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Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Undergraduate Research

Many undergraduate research opportunities are available at the Intermountain Herbarium. These projects give students an opportunity to work closely with instructors, earn credits, and to publish their work. Specific project ideas are listed to the right.

Herbarium Research

General scope

•  Focuses on different kinds of things

•  Are these plants different from all others that have been described?

•  How do these two sets of plants differ?

•  How many different kinds of plants are in this region?

•  Where do these different kinds of plants grow, geographically or ecologically?

•  What do we mean by “different kinds of things”?

•  Initially things that look alike are alike

•  For convenience (human, not plant), have boxes for relative degrees of “alikeness”

•  Kingdom (algae, fungi, plants are in herbaria)

•  Division (Bryophytes, Ferns, Flowering plants; Basiomycetes, Ascomycetes)

•  Class (Monocots, Dicots)

•  Order (Plant people more or less ignore this level in practice)

•  Family (BIG DEAL)

•  Genus( BIG DEAL)

•  Species (BIG DEAL)

•  Determining which kinds of things constitute a “different kind of thing” is TAXONOMY , aka classification

•  Relatedness and likeness seen as closely tied together

•  Likeness result of inheritance from common ancestor – usually

•  Likeness in everything, morphology, anatomy, development, compounds, ..

•  1930s on, relatedness tied to genetic likeness – but evidence comes from morphology, anatomy, development, compounds, ability to hybridize…

•  Those that emphasized focus on information used determine relatedness rather than classification wanted a new word – SYSTEMATICS

•  Developed numerical methods and computer programs that assess huge amounts of multidimensional data and come up with groups of different kinds of things for taxonomists to classify

•  Phenetics: similarity determines groupings – assumed that person will try to ensure the similarities are a consequence of genetic similarity (not an easy task)

•  Cladistics: inheritance of characteristics determines grouping – assumed that person will ensure the similarities are a consequence of genetic similarity (not an easy task)

•  PHYLOGENETICS is study of ancestor descendant relationships and nowadays applied only to studies that involve cladistic analysis

•  Molecular techniques, particularly PCR, made feasible acquisition of huge amounts of data, required use of computer programs for analysis

•  Cladistic analysis relatively simple to apply to molecular data

•  Molecular data is expensive to acquire so few samples are examined

•  Small portion of genome examined

•  Gene interactions not examined

•  Methods of inheritance of some genes not as simple as first thought

•  Polyploidy is a major confounding factor in discerning plant phylogenies

•  Phenetic analysis, whether with computer or human brain, can readily be applied to large sample sizes

•  Look for correlations; if all data tells the same story, story gains credibility

•  Requires considering characters that are determined by many genes

•  Is selection on genotype or phenotype?

•  Biology is always complex

Current Activities and Opportunities