Swensen: Research in Biology
Susan Swensen Section 2
My research addresses evolutionary questions about a variety of organisms, but focusing on plants and the evolution of plant interactions with other organisms (e.g. bacteria, insects). Much of the work involves DNA analysis in the lab, including extracting DNA from plants and insects, amplifying genes of interest using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing, computer-based analysis of data, and phylogeny reconstruction.
I am always open to students who would like to design their own research questions, but most of the time, students choose to work on a project that is part of my research. If you have a specific project you would like to pursue, please see me and we can work on your idea for a project. The following are the projects I have already defined for students:
PHYLOGENETIC ANALYSIS OF CUCURBITACEAE AND THEIR FRUIT FLY PARASITES
Current possible projects in my lab address evolutionary questions about the squash family (Cucurbitaceae) and its parasites. These projects are focused specifically on two genera of tropical cucumbers (Gurania & Psiguria) that have bright red or orange flowers that are parasitized by fruit flies in the genus Blepharoneura. I am involved in reconstructing the phylogeny of the plant hosts as well as the insect parasites to better understand how these groups diversified.
* How does the phylogeny of host plants compare to the phylogeny of flies that live on the plants?
* Do the currently defined species of plants form distinct groups in DNA-based phylogenies?
* What genes will be useful in reconstructing phylogeny in closely-related plant hosts?
This work is in collaboration with Dr. Marty Condon, a biologist from Cornell College (Iowa) who has studied this system for many years. If funding is available, there may be opportunities for travel to the tropics for collecting, or to Iowa to meet with collaborators.
SOIL BIODIVERSITY ANALYSIS
This project will investigate the genetic diversity of Sunflower Maggot flies (Strauzia longipennis) that parasitize several host plant species in the Asteraceae (sunflower family) in the Ithaca area. The goal of this project is to characterize the genetic diversity of flies that parasitize different hosts. Some questions we might ask: Are there large genetic differences between flies that parasitize different host species? Do single plant species serve as hosts to only one genetic “race” of flies?Our collaborators in this project are Andrew Forbes (University of Iowa) and Marty Condon (Cornell College, Iowa). Our contribution to this project is to collect samples of hosts and flies in New York to add to the work that has already been accomplished on this question using Midwestern collections of flies.
PROJECTS IN SUSTAINABILITY
Several projects are available (for credit) that focus on a variety of issues relating to sustainability. In the past, students have worked on projects involving energy use in our building, a pilot green roof for CNS, and a greenhouse gas inventory for Ithaca College. If research of this type interests you, please make an appointment to see me and we can discuss possible projects.
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