Bryan Drew plant research receives $306,000 grant

Bryan Drew Photo
Bryan Drew

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Biologist Bryan Drew’s research collecting plants to study their evolution takes him all over the world.

Drew, an assistant professor of biology at University of Nebraska at Kearney, recently received a $306,614 grant from the National Science Foundation for his research on the evolution of the mint family.

“The grant will help fund collecting expeditions for Salvia and another mint plants, and will facilitate training for undergraduates and graduate students in molecular lab techniques and scientific writing,” Drew said. “It will also lead to several high-quality publications and provide raw data for future grant proposals.”

Drew travels the world to collect plants in the wild. He also collects leaves from the plants and extracts DNA from the leaves. He uses the DNA to figure out how the plants are related to one another, how they evolved, where they grew, and what they might have looked like millions of years ago.

The project – “Collaborative Research: Phylogenetics, Biogeography and Morphological Evolution of the Flowering Plant Genus Salvia (Sages and Relatives)” – is a collaboration with Kenneth Sytsma at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The grant total is $982,988, with $306,614 going to UNK and the remainder going to the University of Wisconsin.

There are about 1,000 species of Salvia across the world, and it’s one of the largest species of flowering plants. The project investigates why some organisms, such as Salvia, are more common than others. The researchers believe that specialized flower features are responsible for the success of the species. Their research will attempt to figure out which flower components may be most important for its success.

The project includes taking digital images of whole flowers, male and female portions of flowers (stamens and styles), and plant leaves, and examining how the plant parts evolved in Salvia by mapping the features on to a phylogenetic tree produced using molecular DNA.

Drew and Sytsma hope to organize a meeting of Salvia enthusiasts as part of this research. The meeting will allow them to share their results and provide an update on Salvia taxonomy and evolution.


Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529,
Source: Bryan Drew, 308.865.8883,