Monkey flowers come to UConn
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08
This article is part of a series highlighting this year’s new professors who have outstanding achievements in their career and major plans to bring to UConn.
In the new “monkey flower lab” new professor Yaowu Yuan will be cloning genes from the 200 different species and manipulating those genes to change flowers’ color and shape.
Yuan will be the first person in UConn’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department to work on this type of system, which was developed in the lab he worked at in Washington with Dr. Toby Bradshaw.
His lab will “discover things nobody has ever known before,” said Yuan, which he hopes to use as motivation to find undergraduate students to work with him this semester.
“Undergrads can definitely do it,” he said.
He was first exposed to laboratory research as a junior at the University of Washington during a 10-month exchange program. Working with a professor to do research was significant for him because there was not an opportunity in China where he went to Sichuan University.
The relationship with that professor caused him to apply to graduate school, which he had never considered before. Now Yuan holds a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Washington, has done postdoctoral research at the University of Georgia and has been involved in 12 publications.
At UConn, Yuan will teach one graduate seminar in genetic development. He said he would eventually like to write a book on the diversity of systems and that teaching this seminar is a good way to start.
He will spend a lot of his time in the lab working mainly with the monkey flowers. He said working with these particular flowers was a “turning point” in his career, spending two and a half years with them in his post doctorate.
Yuan’s job at UConn was supposed to start last semester, but he felt he needed to stay in Washington to finish his research with the flowers. His research will continue at UConn. He is most interested in integrating the science from genetics, developmental biology and evolution to study the diversity of systems.
Currently Yuan’s lab, which he described as “spectacular” and something he “has never had before,” is being supported by UConn’s research foundation. Next Generation Connecticut aims to secure more federal research dollars for UConn, and is projected to bring in more than $270 million over the next 10 years. Yuan said he would eventually like to be supported by the National Science Foundation, USDA, the Department of Health and other government agencies.
Yuan never thought he would be planning to use national dollars in the United States for scientific research. Originally, he was going to be a screenwriter. His freshman year botany class changed that.
Yuan grew up in a remote agricultural area. At Sichuan he was situated close to the Hengduan Mountains in southwestern China and his botany class would hike there.
“There was much natural beauty,” he said, “and I had the opportunity to see all the beautiful organisms.”
His family still lives in China, except for his wife who moved to Connecticut with him. Yuan said he liked New England, especially the natural landscape.
“Everyday when I drive to school I pass a lot of trees and it’s nice,” he said.
To learn more about Yuan’s projects at UConn, or inquire about working in his lab, email him at email@example.com. He also said his lab is open to students who want to drop by and see what he is doing. The lab is in the Pharmacy Biology building.