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The evolution of the ‘worst weeds in the world’
Biologist will study agricultural weeds, focusing on the Echinochloa, with funding from the coveted Alexander von Humboldt Research Award
August 10, 2020
Evolutionary biologistAna Caicedo has received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award to support her collaboration with Detlef Weigel, head of the molecular biology department and executive director of the Max Plank Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Caicedo spent the recent spring semester there as a guest researcher while on sabbatical.
She studies how plants adapt to new environments such as those created by agriculture. Her research focuses on the domestication of crops – a recent study traced the evolution of tomatoes – and the evolution of agricultural weeds, such as weedy rice.
She says of the honor, “I’m delighted at being given this opportunity to work with collaborators in Germany. This award is particularly meaningful to me, given that many of Humboldt’s insights came from his explorations of South America, which is where I grew up.”
She adds, “The Humboldt will make it possible for me to collaborate with Detlef on trying to understand the evolution of agricultural weeds. In particular, we plan to focus on species from the genus Echinochloa– often called barnyard grass – which are among the worst weeds in the world and have evolved resistance to multiple herbicides.”
These weeds have worldwide distribution and invade rice fields primarily, she adds, but also wheat and other crops in countries where rice isn’t grown. “There is some taxonomic confusion among weeds in this group, and there are also some cultivated species whose relationships to the weeds aren’t known. I’m interested in determining the relationship among barnyard grass infestations around the world and why they are such successful weeds.”
The Humboldt Research Award honors scientists and researchers who have distinguished themselves through their fundamental findings over their scientific career and from whom further important achievements can be expected in the future. The foundation awards 100 such research awards per year. Award winners may be invited to spend up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany. The award is valued at €60,000.