Daniel L. Nickrent
Department of Plant Biology
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Below is a brief synopsis of my "walk through life" (curriculum vitae). If you would like to have my complete CV, please email me and I will send it. All of my publications can be seen HERE. One could categorize me as an avid botanist who loves the combination of laboratory and field work. My research often takes me to distant parts of the world where new cultures and environments can be appreciated. I enjoy hiking, canoeing, camping, wood sculpture, gardening, photography, and guitar.
In 1974-75, I conducted my first year of undergraduate study at Illinois State University in my home town of Normal, Illinois. After replying to an advertisement to conduct floristic work in the Great Dismal Swamp as an NSF Undergraduate Research Participant, I spent a summer working mostly alone but under the direction of Dr. Lytton Musselman at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. Although I began this project knowing about two plant scientific names, I finished knowing over 500, thus my interest in botany was born. I then returned to Illinois and finished my undergraduate work in the Botany Department at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1977. It was also in this year that my first scientific article on the flora of the Great Dismal Swamp was published in the journal Rhodora (Nickrent, Musselman and Levy 1977).
Masters Program at Old Dominion University
Having had an excellent experience with Dr. Musselman, I returned to Old Dominion University (ODU) and began working on ferns (Dryopteris). During the summer of 1978, an opportunity arose to work on the parasite witchweed (Striga) that had been introduced to North Carolina. This work, funded by the US Dept. of Agriculture, sparked my interest in parasitic plants. In 1979 I received my M.S. degree in Biology from ODU.
Doctoral Program at Miami University
After a brief time at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, I switched to a program better suited to my interests - the Department of Botany at Miami University, Oxford Ohio. There I began pursuing a Ph.D. with Dr. W. Hardy Eshbaugh (Botany) as my major advisor and co-advised by Dr. Sheldon Guttman (Zoology) whose expertise was isozymes. Although I originally began working on haustorial development in a hemiparasitic member of Orobanchaceae (Dasistoma), following a conversation with Dr. Charles Werth, I wrote a doctoral dissertation improvement grant to examine systematic relationships in Arceuthobium (dwarf mistletoes, Viscaceae) using isozymes. This grant was funded in 1982, so the next two years were spent collecting mistletoe seeds from Mexico through the western US and Canada. In 1984 I received my Ph.D. in Botany from Miami University.
Professor Position at University of Illinois
From 1984 to 1990 I was an Assistant Professor and Director of the
Herbarium (ILL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. In 1986
I became an Affiliate Professional Scientist with the Illinois Natural
History Survey. For most of my time I utilized isozymes to examine
systematic and population genetic questions in parasitic and non-parasitic
plants. But later Dr. Carl Woese and other College of Science faculty
established a laboratory to conduct ribosomal RNA sequencing. During this
pre-PCR time, rRNA was extracted, cDNA produced with reverse
transcriptase, and that template sequenced using the dideoxy-nucleotide
(Sanger) method. In 1990 my first molecular phylogenetics paper on the
sandalwood order (Santalales) was published (Nickrent & Francina 1990)
and I also received funding for a major grant from the National Science
Foundation entitled "Molecular
Phylogenies of Parasitic Flowering Plants".
Despite these positive career milestones and support from my
Department, I did not get a positive promotion decision from the
College of Science.
Thus began my search for another academic position.
Professor Position at Southern Illinois University
Fortunately, a position for an Assistant professorship in Plant Biology was available, so I interviewed for the job at my alma mater in Carbondale. In 1990 I joined the faculty in Plant Biology (the Department had recently changed its name from Botany). During this time my main laboratory methodology switched from working with rRNA to DNA and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) made the job of sequencing genes infinitely easier. In 1994 my lab documented increased rates of gene evolution in parasitic plants (Nickrent and Starr 1994) and one of the first species-level molecular phylogenies using nuclear ITS (Nickrent, Schuette & Starr 1994) on none other than my beloved dwarf mistletoes, Arceuthobium. It was also about this time that my lab moved from the Life Science II building to new facilities in Life Science III. In 1994 I received another NSF grant entitled "Molecular Phylogenetic Studies of Parasitic Plants" that helped fund ongoing research on these plants.
As an Associate Professor (1994-2003), my research program expanded to examine many groups of parasitic plants, including those that lack photosynthesis (holoparasites). This period was also marked by numerous collaborations with colleagues within and outside SIUC. It was particularly gratifying that in 2004, after 25 years, I was able to collaborate on a project with Lytton Musselman, and produce a web article on parasitic plants hosted by the American Phytopathological Society (update 2016 HERE). In 2003 I was promoted to Professor. My work on Rafflesia in the Philippines was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society in 2008. This began a fruitful collaboration with colleagues Julie Barcelona and Pieter Pelser (both of whom also attended Miami University!) that continues to this day. In 2010 we launched Co's Digital Flora of the Philippines (HERE) which is the only complete and continually updated listing of the plants from this biodiversity hotspot. That website is dependent upon another, launched in 2006, called PhytoImages that is served at SIUC but runs on software developed by Kevin Nixon and collaborators at Cornell University. This site presents photographs and metadata for all groups of plants worldwide.
As indicated by my title "Emeritus", I indeed did retire in 2014, but I continue working on a number of research projects. I was fortunate to work with some amazing folks over several years that culminated in 2016 in the publication of my treatment of Santalales for the Flora North America. The days of PCR amplifying individual genes are gone given that today Next Generation DNA sequencing can provide whole plant genomes. I am currently collaborating with colleagues within and outside my university using such data. It is such an exciting time to be a scientist and a perennial student!