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What Inspires Me: A Voice for Plants

By Nyree Zerega
Spring 2019

Nyree Zerega in the St. Vincent Botanical Garden, where she studied breadfruit.

Nyree Zerega, director of the Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation

“A large part of plant biology and conservation is learning about the various species that make up ecosystems, both in disturbed and undisturbed environments. One important way to do this is to get up close and personal with all these species by doing fieldwork. I’m fortunate to work with a really great group of people — scientists, students, community members — who are passionate about getting outdoors to learn about ecosystems around the world. They understand how important species diversity is to our survival, and they are passionate about how they can apply research findings to actually improve the environment through, for example, restoring habitats or conserving endangered species. To work with people who devote their time and attention to saving habitats and species that may not have a direct impact on our day-to-day life but fit into the overall fabric of nature is amazing. To be a voice for these plants with no voices, I find that very inspiring.” 

Nyree Zerega is professor of instruction and director of the Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation, a collaboration between Northwestern and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her lab explores the evolution, genetic diversity, origins and pollination biology of plants. In addition to teaching and training students, Zerega continues an active research program on breadfruit, jackfruit and their wild relatives. Both are tropical, long-lived trees that produce nutritious fruits. In Oceania, it is said that planting a breadfruit tree when a child is born will feed that child for a lifetime.

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