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Adriana advances to Candidacy

Congratulations to Adriana Hernandez for passing her A exam and advancing to candidacy on December 13th 2019.  Adriana’s committee consisted of Professors Kevin Nixon, Monica Geber, and Rob Raguso who questioned her on ecological and evolutionary genetics focusing on diversification of Calochortus venustus and the California flora more broadly.        

Shayla gives Plant Bio Seminar

Dr. Shayla Salzman presented her doctoral research as well as future directions for her NSF-funded postdoctoral fellowship research as part of the Section of Plant Biology seminar series.  If you happened to miss it live — well, you missed a great introduction to Cycads, symbioses, and Shayla and the work that she does to investigate how relationships drive evolutionary innovation.

But fortunately, you can catch it as a recorded version right here:

Specht Lab at Botany 2019

We had quite the showing at Botany 2019 in Tucson, Arizona this year.  Heather, Clarice, Rosy and Jesus presented posters (and come to 5th floor Mann to check them out!!!) while Jacob, Eugenio, Carrie, Jesus, and Adriana gave oral presentations on their various research projects.  In the photo above, you can see how the Specht lab family is growing through the students and postdocs of current professors Dr. Laura Lagomarsino (LSU; former Specht Lab undergrad 2006-2009), Dr. Tanya Renner (PSU; former Specht Lab PhD 2012), and Dr. Madelaine Bartlett (UMASS; former Specht Lab PhD 2010).  My own mentors Dennis Stevenson and Bruce Kirchoff were also there to show their support and share in our sense of belonging!


And our newest graduate Dr. Joyce Chery was there showcasing her dissertation research on vascular cambium variants in Paullina (Sapindales).  Dr. Chery is now a postdoctoral research at Penn State University in the Lignocellulose group, collaborating with an exciting group of researchers investigating the cell biology of vasculature.

It was a wonderful networking experience, and a good time was had by all.  Check out our Facebook page for more information, or follow us on twitter where all the information appears in real time ;-).


Jesus rocks #Evol2019 with his umbel-ievable presentation!

I attended my very first Evolution 2019! What a fantastic meeting full for super interesting topics ranging from the Macro to the micro. I got to put faces on the names of researcher from the literature and catch up with old friends!

In addition to all the fabulous science, the organizers and member of Evolution 2019 did a fantastic job of generating a culture of inclusivity. Safe Evolution was prominent in all aspects of the meeting, from the Safe Evolution pins, the EvoAllys and code of conduct. It was particularly inspiring that these initiatives where lead and supportive by  PIs of the community. I think many other society can learn a lot form Evolution!

But I also gave a talk! I was very nervous for it but received much positive feedback afterwards. What it below!

Many other highlights were catching up with the eFlower folks, free swag from Phyloreferencing project, the Providence Fire Fest, almost getting shot with Elizabeth Carlens pigeon gun (it didn’t work) and the Story Collider Outside the distribution!


Dr. Joyce Chery, PhD

Joyce at her finishing talk, receiving a celebratory cake made by fellow grad Carrie Tribble. The cake is a slide of one of Joyce’s Paullinia species showing a variant vascular cambium.

Joyce Chery, former graduate student in the Specht Lab, graduated with a PhD in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley this past weekend (May 24, 2019).  Joyce received her undergraduate from Cornell!! working with now-retired professor Dr. Melissa Luckow on plant morphology and evolution.  In fact, it was Melissa who encouraged Joyce to apply to UC Berkeley, starting an amazing trajectory that passed through the Arnold Aboretum at Harvard, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute before landing her a PhD.  Joyce’s research investigated the development and evolution of vascular cambial variants in the liana lineage Paullinia (Sapindaceae).  She studied the “liana syndrome” — what makes a woody plant be able to bend, twist and climb? And along they way, she learned to lean into her fears and build a network of collaborators who together – and with her leadership – form more than the sum of their parts.

Joyce gave the commencement address at the Integrative Biology graduation ceremony on UC Berkeley’s campus at Zellerbach hall, the video of which can be found here.  @ 37:45 you can hear Joyce’s words of wisdom imparted not only to the graduates, but to those of us who mentor and advise them through the process of becoming successful, as academics and otherwise.

I was so honored to have the opportunity to hood Joyce as she became Dr. Chery, and to meet her parents and friends who were present to demonstrate their support, love, and the pride that they share with her for such a brilliant accomplishment.  Congratulations Dr. Chery.  We look forward to seeing you continue to amaze the scientific community with your innovative scholarship!

Adriana awarded 2019 NSF Predoctoral Fellowship (GRFP)

Image may contain: 2 people, including Adriana Hernandez, people smiling, outdoor and closeupAdriana Hernandez, 2nd year graduate student in Plant Biology and member of the Specht Lab, was awarded a 2019 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  This will fund her stipend as she carries out her research on speciation, evolution and diversification in Calochortus with a focus on the enigmatic and highly polymorphic C. venustus.

Adriana is pictured here with Dr. Victoria Sork, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Dean of Life Sciences at UCLA, and fellow California botanist.

Congratulations, Adriana!!!

Atkinson Grant funded on African Rice in Suriname

Chelsea Specht, Susan McCouch and Erika Styger received an Academic Venture Fund grant from the Atkinson Center to investigate the genomics of African rice that is currently cultivated by the Saramaka people in Suriname.  The PIs and their students will work with farmers to characterize rice diversity and improve agronomic practices. They will also use genetic analysis to identify the origins of the Saramaka rice and assist communities in developing in-situ conservation strategies.  Erika and undergraduate Rosy Glos will be traveling to Suriname in August to initiate the project.

The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Academic Venture Fund (AVF) supports collaborations that cut across disciplines to address today’s greatest sustainability challenges. In 2018, the fund awarded $1.5 million to a range of projects that will provide sustainable solutions around the world

You can read more about our project here:

Where in the world is the Specht Lab?

We are really moving this summer.  From left to right, and back again… here’s an account of where we are and whats going on.

Adriana: Most Mobile Element

  • May – June: Collecting Calochortus in CA
  • June: Morphology workshop at Arnold Arboretum (Cambridge Mass)
  • June – July: Comparative phylogenetics workshop, UNAM (Mexico City)
  • July: Rochester MN for Botany (?? i think??)
  • Back to Ithaca to being 2nd year grad school in August.


  • Clarice moved from Berkeley to Ithaca starting June 1, and is actively setting up the lab to begin DNA extractions and library building for NGS.  She is working with undergrads Jason Rose and Rosy Glos.  (note the rose theme…).  Clarice will start her first year grad school in August.


  • Jesus will be moving from Berkeley to Ithaca in mid-July and starting as a 3rd year graduate student in August.  His allium bulbs have already arrived!!
  • July: Rochester MN for Botany.


  • June: OTS Tropical Plant Systematics course in Costa Rica
  • June: Galway, Ireland for Euro Evo Devo meetings & symposium on boundaries
  • July: Colombia with Dr. Paul J.M and Hiltje Maas — collecting Costus!!!
  • July: Rochester MN for Botany


  • It looks like we’ll be having a new lab manager and research technician coming August!  Stay tuned for a formal introduction of Margaret Royall, newest member-to-be of the Specht Lab.

By August we will all be back and the lab will be humming with activity.  Come visit at 502/506 Mann Library!!

Adriana in the field

Armed with liquid nitrogen, dry ice, camera, notebook, and various hypotheses about variation in floral form and function, Adriana hit the coastal ranges of California in search of Calochortus.  Thanks to generous funding by the Schmittau-Novak award, Adriana was able to fly out to California and organize an successful expedition focusing on recording and collecting the phenotypic variation in Calochortus venustus, a mariposa lily.  Stay tuned to get the full report from Adriana herself!!

Jesús passes his qualifying exams; Advances to candidacy.

Jesús on the big screen in 133 Plant Sciences, Cornell University.

 HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!! are in order to Jesús Martinez Gomez who passed his qualifying exams today and is now a PhD Candidate.  This is a particularly impressive accomplishment in that his exams advance him to candidacy at both UC Berkeley and at Cornell University, where Jesús will continue his PhD studies starting this summer.  Jesús is currently a Chancellor’s Fellow and a Hellman Fellow at UC Berkeley, and has received a Provost’s Fellowship for Continuing Students at Cornell.  He is also the recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Jesús’ exam committee included Drs. Marvalee Wake, Brent Mishler, Ben Blackman and Sarah Hake.  Questions from his examiners focused on evodevo, evolutionary theory, phylogenetics, adaptation and selection, and developmental genetics.  Jesús also introduced us to his dissertation plans, which include the evolution of the umbel inflorescence structure, characteristic of onions (Allium).  He mastered both his dissertation plan presentation and an amazing breath ofmaterial represented by the diversity of questions presented by his examiners.

Basically, he rocked it!!!  Congratulations Jesús, PhD Candidate extraordinaire!

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