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Graduate Student Receives National Fellowship

Plant Genetics Graduate Student Receives National Fellowship

The nationally competitive EPA STAR fellowship will support Caroline Ridley's
studies of how plant hybrids adapt to become invasive weeds.

(June 12, 2005)

Caroline Ridley

Caroline Ridley

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — University of California, Riverside graduate student Caroline Ridley has received a nationally competitive U.S. EPA STAR fellowship to further her studies probing how hybrids between cultivated radish and a wild cousin have developed into an invasive weed in California.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, offers graduate fellowships for master’s and doctoral level students in environmentally related fields of study. Depending on funding, the agency plans to award about 100 new fellowships by July 21. The EPA STAR program was initiated in 1995 and has given about 1,000 fellowships since then.

Ridley’s fellowship provides up to $37,000 annually for the next three years to help her pursue a doctorate in evolutionary biology. She called her windfall a great relief.

“It certainly takes a lot of pressure off of me and my major professor,” she said. “This fellowship will help pay for my stipend, for tuition, for field supplies and for services at the plant genomics facility.”

Ridley works in the laboratory of Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR, where he’s also director of the Biotechology Impacts Center. Ellstrand’s specialty is a phenomenon known as gene flow and the resulting creation of hybrid plants that become invasive species.

“This is an extraordinary achievement, and we are thrilled and proud of Caroline,” he said. “The last time a UCR student got this (EPA STAR fellowship) was in 1999.”

Ridley is taking a genetic evolutionary approach to the study of the hybridization of the cultivated radish, or Raphanus sativus, with jointed charlock, or Raphanus raphanistrum, a form of wild radish. Their mixing may have created a new invasive lineage of plants unique to California, she said.

“Ultimately, I hope my evolutionary study of radish in California will lead to a better basic understanding of what makes an invasive species, what genetic factors can create one and how we might be able to apply this knowledge to its management,” Ridley said.

Ridley, who grew up in the St. Louis, Mo. area, graduated in 2001 from the liberal arts-oriented Grinnell College, in Grinnell Iowa. She said she was always interested in science, coming from a family of scientists.

“My father is a biochemist with Monsanto and my mother is a professor of nutrition at St. Louis University,” she said. “I also had some great biology professors at Grinnell. They supported my interest in biological systems, which I find fascinating.”

After receiving her doctorate, Ridley would like to do post doctoral research in Africa to help spur agriculture on the continent.

“I guess I’ve always had a commitment to serving a larger community,” she said. “I was brought up to do something with my education to benefit the community, and my background in genetics lends itself very well to studying cropping systems and developing food security and drought tolerant, pest resistant crops.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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