Life Sciences Seminar Series
|Director, Wisconsin State Herbarium; professor, Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison.|
|Title:||Systematic Studies of Vanilla: The Ice Cream Orchid|
|Date:||Friday, 5 September 2014|
|Location:||Murie Life Science Bldg, Murie Auditorium.|
The “ice cream orchid”, Vanilla planifolia, may be the only orchid out of some 25,000 species in the family that is of significant agricultural value, but it is just one of approximately 100 species in the pantropical genus Vanilla. Surprisingly, this genus and its closest relatives are among the most poorly studied of orchids, despite the fact that one of them forms the basis for a multi-billion dollar flavor and fragrance industry and has been domesticated for thousands of years. Consider, for example, that Vanilla is only one genus out of 15 genera that are classified within the orchid subfamily Vanilloideae (the “vanilloid orchids”), a clade of 85 million year old relicts that has only been recognized as monophyletic since the later 1990s. Some of these other vanilloid orchids are temperate species, whereas others are remarkable like Vanilla in terms of their climbing habit, floral structure, seed morphology, and fruit dispersal mechanisms. Others are even more unusual being fully mycoheterotrophic fungal parasites. Molecular phylogenetics has allowed us to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships among these orchids, and we now understand much more about their fundamental biology, but since they mostly inhabit lowland tropical forests and wetlands, they are becoming extremely rare and in great danger of extinction. Can you imagine a world without vanilla?
About the Speaker:
Ken Cameron received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996 under the supervision of Dr. Mark Chase, with whom he spent a year at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He served as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Guilford College for two years before accepting a research position at The New York Botanical Garden, where he was Director of the Molecular Systematics Laboratory for almost ten years.
In 2008 he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Professor of Botany and Director of the Wisconsin State Herbarium, a collection of more than 1.2 million specimens. In addition to being recognized as the first biologist to use DNA sequence data to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the entire orchid family, Ken is considered the world authority on the systematics of the orchid subfamily Vanilloideae.
His research on Vanilla and its relatives was recognized as the most outstanding paper delivered at the 1996 annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and also by the structural section of the Botanical Society of America in the same year. In 2011 Timber Press commissioned him to publishedVanilla Orchids: Natural History and Cultivation.
His orchid research has been featured within magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, as well as on television (HGTV & NOVA) and radio. In 2014, Cameron was recognized at the annual meeting of the Botanical Society of America with the prestigious Peter Raven Award for his dedication to public outreach. Ken has published more than dozens of papers in the area of orchid systematics, and five of his seven current doctoral students are also researching aspects of temperate and tropical orchid biology.
Browse Life Sciences SeminarsBeginning in 1966 and continuing today, IAB hosts a weekly seminar for faculty, students, staff and the public during the academic year. The series attracts life scientists from Alaska and around the world.
If you wish to meet with a particular speaker, please contact the IAB director's office at 907-474-7649.