Biology 20 Professor Discusses His Passion for Flora, Music

Upon entering the office of Professor of Biology Michael J. Donoghue, the visitor might notice a small, brass plaque on his door. The plaque reads "Michael Mad Dog Donoghue."

Donoghue, who co-teaches Biology 20: "Biological Diversity," is the director of the Harvard Herberia and conducts research, says he leads a hectic life.

"My daily life is completely nuts. I'm like a ping-pong ball. There isn't much structure," Donoghue says of his life as director of the Harvard Herbaria dealing with administrative issues, as well as teaching and researching the evolution and diversity of plants.

But Donoghue says he has no problem with his chaotic life.

"Some scientists do one problem," Donoghue says. "My thing is to do a lot of them. I do all sorts of problems--theoretical, molecular, fungal. The bottom line is that I like it that way, I like to do a lot of things at the same time." For instance, part of his work includes a great deal of travelling, which Donoghue says that he enjoys.


"I just came back from Crete three weeks ago," Donoghue says. "This summer, we're going to Tibet. Last summer, we went to Sichuan.... As a graduate student, for my dissertation I collected in Mexico and Central America. That's what I'd like to do more of in the summer, go on expeditions to collect plants."

According to a Rick Ree, a graduate student who works with Donoghue, the professor's best-known work is on the study of "patterns and processes of evolution."

"One riddle I'm most involved in is the question of the origin of flowering plants, which is almost everything you see except for pine trees," Donoghue says, adding that the fossil record of flowering plants was somewhat "mysterious."

Donoghue, who studies modern-day plants to sudy their relationship, also says he is intrigued by the biogeography of the genus Viburnum, on which he is the world's expert.

"...Viburnum...includes about 200 species around the northern hemisphere," Donoghue says. The genus includes shrubs and small trees that are commonly cultivated. "Why is it that some areas are so rich in Viburnum?" Donoghue asks.

Donoghue has worked on the question in a variety of ways--studying the morphological character of the plants and reconstructing phylogeny based on gene sequences.

Donoghue says that he is also very proud to be associated with the Harvard Herbaria, a vast collection of dried plant specimens.

"It's a repository, a museum, which contains our the actual knowledge of plant diversity and where they live," Donoghue says.

According to Donoghue, the Harvard Herbaria is the eighth largest herbarium in the world and the largest herbarium associated with a university.

But despite his involvement in the Herbaria now, Donoghue says that there was nothing in his itinerant childhood that might have predicted his love for the Herbarium and the achievements in botany that it represents.