Danielle Roodt successfully defended her PhD entitled “The evolution of xylogenesis in the vascular plants” during her Prestige Seminar on 23 April, becoming the sixth FABIan to be awarded their PhD this year. Danielle’s PhD was completed under the supervision of Prof Eshchar Mizrachi and co-supervision of Prof Yves Van de Peer from Gent University, Belgium. Her external examiners were Prof Andrew Groover from UC Davis, USA, and Prof Marek Mutwil from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and the internal examiner was Prof Fourie Joubert from UP.

Wood is an important component of the plant vascular system involved in water transport and mechanical strength, and is regulated by complex developmental pathways. Most research has focused on the flowering angiosperms, a single plant lineage capable of wood formation. Danielle’s PhD research was one of the first to adopt an “evo-devo” approach to studying wood evolution, integrating multiple scientific fields, including evolutionary, developmental and systematics biology, botany and biotechnology, and specifically focused on understudied lineages.

In her thesis, Danielle investigated the absence of wood formation in the monocotyledon lineage of the angiosperms, studied shared traits between the angiosperms and the gymnospermous Gnetales and identified candidate genes underlying these traits, and determined whether evidence existed for an ancient whole-genome duplication in the cycads.

She has presented her work at numerous international and national conferences, was named FABIan of the year in 2018, was awarded the Department of Science and Technology Albertina Sisulu Doctoral Fellowship, and was a Plantae Fellow for the American Society of Plant Biologists. Danielle will continue her research in FMG and FABI, having accepted the prestigious Claude Leon Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship.