Environmental studies professor published in prestigious scientific journal

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De Haan a co-author of a Science magazine article

Dr. Robb De Haan, Professor of Environmental Studies, contributed research to a recent issue of Science, a prestigious publication focused on scientific discovery.

De Haan and 277 other scientists gathered more than 110,000 samples of white clover from more than 6,160 locations in 160 cities around the world. The samples were analyzed and the results shared in the article “Global urban environmental change drives adaptation in white clover,” a cover story for the March 18 issue of Science. De Haan is listed as one of the co-authors for the article.

The research began several years ago, when De Haan partnered with Dr. Phillips Akinwole, who had come to Dordt to do post-doctoral work in environmental science and biology.

“Dr. Akinwole heard about a research project that looked at how a common plant like white clover changes in response to selection pressure in rural and urban areas,” recalls De Haan. “Since he isn’t a botanist, he came to me and said, ‘How about if you work with me, and we’ll do some white clover identification and gather some data?’”

That’s how De Haan and Akinwole ended up on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, collecting white clover samples. They worked their way to downtown Sioux Falls, storing the samples in a cooler.

Now, Akinwole serves as an assistant professor of biology and microbial ecologist at DePauw University. He continued researching white clover and eventually became a lead author for the March 18 cover article in Science.

De Haan was glad to be part of such a monumental research project.

“To gather a significant amount of data, you need many people who can modestly invest in the research,” he says. “Otherwise, you can’t put an article like this together. Research like this requires 100-plus people who can work together to answer questions; this research helps us to understand the world better in ways that we might not be able to if only three or four scientists are involved.”

According to the article’s abstract, the results show that “urbanization leads to adaptation at a global scale” for white clover.

“This publication is a testament to the importance of the work done by Dr. Akinwole, Dr. De Haan, and their colleagues, showing on a global scale that parallel genomic adaptation helps populations of organisms become better fit for new or changing environments,” says Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Robbin Eppinga. “Being published in this magazine is an amazing and rare accomplishment because Science only publishes the most robust and impactful new studies in a full range of scientific disciplines.”

Why should Christians engage in scientific research like this? De Haan says that Christians can see science as a way to understand what God is telling us through his creation—“to read the book of creation.”

“And that’s what good science allows us to do,” he says. “It makes sense for Christians to be part of reading that book in whatever ways we can.”

About Dordt University

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Dordt, located in Sioux Center, Iowa, is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by U.S. News and World Report, Forbes.com, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review. For more information, visit dordt.edu.