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Flowers blush when scientists look at them

Posted on 11.20.2013

DePauw University Professor of Biology Dana Dudle presented a lecture entitled “Why Does Bouncing Bet Blush? Investigating Floral Color Change in Saponaria Officinalis” on Nov.13 in Lilly Science Hall.


University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Biology Mary Ritke invited Dudle to speak to her students, because Dudle has collaborated with UIndy Associate Professor of Biology Sandra Davis on a research project called “Gender-Related and Environmental Contributions to Floral Color in Saponaria Officinalis: An Integrated Study of Phenotypic Variation and Gene Regulation.” Dudle and Davis received a grant from the Indiana Academy of Sciences for this project.

At the beginning of the lecture, Dudle asked the students five questions: Are there changes in floral display across gender? Are there changes in floral display across environmental conditions? Is there a genetic component to flower color in Saponaria? Do pollinators of Saponaria discriminate based on flower color or gender? Do insect visitors discriminate floral color and/or gender? In addition, why are the flowers turning pink?

Senior earth space science major Danielle Nicole Stephens said that she learned the significance of how plants interact with their environment. Mainly, light, soil and other factors related to natural or human interaction, whether positive or negative, directly relate to the adult life and success of plants.

Dudle answered each of the questions she posed with a yes. Floral color does relate to the gender sex phase of the flowers. Floral anthocyanins increase as flowers enter the female phase. Floral display does change in response to lighting in its environment. Female flowers are pinker in the sun and usually pinker than male ones. Pollinators of Saponaria do discriminate based on flower color or gender. And daytime pollinators prefer white.

During the session, Dudle said that she loves flowers because she can study them whenever she has the inspiration.

Dudle said that floral color changes in Saponaria are related to the gender shift, size, shape, phenotype and pollinators.

“The truth is I do not know why do they turn pink. We [Davis and I] still need to figure it out,” she said.

Sophomore chemistry major and biology with a Pre-Med concentration Trinh Huynh said that she learned a lot from the lecture.

“For instance, flowers can be associated with some other elements, like gene, environment, biology, and chemistry. This lecture even broadens my view upon the plants,” Huynh said. “I’m looking forward to the final result of this research, and I also believe that there is still so much to learn about this field in the future.”

At the end of the lecture, Dudle attributed the success of this research to her research partner, Davis, and thanked Ritke for inviting her to give a speech in front of about 40 students.

“We like to invite scientists to talk to our students,” Ritke said, “because we encourage our students to conduct research and want to let them know how intriguing the research can be, instead of only burying themselves in textbooks.”


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