New PMB Faculty Member Benjamin Blackman

October 19, 2015

Research on the evolution of plant developmental responses to changing environments

Benjamin BlackmanBy Karyn Houston
Plant & Microbial Biology

On January 1, 2016, Benjamin Blackman joined the faculty of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology as assistant professor.

Blackman received his Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences at Stanford, and he worked there for two more years as a technician investigating the genetics of skeletal evolution in threespine stickleback. He then completed his doctorate in evolutionary biology and ecology at Indiana University, Bloomington. His PhD studies examined the evolution of developmental timing during sunflower domestication and adaptation. 

Ben then received a NSF postdoctoral fellowship to research the genetic basis of habitat adaptation in the monkeyflowers (Mimulus) at Duke University and UC Berkeley. In Fall 2012, Ben joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at University of Virginia as an Assistant Professor. There, he continued to pursue genetic and ecological studies of local adaptation in the regulation of flowering by environmental signals in both of his study systems. Ben also initiated new projects on solar tracking and ancient DNA genomics in sunflower.

Why did you come to UC Berkeley?

monkeyflowers“Having spent a great deal of time in the Bay Area over the years, I have always imagined returning. It is a wonderful place that I love for many reasons, and I am really thrilled to come back, particularly since I will be joining the amazing academic community at Berkeley.

"I am very excited to be coming to a place with so many strong plant and evolutionary biology groups with whom my lab and I can interact. Plus, the many natural populations of sunflowers and monkeyflowers nearby will open up new fieldwork opportunities that would have been far more challenging to explore from the East Coast.”

What is your research focus?

“My research seeks to understand how plant development and its ability to respond to changing environmental conditions evolve. We take a combination of molecular, genomic and field approaches to connect genes to traits and ecology, and in doing so we aim to address fundamental questions about the genetics of adaptation, the evolution of development, and mechanisms of gene-environment interaction.

"We study two unabashedly charismatic plant groups—sunflower and monkeyflower—because they each have fascinating patterns of natural variation to investigate and because both systems are also equipped with excellent genetic and genomic tools. They allow us to ask great questions like how and why do sunflowers stems track the position of the sun, how was sunflower transformed over time by Native American farmers from a bushy small-seeded plant into a staple crop with a single large head and large seeds, and how do different populations of the same species thrive in dramatically different seasonal climates?

Current members of the Blackman lab include:

  • Graduate Student Ray Watson (University of Virginia)
  • Postdoc Nic Kooyers (Washington University in St. Louis)
  • Postdoc Srinidhi Holalu (Texas A&M University)
  • Postdoc Karen Barnard-Kubow (University of Virginia)

Blackman's PMB profile: