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The Campaign for UC Davis

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UC Davis
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Portrait of Seed Money

Professor Stacey Harmer is discovering what makes plants tick.

Leaves falling in autumn; flowers blooming in the spring; a plant’s daily movement following the sun — according to Professor Stacey Harmer, these seasonal and daily changes may hold the key to improving crop yields around the world.

Harmer is an internationally recognized expert in studying these “circadian rhythms” in plants, which she believes help predict which plants will thrive in different climates.

“Understanding a plant’s circadian rhythm is important because they are the plant’s internal clocks, through which the plant anticipates and prepares for environmental changes,” said Harmer, who has been a plant biologist at UC Davis since 2002. “The more we can learn about these internal clocks at the molecular level, the more we can tweak these clocks and improve the plant’s ability to adapt and survive in different conditions.”

For her research excellence, Harmer was awarded a 2011-12 Chancellor’s Fellow — an early-career faculty award supported by donations of all sizes to the UC Davis Annual Fund. Harmer plans to use the funds to initiate a study on the circadian rhythm of sunflowers as it relates to the plant’s daily tracking of the sun.

“The unrestricted seed money is a very powerful tool for researchers like me,” Harmer said. “Professors may have great research ideas, but they won’t qualify for federal funding to pursue that idea without data. But one can’t get data without initiating a study, which requires financial support. Philanthropic support of faculty research is a great way to promote innovation and allow people to explore new ideas.”