Karen Hicks, an associate professor of biology, recently received a three-year, $450,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to probe the mysteries of moss.
The award will enable Hicks and her research team of Kenyon students to study the evolution of seasonal regulation in a species of moss known as Physcomitrella patens. The research team will study the moss’s reaction to seasonal cues in its reproductive process compared to the reaction of flowering plants.
“We know a lot about how flowering plants respond to seasonal cues, but we don’t know much about the process across a wider range of non-flowering plants,” Hicks said. “That’s what makes funders super-excited about the project.”
The grant is offered through the NSF’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions program, which supports research by faculty members at undergraduate schools. It will fund several Summer Science Scholars, academic-year research assistants and the hiring of a post-doctoral fellow.
“This will have a tremendous impact on our students,” Hicks said. “It will support their engagement in my lab, increase their opportunities over the summer and during the academic year, and allow us to do more expensive work.”
Much of the grant will support a post-doctoral fellow with training and mentorship in both teaching and research.
Hicks has researched the reproductive properties of mosses for about 10 years, with a focus on the evolution of responses to temperature and day length. Her research is trying to determine if seasonal regulation evolved prior to the divergence of land plants, or if it arose separately in distinct land plan lineages. Up to six students per semester work in her lab group.
“The results of this research may be pivotal in developing new agricultural crop varieties, especially as seasonal conditions change globally,” she said. “Undergraduate research students will gain valuable expertise in research throughout all aspects of the project.”