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May 10, 2011 | Jennifer Ramp Neale, Ph.D., Director of Research & Conservation

The first week of May marked an important week for science at Denver Botanic Gardens. Both Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture, and Melissa Islam, Associate Director of Research & Conservation, successfully defended their dissertations to earn their PhD.


Dr. Krishnan’s research focused on examining genetic diversity within Madagascan coffee species. Her study was undertaken using the collections maintained at the Kianjavato Coffee Research Station’s ex situ field genebank as well as wild populations. Overall she found high levels of diversity in Madagascan coffee species. Her results also indicate that the populations maintained at the Research Station are no longer pure in that there is cross-contamination of species which will limit their use in restoration. Dr. Krishnan has been the Director of Horticulture at Denver Botanic Gardens for five years and is heading up the new Tissue Culture Lab. We look forward to all the new and exciting research endeavors she will pursue now that she has completed her PhD.

Dr. Islam’s research focused on tracing the Evolutionary History of Coca (Erythroxylum). The tropical, flowering shrubs in the genus Erythroxylum (230 species) are commonly known as coca. For at least 5,000 years, two species have been cultivated for medicinal use throughout South America. Today, the majority of coca cultivation is for the extraction of cocaine. Dr. Islam’s research focused on understanding the domestication of the cultivated species and determining their wild relatives. In addition, to a focus on the cultivated species, her research investigated general systematics and biogeography of the genus. Dr. Islam joined the Research & Conservation department as Associate Director in January 2011. Dr. Islam’s background in systematics, taxonomy and evolutionary biology will expand the capacity of our department and we are thrilled to have her as a member of our team.


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