Student’s Growing Interest in Botany Leads to Prestigious Research Experience

September 5, 2018

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Although Senior Marquise Gates loves football, he enjoys science even more. The former TLU corner back especially loves botany. As an environmental biology major, Gates made the decision his junior year to focus on his growing interest in plants.

As part of a summer research project at the Weston Ranch in Marion, Texas, Gates was able to experience first-hand the vast biodiversity of Central Texas. Alongside biology professors Mark Gustafson, Alan Lievens, and Stephanie Perez, Gates assisted with taxonomic work, DNA barcoding, and plant identification.

“I realized I had a passion for plants during this project,” he said. “I also attended a botany conference during that time and it just reinforced my interest in pursuing this field. I then applied for an internship at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Only 10 out of 200 students who apply are selected and I was chosen.”

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark.

The garden is a center for botanical research and science education, as well as an oasis in the city of St. Louis. The Garden offers 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, founder Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.

This type of research opportunity is extremely beneficial for students.

“The National Science Foundation provides funding for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) to help prepare top students for graduate school in science,” Professor Gustafson said. “These opportunities are highly competitive, often with hundreds of applicants for only 10 positions. Our TLU students get to work with top researchers in their field and meet other students from all over the country. Graduate schools love to see REU on a student’s resume because they know the student has had an intensive research experience and therefore better understands what graduate school will be like.”

While there, Gates worked with Botanist and Associate Curator Wendy Applequist on the taxonomy of plant specimens from Madagascar. He helped her identify unnamed or misnamed specimens to taxonomically revise them and potentially find new species.

“I also studied the geography of Madagascar and examined many species under a microscope,” Gates said. “One of our small leaf specimens is one of seven new species of Caesarea obcordate (ined.) in the family Salicaceae.It was a really welcoming place and the botanists were always teaching us how to approach our individual projects. They also talked to us about career development and what we wanted to do after college.”

Gates sees himself attending graduate school to continue studying plant taxonomy in species.

“This entire experience and working with Dr. Gustafson and Dr. Lievens have been life changing,” he said. “At TLU, I discovered that biology isn’t limited to just to the medical aspect. It’s so much more flexible. I realized my love for nature and the outdoors, and that there was so much more I could do.”

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