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Matthew Dwyer ’14 Volunteers at University of Waikato in New Zealand
09.25.13 |
Matthew Dwyer, a senior in LVC’s biology department, literally traveled across the world this past spring as he completed a volunteer research project with the University of Waikato botany department during his semester abroad in New Zealand.

“In the beginning of the semester, I fell into contact with senior lecturer Dr. Chrissen Gemmill with the pursuit of getting into her Plant Function class,” Dwyer said. “One thing led to another and I inquired about the possibility of a volunteer research position at the University of Waikato in the botany department, thinking I had nothing to lose by asking. Dr. Gemmill was very welcoming and gladly accepted me under her wing.”

Dwyer’s first project consisted of categorizing plants in the herbarium, a collection of preserved plant specimens. He acquired the necessary training to work with these different kinds of plants, as the University sends and collects specimens from across the world and each needs its own unique care.

After that was complete, his main project came when he was linked up with master’s student, Ella Grierson, to help with her research in divaricates, small-leaved woody shrubs with close interlaced branches. Divaricates grow through a process called convergent evolution as the formation has evolved at least 17 times in the New Zealand flora.

“There has been a lot of debate as to why this form has evolved, including main theories such as climactic factors or moa browsing,” Grierson added. “My research is looking at which genes are involved in divaricate development, which results in its distinctive architecture.”

Dwyer aided in comparing the architecture of the plants, measuring the internode lengths along the branches of the divaricating specimens to those that are not divaricating. The end goal for this portion of the project is to then sample the axillary buds at key stages and establish which genes are involved in divaricate development.

“This position has certainly given me a fresh perspective on what types of research are being pursued here in New Zealand,” Dwyer reminisced. “After attending class, traveling, or experiencing the kiwi culture, it was nice to spend time in the greenhouse or herbarium and learn something new about the field in which I’m interested. I have created valuable connections with the biological staff here at Waikato and have learned a great amount from these professionals.”

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