Office of Undergraduate Research

Renée Geyer '21

OUR Featured Reasearcher: Renée Geyer '21

Portrait of Renee Geyer.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Renée Geyer (she/her) is a Biology major conducting mentored research under Professor Mike Moore. Her project is titled “Phylogeography of Petalonyx crenatus (Loasaceae): genetic structure across a gypsum archipelago".

Please describe your project: 

Gypsum is a harsh soil for plants to grow on, but numerous plant grow only on gypsum exposures, these plants are called gypsum endemics. Petalonyx crenatus is a gypsum endemic shrub that grows in western and central Coahuila, Mexico in the Chihuahuan Desert. During the full-glacial periods of the Pleistocene Epoch, this desert biome disappeared was replaced by a cooler, wetter climate which many desert plants could not survive. We hypothesize that gypsum endemics survived full-glacial periods because of reduced competition from other plants. If this is correct, gypsum endemics that originated before the Pleistocene will have high genetic diversity across their geographic ranges. Our second hypothesis is that gypsum endemics are dispersal limited because gypsum outcrops function as gypsum “islands.” Gypsum endemics will have low gene flow between populations if this hypothesis is correct. Petalonyx crenatus has high genetic diversity across the species and low geneflow between populations.

What does the process of doing your research look like?  

When I first started this project I spent a lot of time editing Petalonyx crenatus chloroplast DNA sequences in the program Geneious Prime. Now I’m writing up our results and using R to do some population statistics on the DNA sequences.

What are your findings so far?      

We have found that this species of desert shrub, Petalonyx crenatus, has high genetic diversity and low seed related gene flow between its populations. This means that the species is old because it take a long time to accumulate that much diversity.

In what ways have you showcased your research?   

I’ve done posters with the Oberlin College Research Symposium and presented a poster virtually at Botany Conference 2020 over the summer. I plan to present another poster this summer at virtual Botany Conference 2021.

How has it impacted you as a researcher?    

I’ve learned a lot about conducting research collaboratively. In Professor Moore’s lab we have weekly lab meetings as a group where we can hear about each other’s projects and sometimes help each other out. No one can do research completely by themselves and it’s important to exchange ideas with other people in your field.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

Go to office hours and ask your professors what research they are doing. If their research sounds interesting ask them if they are looking for student researchers.