Staff Spotlight – Luiza Teixeira-Costa

December 2, 2020
Luiza Teixeira-Costa

Dr. Luiza Teixeira-Costa is a Research Fellow at the Harvard University Herbaria. Luiza obtained her PhD in 2019 in Botany at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. She has experience in Botany, especially in the areas of Plant Anatomy, Wood Anatomy, and Parasitic Plant Biology. Additionally, she works in the areas of History of Science and Landscaping, and Non-formal Science education.

Q: Where did you gain the foundation of your education?
A: I did my undergraduate studies at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, and then both my master's and PhD at the University of Sao Paulo, both in Brazil. Apart from the names, which are quite similar, these institutions are separate and quite different in their organizational culture. I learned a lot by being able to study at these two places.

Q: Did you have a mentor?
A: I've had great professors who encouraged and helped me during my studies. However, my greatest mentor has always been my uncle, Luiz Antonio Teixeira, who's also a professor and a researcher in the field of history of science. When I was about 15 years old and starting to think about college, career, and all that, he was the one who showed me what a scientist is and how I could go about pursuing a career in science. Several years later, I had the honor of publishing my first paper with him as a co-author. He's still an inspiration and a mentor to me!

Q: What was your most exciting discovery?
A: To date, my most exciting discovery was about the developmental evolution of mistletoes, which are a functional group of plant species that live as parasites upon trees and shrubs worldwide. All parasitic flowering plants have a special structure, known as haustorium, which connects them to their hosts. Among mistletoe species, there is a huge diversity in the morphology of this structure. With our research, published earlier this year*, my co-authors and I have shown that haustorium development during the life cycle of mistletoes recapitulates species evolution and diversification. These results help us elucidate how mistletoes, which live atop their host plants, could have evolved from their terrestrial ancestors.
*Teixeira-Costa, L.; Ceccantini, G.; Ocampo, G. Morphogenesis and evolution of mistletoes’ haustoria. 2020. In: Plant Ontogeny: Studies, Analyses and Evolutionary Implications. Ed: Diego Demarco. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN: 978-1-53617-453-3

Q: Do you have a specimen that is the most cherished?
A: It's hard to pick just one, but there's a specimen of Hydnora africana (Hydnoraceae), part of the Gray Herbarium, that I really like. It has so much information about the plant and it is gorgeously mounted on the herbarium sheet. I also have a special connection with the Rafflesiaceae pickled specimens, which are fascinating and include a comprehensive set of growth stages.

Q: What do you like the most about your job?
A: Well, about the job itself, I love that it is curiosity driven and collaborative, as scientific research should be. About my field of research, I'm always fascinated by what plants can do, the weird ways and unusual places they can grow, their plasticity, and the variety of ways they interact with their surroundings.

Q: What would you like the next generation to seek out?
A: We are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. I would like the next generation to seek for innovative and active ways of learning about and protecting the breath-taking range of species we have on the planet.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
A: In my opinion, Science only makes sense if it is inclusive, diverse, and welcoming to everyone. Science is more than the academic environment, and it's more than maths, formulae, experiments, and laboratories. Science is a manifestation of culture, and it is part of the human experience.