Undergraduate researchers work to understand molecular basis of evolution

5th semester molecular and cell biology major on the pre-med track Griffin Struyk is pictured in a UConn Greenhouse. Struyk's research is exploring biosynthetic pathways of pigments, helping to better understand the molecular basis of evolution. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Undergraduate student research at the University of Connecticut is exploring biosynthetic pathways of pigments which is helping to better understand the molecular basis of evolution.

“These pathways are important for evolution because the different flower patterns ultimately result in different pollinator preferences, this leads to evolution,” 5th semester molecular and cell biology major on the pre-med track Griffin Struyk said.

The way Struyk was able to study these pathways is through a process called chemical mutagenesis on monkey flowers. Once Struyk sprays the chemicals on the flowers, they will produce seeds with a mutation. When the seeds are planted, the plants grow with the mutated phenotype.

“If we see a phenotype that’s interesting, we know that we might have isolated a mutated gene of interest,” Struyk said.

Struyk is working with Yaowu Yuan, an assistant biology and pharmacy professor interested in how and why organisms evolve into so many different forms.

According to Yuan’s laboratory website, “the discovery and characterization of this transcriptional regulatory complex are crucial to understanding how carotenoid pigmentation is regulated during flower development and how carotenoid-based flower color variation is generated during evolution.”

Struyk got involved in Yuan’s lab following his freshman year after reaching out to several professors doing research. Getting into the lab as a sophomore was important to Struyk as an honors student who wanted to prepare for his thesis.

“I’ve always been really interested in learning the mechanisms of life,” Struyk said. “There’s something special about being on the cutting edge and being able to transfer yourself from being a student acquiring knowledge to someone who can create knowledge.”

Struyk said he hopes to see more results over the next few months to begin formulating his paper.

“I’d really like to get something published,” Struyk said. “It really depends how things go. I am going to write a thesis. A publication would be spectacular but getting results doesn’t mean getting a publication.”

Struyk said he dedicates about nine hours per week in the lab. He said he needs to plan his schedule around when he needs to work with the plants.

“Being able to do research and understand how it works – being able to look at a problem and ask questions about it and carrying that out from A to Z on a bigger scale is really important to me as a future physician,” Struyk said. “Granted that I’m working with plants now and in the future I want to work with people, but physicians ask the exact same questions.”


Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.kruger@uconn.edu.