The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) has selected Blake Fauskee, Matthew Fertakos, and Lauren Frankel, as 2019 Undergraduate Research Prize (URP) recipients. The prizes are considered the Society’s most prestigious recognition of undergraduate achievement. The URP has been presented annually at the international Botany conference since 2015 for outstanding, independent research projects in plant systematics completed within the last two years.
Blake Fauskee, just completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth, in Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.A, and is a recipient of the 2019 Undergraduate Research Prize from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists for his work on apomixis in the fern species Myriopteris lindheimeri, a species native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. As a member in the lab of Dr. Amanda Grusz at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, Fauskee evaluated genotypic diversity across the range of the species using 10 microsatellite markers from 96 samples. His findings show that genotypic diversity is higher in Mexico than in populations to the north, near the US-Mexico border. These findings will inform future studies regarding the role of apomixis in M. lindheimeri at the population level. Fauskee has also participated in a National Science Foundation funded REU program hosted by The Field Museum in Chicago, where he looked into mitochondrial genome assembly and RNA editing in ferns. In her letter of nomination, Dr. Grusz notes that “[Fauskee] is a cornerstone of my lab group and will be deeply missed as he goes on to explore new avenues in graduate research.”
Matthew Fertakos just completed a bachelor’s degree at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey, U.S.A., and is a recipient of the 2019 Undergraduate Research Prize from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists for his work on the assessment of species distribution modeling and species delimitation in North American Castanea. Working alongside Dr. Wendy Clement at the College of New Jersey and Dr. Elizabeth Spriggs at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Fertakos utilized 4,527 herbarium specimens and climate data to assess species limits between C. pumila and C. ozarkensis based on climate space analysis, and evaluated the accuracy of chestnut species distribution models when compared to fossil pollen data. Nominator Spriggs describes Fertakos as “a dedicated, creative, generous researcher who is passionate about plants and science and is generally curious about the natural world. He is a wonderful scientist with a bright future ahead of him.”
Lauren Frankel just completed a bachelor’s degree at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, U.S.A., and is a recipient of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists 2019 Undergraduate Research Prize. Frankel was nominated for research she completed after being awarded a competitive summer fellowship to study with Dr. Laura Lagomarsino at Louisiana State University to study computational phylogenomics last year. Over the course of the summer of 2018, Frankel analyzed two sequence capture datasets to infer phylogenetic and phylogeographic relationships within Neotropical bellflowers. Nominator Lagomarsino says that “as a senior undergraduate, [Frankel] already performs bioinformatic research at a level well above what I expect of graduate students, and even many postdoctoral fellows.” Frankel was also a participant in a National Science Foundation funded REU program at the Ohio State University where she generated and analyzed RADseq data for a population genomic study of Palmer’s amaranth. She has also studied tropical biology during a semester in Peru.