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pretty orchids and invisible molecules

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  • Peter Bernhardt
    Dear Friends and Colleagues: Three or four years ago, Professor Luo Yi-bo (Beijing Academy of Sciences; CAS) invited me to participate in an international
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 10 10:47 AM
    Dear Friends and Colleagues:

    Three or four years ago, Professor Luo Yi-bo (Beijing Academy of Sciences; CAS) invited me to participate in an international study on the molecular systematics of the slipper orchids.  This meant collecting voucher specimens in Missouri and Canada.  My former undergraduates will remember the summer weeks pressing flowers and taking leaf specimens in the greenhouse of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  Drs Meier, Kevan, Vance and Larkin will recall how I pestered them for specimens but I also spent time putting leaves into zip-loc bags with silica gel and recording everything.  Attached you will find the first part of the study.  If the "dance" of genes and molecules does not interest you please see the beautiful arrangement of flower photos on page 10.  

    Helping to write the manuscript, then arguing with editors and referees, was also a good experience as it made me review the litertature on plant geography and slipper orchid anatomy and structure.  Please understand that I much prefer pollination research to these molecular studies.  I have not gone over to the "dark side" yet.  It was more important to be useful to Professor Luo and his colleagues as they are very generous and continue to introduce me to important projects on the pollination of Cypripedium and Paphiopedilum in China. This new tree offers some new possibilities about how pollination systems in Cyps' evolve and where the ancestral plants came from.  I've asked Professor Luo to map the pollinators of these flowers onto the tree.  Why I do not understand as how do we know we picked the right molecules from the right organelles to do the job?  Should we have had more?  

    In Charles Darwin's day ALL slipper orchids were Cypripedium species.  Splitting the slippers into five genera didn't start until 1886.  Some orchid lovers do not like the split even to this day.  By today's standards, Darwin's first edition of his orchid book NEVER looked at a Cypripedium.  All the flowers he dissected would be classified under Paphiopedilum.  "True" Cypripedium spp. appear in the second edition (1887).

    Peter        
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