Benjamin Blackman


Plant and Microbial Biology


plant biology, developmental biology, circadian clock, plant-environment interaction, sunflower, fieldwork, natural variation, evolution, genetics, image analysis

Project Description

Reproductive development is a highly regulated processes in composite plants like sunflower. The individual florets in a sunflower disk have a two daily period of maturation such that the buds open to present pollen on the first day and then the stigma opens to receive pollen on the second day. This regulation of the daily timing of these events is critical for effective animal or self pollination, and it is coordinated both by internal rhythms driven by the circadian clock and external signals like daily temperature fluctuations. We have revealed that different wild and cultivated sunflower accessions vary in the timing of floret maturation events, and this summer we plan to map the genetic basis of this natural variation through association mapping in the field. Doing so will involve time-lapse imaging in the field, video analysis, and pollinator identification, and the results of this work will identify genes that we will follow up with more detailed molecular study. In the end, by studying the natural variation in these floral developmental timing traits and their sensitivities to environmental cues, we aim to reveal pathways by which the clock and the environment coordinate this fundamental and agronomically important environmental process.


Students with strong interests in plant-environment interaction, genetics, evolution, and ecology will find the experience most rewarding. Attention to detail and good record-keeping skills are essential. The student should be comfortable and enthusiastic about working in field conditions for extended periods, and they will be expected to follow guidelines for safely doing so. Students who are interested in working full time (wage or stipend support may be available) are especially encouraged to apply.

Expected time commitment

40 hr/week for 10 weeks minimum

Preferred start time: