Nathan Amann with Nastassia Vlasava, a visiting scientist from Belarus and peony expert

It is no surprise that Nathan Amann’s (B.S., 2020) favorite place on campus is the Nichols Arboretum. Since 2017, he has been helping researchers determine the genomes and historical lineages of the peony plants in its famed garden. He is quick to add that it is not just the peonies. “While many people are attracted to the peony garden, there is also so much beauty and excitement to be found when wandering around the forest!”

In the Genetic Diversity Lab (GDL) in the BSB with Raquel Marchan Rivadeneira, the former manager

He began his research as part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). “The really cool thing about this research is the ability to do fieldwork and lab work within 5 minutes of each other.” The process starts by sampling leaves from live plants in the Nichols Arboretum. Then, in the Biological Sciences Building (BSB) lab he extracts DNA and sequences chloroplast marker regions. “We use those markers to perform phylogenetic analyses and infer maternal lineages.” He has worked closely with international peony experts Nastassia Vlasava, visiting scientist from Belarus, and David Michener, Curator at UM Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum. EEB research scientist Liliana Cortes-Ortiz has helped them understand the evolutionary pressures on the peonies.

“I made a great relationship with David Michener and other colleagues and therefore decided to continue doing research for him. I really appreciated the independence he gave me, it was a good challenge and very enlightening.”

Nathan decided on a Molecular, Cellular, and Development Biology major. “I am really attracted to genetics and molecular mechanisms, I find the mechanisms of disease fascinating. When I was describing these interests to my roommate, he suggested MCDB. Now two of my roommates, Pearson Miller and Lucas Marmorale, are also graduating seniors in MCDB. We actually met through marching band and were all trumpet players as well."

"It has been super helpful to do our own study group sessions. I would encourage everyone in this field to find colleagues that you can bounce ideas off of. It's the best way to understand the material!"

He also facilitated genetics study groups through the Science Learning Center and was an assistant instructor for a Michigan Math and Science Scholars program with David Michener. “I really enjoy teaching others, I think it helps me master material as well.”

Nathan also took advantage of other opportunities offered by U-M. He played trumpet in the marching band for 3 years. “It is a great community and support system to have as an incoming freshmen, I feel that it is the easiest way to transition to college life.”

“I have a German minor, which allowed me to get closer to my German heritage. In 2018, I studied abroad in Germany during the summer in a small town named Schwaebisch Hall. I would encourage everyone to spend time in a foreign environment, it really opens your eyes to new culture and allows you to empathize with some of the struggles that foreign-born people may face in this country. “

One of his favorite memories is going to "Welcome Wednesday" at the Alumni Center with his roommate to get free bagels before organic chemistry lecture. “We had a nice brunch during class.”

His undergraduate career is coming to an unusual close, however, Nathan is upbeat about it. “While it was disappointing not to have a graduation to share with my friends, I think I will have more vivid memories of our current experience. I hope that everyone looks back on this time not as a time of despair, but a time of success in our society and healthcare system.”

Next, this student from Troy, Michigan, is headed to Case Western Reserve University for medical school. “I’m super excited to begin classes in July and explore Cleveland.”

2022  will mark the 100th Anniversary of the Peony Garden. 

Learn more at on the U-M Peony Garden website. Virtual visits are recommened this year.

A new book, just published by the University of Michigan Press, Passion for Peonies: Celebrating the Culture and Conservation of Nichols Arborteum's Beloved Flower,  was edited By David Michener and Robert B. Grese. It includes a chapter on the genomics,  "Conserving Beauty As Science" by David Michener and Nastassia Vlasava.