCF,” Gaynor said. “Dr. Hoffman has been a phenomenal mentor. He is an excellent role model and has provided great research guidance. With his help, I was able to obtain both internal and external grants and fellowships.”

Those grants and fellowships allowed her to attend the Botany 2016 and 2017 conferences, where she presented research she completed during a NSF-REU program at the University of Colorado Boulder with Julienne Ng, Ph.D., and Robert Laport, Ph.D. In 2016, her research won the Genetics Section Student Award. The following year, Gaynor won the Best Ecology Undergraduate Presentation award after presenting the progress on her investigation into genome duplication.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to attend Botany 2017 because it gave me the opportunity to network with scientists in my field of interest,” she said.

While at Botany 2017, she also presented a separate poster from an NSF-funded internship completed in May with the University of Florida. She also attended a workshop on niche modeling and connected with other researchers in the botany field.

Her participation in and success with undergraduate research will aid Gaynor as she continues her education. After completing a bachelor’s degree in biology, she hopes to work towards her Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and continue to focus her research on polyploidy evolution. Gaynor hopes to one day become a research professor.

For other students who may be interested in pursuing undergraduate research, Gaynor urges them to be inquisitive and don’t let failure stand in their way.

Way to go, Michelle! Charge on!

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