Associate Curator and Head of Section Cynthia Morton

MortonC@carnegiemnh.org
MolecularLabSection of Botany
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-4080
412.578.2639

Cynthia Morton, PhD, is Associate Curator of Botany at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The museum’s herbarium is the major botanical facility in the Upper Ohio Valley region and ranks among the top 25 herbaria in North America. The section has significant worldwide holdings as well as the best representation in any herbarium of specimens from western Pennsylvania and the Upper Ohio Basin.

Morton received her undergraduate degree in Biology and Computer Science from Trinity College in Vermont. She received her Masters of Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and PhD from the CUNY/New York Botanical Garden. She also completed a NATO postdoctoral fellowship at Kew Gardens and NERC Fellowship in Reading in association with the British Museum of Natural History. Only 40% of the Carnegie Museum collection was databased when  Morton arrived and this had taken 15 years to complete. Within 5 years of her arrival, 100% of the collection was databased. Previously, Morton served as Director of Auburn University's Freeman Herbarium where she was actively involved with the Alabama State Lands Division's project to database the collection.

The focus of Morton’s research involves the taxonomic relationships, using morphological (the form and structure of organisms) and molecular data, of the family Rutaceae, a large tropical group containing many citrus fruits. From both phylogenetic and agricultural studies, she became aware that fundamental studies involving genomics need to be completed to address more thoroughly these taxa and their economic traits. As of 2009, two papers addressing a new classification for Citrus will be the result of this research.

Morton has been working with Pennsylvania’s Department for the Conservation of Natural Resources to document the plant diversity for each county in western Pennsylvania to aid in the restoration of natural resources. Morton’s research has also supported the local Pittsburgh community. In partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Morton compared the DNA of London Plane Trees with nursery trees. It was discovered that nursery trees of all species have little genetic diversity due to recent cloning practices in the industry. Cloning is reducing urban biodiversity, allowing trees to be susceptible to insects and disease.

Morton has been collecting plants to sequence a new nuclear gene for all flowering plants. Connecting the family tree for all flowering plants is one of botany’s greatest mysteries. Only one other nuclear gene has ever been used; it was completed over a decade ago and did not help to solve the mystery. Decoding the family tree of all flowering plants can be very informative fields such as medicine, ecology, and agriculture.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is ranked as one of the top five natural history museums in the country. The museum maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity.

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