Science on Tap talk to delve into the wild world of plant genetics

October 11, 2013  

Brian Dilkes

Brian Dilkes 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The wild, vibrant and even lethal world of plant genetics will take center stage at Purdue University's Science on Tap lecture next week.

Brian Dilkes, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Purdue, will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 17) as part of the informal lecture series. The event, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette.

The talk, titled "More Death than a Greek Tragedy: Speciation Genetics, Sex and Infanticide," is sponsored by the Purdue Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, the College of Agriculture and Discovery Park.

"A casual look out your window yields a feast of diversity organized into genetically distinct units, or species. While it may look gorgeously harmonious to you, it is a feast of frustration and death," Dilkes said.

The talk will examine the many questions that his research laboratory tackles every day in understanding how species arise, the molecular nature of the barrier between species and whether some biological processes are more sensitive to diversity than others.

One of the consistent observations about species is that, even when crossing closest relatives, the hybrids exhibit sterility and lethality, resulting in a barrier to gene flow, Dilkes said. This allows each species to act as a repository of solutions to all of life's problems.

"We kill millions of embryos every year in an effort to identify genes that are responsible for this barrier. This means facilitating sex between species and cataloging the amount and kinds of death that occur," he said.

Dilkes, whose research focuses on understanding the short- and long-term evolution of plants and how early plant species survive and expand, received his doctorate degree in plant sciences from the University of Arizona after receiving his bachelor's degree in biology from Oberlin College.

Before joining the Purdue faculty in 2009, he served as a project scientist for the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis, and a postdoctoral fellow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the University of Washington. 

Science on Tap, now led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years.   

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, 

Sources: Brian Dilkes, 765-494-2584, 

David Welkie, 765-494-0455, 

Nelda Vazquez, 

Anju Karki, 765-494-0455, 

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