April 18, 2006

Joshua Der wins outstanding thesis award

by K.C. Jaehnig

(College and newspaper editors: Note alumni/hometown names; educational affiliations and hometowns appear in boldface)

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A plant biology graduate who used gene sequencing to reconstruct and describe for the first time the evolutionary relationships of plants in the sandalwood family has won both the Southern Illinois University Alumni Association's annual outstanding thesis award and the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools distinguished master's thesis prize.

Joshua P. Der, who completed his master's degree at the Carbondale campus in 2005, titled his thesis, "Molecular Phylogenetics and Classification of Santalaceae." He will receive $500 from the alumni group during its spring board meeting Saturday, April 29. He will receive an additional $500 from the graduate schools group April 19 in Chicago.

Runners-up for the thesis award, now in its 10th year, were Shannon K. Petrello, a graduate of cinema and photography, with her thesis titled "Crush" (an installation of photographs, projected still images and sound dealing with consumerism, war and the globalization of economies and culture), and Alexandra M. Robinson, a graduate of anthropology, with her thesis titled "Age, behavior and tooth function derived from the dental wear of a population of Peruvian Saguinus mystax (moustached tamarin monkeys)."

Santalaceae, a family of flowering, parasitic perennials, grows pretty much everywhere with the exception of the African desert and far northern latitudes. It includes plants such as the common bastard toadflax, shrubs such as the rare piratebush and the aromatic tree from which the family takes its common name.

Der analyzed 155 gene sequences (generating 63 of them himself) and his results, according to SIUC Professor Daniel L. Nickrent, who supervised his research, resolved "questions that have been unanswered for over 100 years. This work is currently being prepared for publication, which will produce the first classification that includes all genera in the family. Moreover, the classification will…for the first time circumscribe and name natural evolutionary groups (six new families)."

Biology Professor Paul G. Wolf, in whose Utah State University laboratory Der currently pursues his doctoral research, wrote in a letter supporting Der's nomination for the thesis prize, "His contribution will be appreciated by a large number of practicing botanists who are working on monographs or Floras, or who are using such references."

Lytton J. Musselman, Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany and chair of the biological sciences department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., concurred. He wrote, "Anyone who has spent considerable time studying this group in different parts of the world is very much aware of confusion in family delineations. I would encourage Josh to publish this work to help botanists on a global scale."

Der earned his bachelor's degree in 2003 from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif. He now lives in Logan, Utah.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.