University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The book on botany

James Mauseth

James Mauseth

James Mauseth, a professor in the Section of Integrative Biology, has published the fourth edition of his textbook, “Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology.” Daniel Oppenheimer, a writer in the College of Natural Sciences, talked to Mauseth about the book and cacti, the main interest of Mauseth’s research. Below is an excerpt from the interview. Click here for the full interview and here for a cactus slideshow.

Speaking of stories, why did you decide to study cacti in the first place?

It would be nice to say that after carefully considering the aspects of botany that needed to be studied, and contemplating how to best approach the pressing issues in the field, I came up with cacti as a model organism. It wasn’t that. I went to graduate school in Seattle at the University of Washington, where it rains all the time. During my first spring break, I went on a field trip to Arizona, and really noticed cacti for the first time. I became intrigued by them. They’re so different from other plants.

My advisor was good enough to say, “Well, go ahead and investigate them. See if something important comes up. If it turns out that there’s nothing interesting or tractable then move on to something else, but go and look.” Fortunately, a really interesting problem did come up. And that led to another problem, and then another, and here I am, still studying cacti. But it started because I just liked the plants.

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