Studying algae and other green living organisms may not sound as exciting as uncovering dinosaur fossils or exploring uncharted mountains. But Mark Buchheim's work in all things green has mapped the most complete "Tree of Life," which traces the genetic history of plants back millions of years, all the way to a rare South Pacific shrub that appears to be the closest living relative to the earth's first flowering plant.
The University of Tulsa (Okla.) professor has come closer than anyone to bringing to light the mysteries behind God's creation.
"I see this work in some ways as an extension of my faith because in part I am trying to understand where all life comes from," said Buchheim, a member of Fellowship Lutheran Church, Tulsa. "That's been a powerful motivator.
"When we make new discoveries, I'm reminded that I wasn't born with a burning desire for this type of study. But I had two mentors at Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa) whom I saw as people I'd like to emulate. They had great enthusiasm to answer the same questions."
Buchheim's research has been part of a five-year project known as "Deep Green," which has enlisted the work of more than 200 scientists from 12 countries. Recently, Buchheim received two more grants to further his study in green-plant life.
There are several practical applications in his research that Buchheim also considers part of his ministry. By understanding how certain primitive plants and organisms grow and evolve, particularly in harsh conditions, scientists may be able to create strands of crops that grow in salt-filled soil or in dry regions.
"It's a long process," he said. "It requires being in the field a lot, bringing back soil and water samples to the lab and then studying them to find isolated cells that are growing. But when we find new information, it's incredibly exciting.
"That's when I know that I am seeing something that has never been seen before, except by God."
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