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Leafing an Impression

Posted on July 6, 2017 by in The OFI Blog

Dr. Uzay Sezen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). He has been working with senior scientist Sean McMahon in the Quantitative Ecology Lab to better understand the genetic expression of tree growth. SERC has been using metal bands called dendrometers for the past 8 years to measure tree growth, but conducting a genetic analysis may provide a new perspective on what makes growth successful.

Uzay has quickly become a master of the crossbow in efforts to collect genetic material from tree leaves in Harvard Forest and SERC to understand how trees respond to their environment, including to climate change. The crossbow is used to shoot arrows attached to a fishing line at higher branches – a technique Uzay learned in Costa Rica. Following leaf collection, Uzay uses liquid nitrogen to flash freeze the genetic material RNA since it degrades quickly. He says collecting data is “like a photograph, and (the RNA) will tell us what’s going on at that moment.”

Uzay (R) and intern Alex Koure in Harvard Forest using the crossbow to collect genetic material.

The end goal for Uzay and the team at the Quantitative Ecology Lab is to understand gene expression in 5 tree species in two geographically diverse areas.

You can read more about Uzay’s fascinating project here in a Shorelines blog post recently written by SERC intern Ryan Greene.