—by Ellison Langford
When Pam Soltis was a little girl, she and her brother talked their dad into mounting an old kitchen countertop to the wall of the basement. They wanted to make a lab bench. Her mother gave her a pillowcase to turn into a lab apron. Soltis lined her rock collection, one-by-one along her end, while her brother arranged his chemistry set at the other.
She loved collecting rocks.
Roughly fifty years later, she said that is likely why she ended up doing research at the Florida Museum of National History. Soltis is a distinguished professor and curator at the museum. She also serves as a University of Florida Genetics Institute faculty member and director of the UF Biodiversity Institute.
Earlier this month, she was elected into one of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the world – the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.
“I was shocked and surprised and really happy for our whole program,” Soltis said. “It’s a team effort.”
The National Academy of Sciences is a nonprofit assembly of researchers charged with advising the United States government on scientific issues. Soltis is not sure how she will be involved going forward.
Soltis’ research group studies the evolution and genetics of plants. The lab has two primary themes – the Tree of Life and polyploidy. The Tree of Life involves assembling a chart of all known species on Earth, in order to better understand the planet’s biodiversity. Polyploid plants are those with more than two paired sets of chromosomes. This trait is an important mechanism by which plant species evolve and diversify.
“[I’m] just really curious about how all of the biodiversity on our planet is related,” Soltis said. “Where did it come from? How is it related? What processes give rise to new forms of diversity? How did we get all of these millions of species of life?”
Visit the Genetics Institute’s website to read the full article.