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Greg Plunkett collects Plerandra brassii in a Solomon-Islands rainforest. In the Cullman Program laboratory, DNA from this plant was used in a global phylogenetic and biogeographic study of the complex genus Schefflera.

The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics was established in 1994 to broaden and strengthen the scientific research programs of The New York Botanical Garden. The Program also provides a formal link to the American Museum of Natural History, where molecular research addressing plant-animal interactions takes place. The scientific staff, graduate students, and visiting researchers of the Cullman Program are involved in a variety of research projects that employ a host of tools and techniques from the growing field of molecular biology to address systematic issues. Field studies are conducted extensively as and integral part of the Cullman Program, so its research may be thought of as both molecular and organismal in that studies of plant diversity require an in-depth understanding of whole plants and their genomes.

The majority of research in the Program is focused on phylogenetic studies of plants and fungi. The goals of these initiatives lie principally in addressing questions of plant classification, historical biogeography, plant-animal interactions, and character evolution. However, the utility of phylogenetic trees generated from such research does end with simple pattern analysis, as explicit hypotheses of evolutionary relationship may be valuable in other comparative disciplines such as phytochemistry and ethnobotany. Exploring molecular aspects of biodiversity in the broad sense, the Cullman Programís research roster also includes investigations into population-level genetic structure using modern methods of DNA fingerprinting. The ultimate goal and value of these studies is to be found in determining domesticated plant origins and for formulating appropriate strategies of conservation for threatened or endangered plant species.


The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics occupies laboratory and other programmatic space in The New York Botanical Garden's Plant Research Laboratory. The Program is fully equipped for all standard forms of molecular analysis, including DNA and RNA extraction, high throughput and capillary tube PCR, in situ hybridization, in-situ PCR, small-scale molecular cloning, agarose gel image analysis, and computer-assisted DNA sequencing. Gene sequencing and DNA fingerprinting are performed on automated sequencers located both at the Garden and in our shared laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

The Cullman Program also maintains a vast collection of vouchered DNA and frozen, silica-gel dried tissue samples obtained from the Garden's Herbarium and living collections, as well as from domestic and international field expeditions.

Read more about Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman
Watch an interview with Lewis B. Cullman

Partner Web Sites

American Museum of Natural History

Associated Researchers

Gregory M. Plunkett
Director and Curator

Kenneth G. Karol
Assistant Curator

Damon Little
Assistant Curator of Bioinformatics

John Hall
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