The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) has selected Angela McDonnell as its 2017 George R. Cooley Award recipient. Considered one of the most prestigious early-career recognitions in the plant sciences, the award is named for George R. Cooley, a successful banker who studied plants and worked in conservation in retirement.
Since 1956, the Cooley Award has been given for the best paper in systematics presented at the annual international Botany conference by a botanist in the early stages of their career. Awards are made to members of ASPT who are graduate students or within five years of their post-doctoral careers for work judged to be substantially complete, synthetic, and original that is presented in a manner that is clear and engaging.
McDonnell’s talk, titled “Phylogenomics and evolution of New World milkweed vines (Gonolobinae) and resurrection of Chthamalia: a genome skimming and targeted enrichment approach,” focused on elements of her dissertation work done in coauthor and graduate advisor Mark Fishbein’s lab at Oklahoma State University as a part of the Milkweed Genome Project.
While McDonnell’s efforts employed cutting-edge molecular and computational methods as a means to uncover the evolutionary history of her study group, it also has immediate applications to the understanding of North American plant diversity. Alan Weakley, author of Flora of Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, lauded McDonnell’s work on a plant group that botanists in those regions have found taxonomically problematic since at least the 1840s, applauding her “formidable array of techniques implemented with hard work.”
One outcome of McDonnell’s research is that the name for an entire genus of plants (Chthamalia) initially published in 1841 has been “resurrected” after falling out of use in the first half of the 20th century. Notably, the scientist who did away with the name wrote, in 1941, “I should like to lay a curse on the man who revives them without at least as much study as I have devoted." This year, McDonnell became the 15th woman to win the Cooley Award.
A 2007 graduate of Edgewood College, McDonnell successfully defended her PhD thesis at Oklahoma State on July 3 and now moves to Bucknell University to assume the David Burpee Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her winning presentation took place at the Botany 2017 conference in Fort Worth, TX.