University of Florida plant evolutionary geneticist Doug Soltis explains how he became interested in studying biodiversity and the research he currently conducts, involving the family tree of plants.

Interview and videos produced by Sean Carey for Explore Research at the University of Florida.


Doug Soltis: I became interested in science probably when I was very young. I just like being outdoors. I like seeing the plants and animals in nature. I didn’t realize that that was the beginning of career and studying biodiversity.

So yeah, we’re at the Florida Museum of Natural History and as the name says we study Natural History, but we also use DNA in our work. And really what we’re doing is studying the history of life using DNA, so it’s very appropriate to do this kind of work in a Natural History Museum. What I do is I study plants, I love plants. I use DNA data to better understand how plants are related, how plants produce the amazing chemical compounds they produce, how plants are put together from a genetic standpoint. So that is what I do for my research.

The goal of our scientific work, broadly speaking, is to really understand the family tree of plants, how they’re all related and how we can use that information to better understand how plants evolved and their various structures and chemistry evolved, including things like the flower. Where did the flower come about? How did that evolve and diversify? These are the kinds of things we ask.

So I enjoy a lot of aspects of this work, but one is discovery. When you know you found something that nobody has ever seen or realized before, you never get tired of that. It’s always magical.

Learn more about the Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics Lab at the Florida Museum.

Explore Research at the University of Florida

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