Jannice Friedman, assistant professor of biology in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of a two-year, $150,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant award. It is her second active NSF award.
Friedman, whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of the enormous diversity in plant reproductive strategies, will use this award to study sexual selection in plants. Although sexual selection is a major feature in the evolution of many animals, she argues that the theory is “contentious” in the case of plants.
“This research has the potential to transform the way we think about sex in plants and how fertilization occurs,” says Friedman, who joined the Biology faculty in 2012. “Receiving this funding gives me the opportunity to begin a brand new project in a really exciting area of research.”
This new project will investigate the mechanisms of sexual selection in plants, focusing on female interactions with the growing pollen tube. Friedman’s project will be the first to examine the interactions between the growing pollen tube and the style (female reproductive tract) and ovule (egg), to investigate whether females exert preference for certain fathers. Studying these interactions is challenging because plants are internal fertilizers, but Friedman proposes to use a novel in vivo/vitro assay to overcome this. It is also the first study to compare sexual selection in plants with different pollination and mating systems.
Friedman says the broader impact of this research excites her, as an educator: “What’s really neat about this project is that it involves direct visualization of a fundamental, and intuitive, part of reproduction, making it a great opportunity for involving high school and undergraduate students in the research. I am particularly focused on attracting females and underrepresented minorities to STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics], and this project is a vehicle for achieving that goal.”
Ramesh Raina, associate professor and chair of biology, says Friedman’s project allows for intra- and interdisciplinary collaboration. “This recognition from the NSF will allow Jannice to make direct connections to work already being done by others in our department, in particular, members of the new Center for Reproductive Evolution. I have no doubt this research will not only lead to interesting collaborations, but also will stimulate further cutting-edge initiatives,” he says.
Friedman earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree from the University of Calgary (Canada). After earning her Ph.D., she was a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada post-doctoral fellow at Duke University.