Alejandra Vasco, Ph.D.
Dr. Alejandra Vasco joined BRIT in August 2017. She obtained her BS from the University of Antioquia, in her native Colombia, and her MS and PhD as part of the joint program between the City University of New York and the New York Botanical Garden. After a postdoc in the Genomics program at the New York Botanical Garden and one at the Biology Institute at the National Autonomous University in Mexico, Alejandra joined the faculty of the Biology Institute of the National Autonomous University in Mexico City in 2014, where she was working before joining BRIT.
Alejandra is interested in many aspects of plant evolutionary biology. Her current research is mostly on systematics and evolution of ferns, with broad implications for their taxonomy and their morphological and developmental evolution. Her work and that of her students incorporates traditional morphological and developmental techniques, fieldwork and herbarium work, combined with molecular genetics and comparative genomics to understand plant diversity and the role that genes have in the evolution, structure, and biological functions of plants.
Much of Alejandra’s work has focused on tropical ferns. Particularly the systematics of the fern genus Elaphoglossum and the evolution and development of fern leaves. Her work in Elaphoglossum, one of the largest fern genera in the world and one of the most taxonomically difficult, includes phylogenetics, molecular evolution of leaf development, genomics, taxonomic revisions, and species descriptions. Alejandra has described 7 Elaphoglossum species new to science!
Alejandra’s work on fern leaf development and evolution is a collaboration with Drs. Barbara Ambrose and Robbin Moran from the New York Botanical Garden, and includes investigations of the development of morphology and of gene function in development. The evolution and development of leaves is a topic that has intrigued botanists for more than two centuries. Ferns are an interesting lineage of plants to study leaf development, not only because of its phylogenetic crucial position as the sister group of seed plants, but also because within the ferns there might be several origins and different mechanisms for leaf development. So far her studies on the developmental genetics of fern leaves provide the first molecular genetic support indicating that ferns and seed plants share a common leaf developmental mechanism.
Besides doing research, Alejandra loves sharing her passion for ferns with others, especially young students interested in botany. She regularly teaches field courses in the tropics on the biology of ferns and enjoys giving talks at conferences, universities, and fern societies. She has a husband and a cat, two siblings that are professional musicians, and a great loving mother. She does yoga and enjoys dancing.