FIU/FTBG Molecular Laboratory

Florida International University and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Plant Molecular Systematics and Conservation Laboratory

Graduate student Brian Sidoti studying the genetics of Tillandsia fasciculata, an epiphyte native to Florida and the Caribbean
Samples of rare and endangered plants from throughout the tropics are preserved in the Tropical Plant DNA Bank.
Consolea corallicola, the semaphore cactus, is only found in the Florida Keys. Results of our DNA research allowed us to choose the best method for conserving the species.

We use DNA to help conserve plants and to understand the diversity, distribution, and evolution of life in the tropics.

Jointly operated by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Florida International University, our molecular laboratory works to understand the genetics of rare plants. Genetic information helps us recognize when plants are on the verge of extinction and helps us choose the best approach for saving them.

For example, we studied the DNA of the South Florida native cactus Consolea corallicola and uncovered new information about the history and biology of the species. On the basis of this information, we now have a strategy for conserving Consolea corallicola within the living collections of Fairchild and our partner botanic gardens.

DNA also provides new information on how plants evolved, helping us classify plants and study the origin of tropical diversity. When we studied the DNA of the palm genus Ptychosperma we found a greater level of diversity than expected. Our results led to the formation of a new palm genus, Dransfieldia.

Our main research targets are oceanic island plants, palms, cycads, plants endemic to the Caribbean Basin (including South Florida), and other tropical plants. All of these are important elements of the living plant collection and conservation legacy at Fairchild.

We have over 1700 DNA samples, from Fairchild's living plant collection and from the tropics worldwide, in archival storage within our Tropical Plant DNA Bank. We have a comprehensive collection of palm and cycad DNA, along with a good representation of other kinds of tropical plants. Samples from the Tropical Plant DNA Bank are being used for our research on plant identification with DNA barcoding techniques. Grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust support this work.

Our laboratory also plays an important educational role. Since it was established in 1999, our laboratory has trained nine graduate students. We have also hosted undergraduate students and have received visitors from Europe and Latin American countries.