University of California, Berkeley
Plant and Microbial Biology
My first crop of corn ever!
I am a sucker for origin stories. From how superheroes got their powers, to how we all got interested in Botany. One of the goals of the evolutionary developmental (evo-devo) field is to investigate origin stories, primarily on two distinct timescales. The first is the individual time scale: how unique plant structures develop, grow, and ultimately function on a plant. The second is evolutionary scale: how, over millions of years to hundreds of thousands of years, these structures have persisted and changed over time.
My work investigates the Evo-Devo of plant structures with an emphasis on inflorescences of the reproductive branches of plants, but I also dabble in other cool plant structures. One of my current projects, in Ben Blackman’s lab at UC Berkeley, is investigating the developmental origin of floral ultraviolet pigmentation (UVP) within the yellow monkeyflower species complex (Erythranthe guttata syn. Mimulus guttatus). Many plants exhibit UVPs. These can function as both pollinator attractors, since many animals can see UV. But UVP can also act like sunscreen, absorbing UV light that might mutagenize the gametes located in the stamen and carpels. The yellow monkeyflower exhibits two polymorphisms in UVP pattern, one termed bullseyes that only exhibit UVP in the corolla throat, and the other termed runway where UVP extend into the ventral petal lobe. We are using CRISPR/CAS9 in yellow monkeyflowers to investigate the roles of genes that might underlie this polymorphism UVP.
Collecting Butomus in the field in Ithaca. These got dissected!
How Jesús got interested in the botanical sciences:
I think I can pinpoint the exact moment that set me on my botanical science journey. In high school I applied to the University of Washington ALVA Genome Project, a summer research experience for incoming freshman at UW. I learned about this program when my high school counselor, Mrs. Susan Wood, blasted into my pre-calculus class with an application and lots of encouragement. This was how I first learned that undergraduates could even do research in laboratories. In my typo-ridden essay application (some things never change), I riddled off a bunch of cool things I liked about biology. Nestled in my essay, I wrote a sentence that read, “What we learned about DNA [in AP Biology class] and genes could be used to explain why a certain species of tree is deciduous or coniferous." That sentence was sufficient for the director of ALVA, Mrs. Lisa Peterson, to pin me as a “plant person” and place me in the lab of Dr. Veronica Di Stilio. I spent 4 great years studying all sorts of fun botany topics, from what are the developmental fates of genes following duplication to how has floral morphology led to distinct pollination modes in Thalictrum. The final bit of my undergraduate work was just published (it takes a while sometimes). My experience in Veronica’s lab adequately prepared me for the rigor of a career in science.
Don’t get me wrong—I did like plants, but I never had an “ah-ha, plants” moment. I actually tried to leave the botanical sciences when I transitioned into graduate schools. I wanted to continue in the field of Evo-Devo but explore non-plant systems. My Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Chelsea Specht, had a different vision. She found my application at UC Berkeley and encouraged me to interview with her, even though I had not applied to her lab. Unbeknownst to me, the animal person whose lab I had applied to had rejected me. It's funny to think that one sentence was what set me on this journey. In fact, in that same ALVA essay, I also wrote, “Why do Lions have Prides?” But it seems UW (thankfully), did not have anyone studying lions.
You could say, “I did not find Botany, but Botany found me.” But I think it is more accurate to say, “Good-hearted people found me, and I stayed for the Botany.”
Left to Right: Carrie Tribble, Micheal Song and Jesus.
At Botany 2018 in Fort Worth Texas presenting a collaborative poster that just got accepted!
Jesús' advice for those just starting their botanical journey:
A post-doc can feel like a transitory state in the academic career. I have definitely felt this and was in a bit of crisis for a while (who am I and what am I doing!). This was until I attended the Botany conference this summer in Idaho. I was reunited with a lot of my community and met a ton of new friends. It was so nice to see where everyone was in their lives, but also validating to see how people had grown into their current position. Perhaps a by-product of the pandemic or general isolation but the stories shared really help me feel better about my own situation.
This is all to say that my advice to junior botanists is to talk to people. Ask them how they got where they are and why? Did they expect to end up there? I find you gain a lot of insight about yourself and the world by listening to others’ stories. But also make sure to share your own!
Jesús' other passions:
I really, really, wanted to say I read in my spare time, but I spend most my workday reading; I sometimes find it hard to keep staring at text (although recently I’ve been getting into audio books). And I also really wanted to say I do something outdoorsy like backpacking (it’s fun, but I am 100% a Glamper). In reality, I spend most of my free time being with friends and family and playing video games.
Whenever I get a chance, I visit my family in the Pacific Northwest. I am lucky that my NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology and my advisor both give me flexibility to travel and work remotely. I find joy spending time with groups of people even if we are not engaged in a particular activity. In terms of video games, I’ve been playing them since I was a kid. In the best of cases, video games can immerse you in a fantastical story that you have agency over. Most recently I have played Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom (10/10 – you already knew that), Pikmin 4 (8/10 – solid entry into the series but bummed they removed co-opt), and Sea of Stars (TBD – Chrono Trigger is my favorite game of all time, and I was not a fan of this homage, but it is definitely growing on me!)
Published Articles in BSA Journals:
Howard, C. C., C. M. Tribble, J. Martínez-Gómez, E. B. Sessa, C. D. Specht, and N. Cellinese. 2021. 1, 2, 3, GO! Venture beyond gene ontologies in plant evolutionary research. American Journal of Botany 108: 361-365. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1622.
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