Faculty Investigator Alex Harkess, PhD, and his lab use genomics to understand how plants reproduce. Nearly every aspect of plant breeding and global food production ultimately relies on the seemingly mundane act of a single grain of pollen landing on a flower. The Harkess Lab studies this fundamental process in plants through the lens of plant diversity, exploring the variation across nearly 400,000 species of flowering plants on our planet to identify mutations that control how flowers develop and function. 

Understanding the genes that control flowers can increase the yields of major crop species that produce food and products like fiber and oil. The lab relies on the immense power of genome sequencing at HudsonAlpha to achieve these goals. Just as humans all have a story to tell, so do plants embedded in the fabric of their DNA. By studying the past, we use genomics to change the future of food.

 The lab is currently trying to answer the following questions: 

  • What can we learn by looking across the evolutionary lineage of a plant that has evolved beneficial traits?
  • What can we learn from the evolution of sex chromosomes in plants?  
  • Can we increase the yields of major crop plants by better understanding the genes that control flowers?