Joel Swift

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                  I am Joel Swift, a first year PhD student in Dr. Allison Miller's lab at Saint Louis University. While an undergraduate at the University of Central Missouri, I participated in the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Missouri Botanical Garden where I worked on understanding the effects of a mixed mating system on Polygala lewtonii. I completed a BS in Biology degree in 2014, and after graduation was hired as a technician in the Conservation Genetics Lab at the Missouri Botanical Garden under the guidance of Dr. Christine Edwards. At the garden I was able to immerse myself in the fields of conservation and population genetics working with a number of different rare, threatened, and endangered plant species from A(-gave) to Z(-iziphus). This experience helped me to grow as a researcher, developing the skills needed to dissect the influence of life history traits and anthropogenic forces on plant populations and species. Following this line of inquiry lead me to my current research: understanding how plants interact with other, as well as much smaller organisms that are ubiquitous to every environment, namely archaea, bacteria, and fungi.

                  I was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2017 and am currently working on wild and cultivated grapevines and their associated microbiota. Using the study system of grafted Vitis (the process of joining the shoot of one grapevine to the root system rootstock of another, whether they be different genotypes or species), I want to tease apart how both the environment and host genotype contributes to the microbial community as a whole. My aspirations are to contribute to our understanding of the role played by root system in transmission of microbes and their interactions to above ground parts of the plants.

                  With a better understanding of how plants recruit their associated microbial communities we can begin to ask how domestication, an extreme anthropogenic force leading radical changes in the evolution of a plant species in a short time span, affects the symbiosis of plants and microbes built over millennia. It is not always possible to sample crop species along their evolutionary journey from wild origins to elite lines. Thus, crop wild relatives represent an important and underutilized surrogate for understanding how humans have shaped the phenotype and genotype of a crop species, as well as the microbial community within.

Since attending my first BOTANY conference in Savannah, Georgia in 2016 I was hooked on the Botanical Community. The welcoming environment that abounds at the annual conference is like no other I’ve visited. I felt compelled to give back by serving as a planting science mentor in order to expand the botany knowledge to classrooms across the country. My hope as student representative is to continue to foster this welcoming community at the annual conference, as a place were people of all academic levels feel comfortable attending, making connections, experiencing new ideas, and presenting their research. More broadly, serving as a student representative for BSA would allow me to help spread the love of botany. In particular I am interested in helping to establish and improve new media (e.g. YouTube and podcasts) options, in order to reach a wider and more diverse audience of people across the globe.