News FocusProfile: Douglas and Pamela Soltis

The Power of Two

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Science  06 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5992, pp. 623-625
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5992.623

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Pamela and Douglas Soltis have separate appointments at the University of Florida, Gainesville, she at the natural history museum and he in the biology department. But students, grants, courses, publications, talks, even accolades are shared. Early adopters of new techniques—including molecular DNA tools—as students in the 1980s, the Soltises have shown how rapid progress can be when two minds focus on a single research program. Doubling up is a main theme in their research as well. In their work on the evolution of flowering plants, the Soltises have shown that two genomes can be better than one. Throughout their joint career, they have studied a genus called Tragopogon, weedy plants with composite flowers that turn into puffballs. Hybridization of closely related Tragopogon species in Washington state has brought together two plant genomes in a single organism—a condition called polyploidy—yielding new species that are crowding out the parent stock. In addition, using molecular techniques to build a family tree of flowering plants, or angiosperms, the Soltises and their collaborators have determined which plants in the angiosperms are the most ancient. Early genome duplications, they learned, created genetic fodder for the great burst of diversification that followed the first appearance of flowering plants.