December 18, 2017

Educational activities


Annual Graduate Student Survey

We have conducted our first WheatCAP Annual Graduate Student Survey

The Plant Breeding Training Network

The Plant Breeding Training Network (PBTN) is a platform for sharing breeding related educational materials (videos, webinars, on-line courses). PBTN was built on infrastructure funded by NSF and it was created as part of our previous collaborative project, TriticeaeCAP. Now we continue supporting it through WheatCAP.

Meet our students

As in the previous collaborative projects, one of our main goals is to contribute to the formation of the next generation of breeders.  In the following paragraphs you can meet the WheatCAP graduate students and postdocs and learn about their lines of research.

Amanda Rose Peters
North Dakota State University
PhD in Genomics and Bioinformatics

I grew up in south central Minnesota in a farming community. Agriculture was a big part of my family life growing up. Through working at a Monsanto station for three summers in high school, I became interested in plant breeding and genetics. My passion for genetics grew while I earned an undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Minnesota-Morris. I first began working with wheat during my Master’s program at NDSU under Dr. Justin Faris studying host-pathogen interactions. I am continuing my education under Dr. Faris for my PhD working on identifying, mapping, characterizing, and hopefully cloning a gene that underlies a yield component QTL. My career aspirations are to be either a research scientist in the public sector working for a government agency or at a state run university.


Andrew Katz
Colorado State University
PhD candidate

Hello, I am Andrew Katz.  Growing up in the metropolitan area surrounding San Francisco, California, I developed a fascination with plant biotechnology.  While studying plant genetics and breeding at Purdue University I gained a broader appreciation for the overarching principles of genetics.  At the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute, I was exposed to big science and learned the complexities of long-term goals with multinational research.  In August 2017, I arrived at Colorado State University to begin as a PhD candidate characterizing and cloning a QTL on chromosome 6BL that affects grain width and thousand kernel weight in hard winter wheat.  I hope to one day lead a breeding program as food security, value added varieties, and land stewardship are very important to me.  I firmly believe that these ideals can be accomplished through crop improvement.


Brittney Brewer
Montana State University
PhD Candidate

My name is Brittney Brewer and I am a graduate student pursuing a PhD in plant science and plant genetics. I have the privilege of working in Dr. Luther Talbert’s spring wheat genetics lab at Montana State University. The path that has led me to pursue a career in plant breeding stems from a long-time interest and passion for agriculture. Having completed my BA in Crop Science, I have come to appreciate the complexity and pivotal importance of agriculture, particularly the resources that are afforded the farmer. It is this need for improved varieties that can successfully yield and compete in harsh and changing climates that led me to pursuing plant breeding. With these interest and funding from the WheatCAP grant my PhD project entails the validation, fine mapping and cloning of a QTL on 6B for reproductive tiller number. My primary goals as a plant breeder in response to a growing population and decreasing farm lands will be to develop varieties that are capable of meeting today’s challenges, such as drought tolerance, disease resistance, increased productivity and finding new approaches to improve yield.


Chia-Cheng Kan
Oklahoma State University
PhD candidate

My hometown is Taipei, Taiwan. My strong research interest in staple crops improvement was built during my B.S. and M.S. study in Plant Pathology major. My work experience on rice at Academia Sinica further fortified this idea, which encouraged me to pursue PhD. study in winter wheat at Oklahoma State University. Oklahoma wheat variety-Duster shows superiority over another variety-Billings in several traits. My research project focuses on cloning the QYld.osu-1B gene in Duster x Billing population. Field trial of recombinant plants combining with the fine mapping of critical region would assist us to reach this goal. After graduation, and with my passion in translating research to real world application, I am planning to work as a molecular geneticist in crop breeding teams. In the long run, I would like to contribute myself in agriculture-related field in Taiwan.


Dylan Larkin
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Ph.D. Student

I grew up in the rural farming community of Monroe, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. I then attended Oregon State University, Corvallis to earn a B.S. in Crop and Soil Science with a minor in Horticulture. I quickly discovered my passion for plant breeding after working for the barley and hazelnut breeding programs at the university. I then attended at Washington State University, Pullman, where I earned a M.S. in Crop Science with a specialization in Plant Genetics and Crop Breeding as a graduate research assistant with the USDA-ARS club wheat breeding program. I am currently a student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville working to earn my Ph.D. in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences with a specialization in Plant Breeding and Genetics as a graduate research assistant with the wheat breeding program. I aspire to work as a plant breeder in the private or public sectors.

I will be working to characterize a QTL for grain yield, spike weight and thousand-kernel weight on chromosome 1A located between markers IWA2922 and IWA6707. This QTL was first identified in the bi-parental mapping population Pioneer brand 26R61 x AGS2000 (PA) evaluated in 12 environments and was confirmed in an association mapping panel including 240 soft red winter wheat (SRWW) genotypes in 8 environments. The QTL explains up to 10% of the variation in grain yield and 5% across 12 diverse environments. Lines carrying the AGS2000 allele showed on average 116.5 kg ha-1 higher grain yield than those carrying the P26R61 allele.


  Elina Adhikari
Kansas State University
PhD candidate

Education: My name is Elina Adhikari, I am from Nepal. I completed my B.S. in Agriculture degree from Institute of Agriculture and Animal Sciences, Tribhuvan University, Nepal in 2011. I got my M.S. degree from the Department of Plant Sciences, North Dakota State University in 2015. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in Wheat Genetics Program under Department of Plant Pathology at Kansas State University.

Research focus: Wild relatives of wheat provide a rich system for investigating local adaptation, and a valuable source of new allelic diversity, of which only a small fraction was used for improving wheat’s adaptive potential. Prioritization of this allelic diversity for deployment in the breeding programs is critical for increasing their effectiveness and improving their ability to assemble allelic complexes in high-yielding varieties resistant to different climates. The main objective of my research is to improve the winter wheat germplasm for adaptation to extreme heat and drought. I am using genomic and eco-geographic information to perform genome-wide environmental scans and identify alleles associated with adaptive phenotypes based on their correlation with important climatic variables. These adaptive alleles will be introduce into breeding pipelines to develop new sets of adaptive germplasm that will be evaluated for heat and drought tolerance in the filed using high throughput phenotyping platforms.

Career goals: I look forward working in public and academic sectors.


Ellie Taagen
Cornell University
PhD in Plant Breeding
Email: PhD in Plant Breeding

My name is Ellie Taagen and I am pursuing a PhD in plant breeding at Cornell University under Dr. Mark Sorrells.  I am originally from Seattle and attended the University of Washington for my undergraduate degree.  I studied molecular, cellular, developmental biology and nutritional sciences and developed a fascination for the agricultural applications of these disciplines.  I was introduced to plant breeding as an intern at The Bread Lab with Washington State University and quickly fell in love with small grains.  At the Bread Lab I also learned the importance of outreach and collaboration along a crop’s value chain.  I am thrilled to be studying plant breeding and entering a career with opportunities to engage a range of stakeholders in agricultural production and food security.  Promoting communication and understanding between disciplines is an important responsibility that as a scientist I embrace.

Topics in plant breeding that I am particularly curious about studying are traits affecting yield and resiliency in marginal environments, and I continually find myself drawn to research with an international focus.  The Wheat CAP presents an exciting opportunity to contribute to the further characterization and deployment of QTL for grain yield components in wheat.  My research is focused on three QTL associated with grain size and weight on chromosomes 5A and 5B.  Currently I am working with the wheat reference population synthetic W7984 x Opata M85.


Jonathan Turkus
Michigan State University
PhD candidate

Introduction: I am Jonathan Turkus, a graduate student in Michigan State University’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology/Crop and Soil Science PhD program.

I became interested in plant genetics, breeding, and biotechnology through an innate interest in plants and inheritance, but also from a desire to use my knowledge of genetics to produce useful organisms for scientists and farmers, alike.

Primary Research Project: In Dr. Eric Olson’s Wheat Breeding Program, we work extensively with a population derived from a number of individual interspecific crosses between winter wheat and accessions of wheat’s D genome progenitor species, Aegliops tauschii. Within the D genome of these hybrids, the laboratory identified a number of quantitative trait loci (QTL) significantly associated with yield. Using individuals from this population displaying heterozygosity within these QTL, I am working to create groups of heterozygous inbred families (HIFs) for each QTL in order to fine map these regions.

The ultimate goal of this project will be to isolate and clone the specific genes embedded in the QTLs impacting this critical agronomic trait.

Long Term Goals: While I have an interest in entering the private sector as a breeder and/or biotechnologist, I realize the experiences ahead of me in the next four or five years may shift my ambitions toward an alternate career path in academic or government institutions. As such, I have not yet decided how to apply the skills and knowledge I will acquire while I pursue my doctorate.


Jyotirmoy Halder
South Dakota State University
Ph.D. student

I am from Bangladesh, a small beautiful country located in South Asian where agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy. My personal interest in plant breeding and genetics has been developed during my undergraduate study in Agriculture. I have always been interested in crop improvement and believe in taking the research from the lab bench into the farmer’s field and plant breeding essentially does it and makes a direct impact on agriculture economy. Furthermore, I strongly believe that plant breeding is very crucial for food security of billions of people globally.

Here in South Dakota State University, I am working in winter wheat breeding program under Dr. Sunish Sehgal. My research project will mainly focus on fine mapping and cloning a grain yield QTL from Aegilops tauschii transferred to hexaploid wheat. In addition, I will mobilize the QTL into several winter and spring backgrounds for utilization in breeding programs across the HRW region and the world. I have a passion for wheat breeding and genetics research and looking forward to building my career as a researcher. Moreover, as an agriculturist, I am completely aware of social responsibility and my utmost interest is to contribute to the sustainable food production effort for the world with growing population.


Katrina Johnson
University of Idaho
M.S. Candidate: Plant Science

I am from Moscow, Idaho which sits in the Palouse region – a significant producer of dry-land wheat. It seemed a natural path to go into wheat production. My ultimate goal is land and resource conservation, achieved through yield increase. My focus will be grain number increase through the identification of genes contributing to spikelet numbers. I hope to take the knowledge gained in this program to allow me to be a part of other inter-disciplinary teams in pursuit of crop development.


Max Fraser
University of Minnesota
PhD Candidate

Max is entering his first year of graduate studies in Applied Plant Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Originally from southern Minnesota, he spent much of his childhood on his uncle and grandparent’s farms where he developed an interest in agriculture. Max was first introduced to the topic of plant breeding at a conference during his first year of undergraduate studies. It was there that he decided he wanted to pursue a career as a plant breeder as it seemed like an excellent combination of his aforementioned interest in agriculture and genetics. He was drawn to the complex issues of global food security and malnutrition, and is most interested in learning how to implement existing and emerging technologies to address these problems. Max’s career goal is to one day manage a breeding program at a land-grant university or abroad with an international organization.

Currently, Max is working with Dr. Jim Anderson and other members of the University of Minnesota team to categorize, fine map, and clone a kernel weight and width QTL residing of the long arm of chromosome 2A. Population development for fine mapping is underway and validation of the target QTL has begun.


Noah DeWitt
North Carolina State UniversityPhD candidate

My name is Noah DeWitt, and I’m pursuing a PhD in Crop Science at North Carolina State University with Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira. I’m originally from central Florida, and attended the University of Florida for my undergraduate, developing an interest in plant breeding and genetics working in citrus improvement. I’m interested in food security and think crop improvement is part of the solution to the challenges facing modern agriculture, including a changing climate. I’m excited about the collaborative aspects of this project, and hope to continue working in crop improvement as a career, preferably at a land-grant university.


Priscilla Glenn
University of California-Davis
PhD candidate

My name is Priscilla Glenn. I am a first year PhD student at the University of California at Davis (UCD) under Dr. Dubcovsky. I am from Pflugerville, Texas and chose to pursue plant breeding/horticulture due to an initial interest in genetics. When exploring deeper into genetics, plants caught my attention and have held it ever since. I am a member of the WheatCAP project at UCD which is characterizing at QTL for spikelet numbers on wheat chromosome arm 7AL. My personal project includes studying the determination of spikelet number in Triticale. My future career goal is to enter the plant breeding industry and pursue a career in crop improvement.


Qianli Pan
Kansas state university
MS candidate

I received my bachelor’s degree in biology from China Agricultural University. Then I moved to Kansas, USA with my husband. I love bread and noodles, so no surprise that I was happy to join a wheat genetics and genomics lab. My current projects are focused on the CRISPR/Cas9-based wheat genome editing where we try to accelerate the pace of wheat improvement. I enjoy working in lab and greenhouse, and interacting and discussing projects with my lab mates. A dream future for me, will be joining an active and friendly crop research and breeding team, or pursuing a teaching career in academy.


Saarah Kuzay-Earl
University of California Davis
PhD candidate

I was born in Detroit, Michigan; and, spent most of my youth growing up in Santa Ana, California. I received my BS at UC Davis in Plant Sciences, emphasis in Genetics and Breeding, with a minor in Agricultural Entomology. Throughout my undergraduate career at UC Davis, I worked on variety of crops including strawberry, tomatoes, common bean, wheat, and peppers. I am currently a PhD student at UC Davis under Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky studying wheat genetics and plant breeding. The Dubcovsky lab is focused on genetics and breeding of small grains, namely pasta and bread wheat, barley, oats, and triticale. My research focuses on understanding the genetic basis of spikelets per spike (SPS) in wheat, a trait for yield in wheat. At present, we identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) for SPS on chromosome 7A and using positional cloning and TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions in Genomes) mutants to identify candidate genes within the 7A QTL. After completing my graduate degree, I hope to work as a plant breeder for an institute, public university or in the Research and Development of the private sector. Ultimately, I hope to pursue a career path that will give me the freedom to continue researching and understanding the genetic basis of the traits we modify through plant breeding.


Smit Dhakal
Texas A&M University
PhD candidate in Plant Breeding and Genetics

My inspiration to work in agriculture comes from farming family background in Nepal. After seeing multitude of rice varieties grown in farm field over the time drew me into plant breeding.

Currently I am working on a project on identifying underlining genes for the major QTL on chromosome arm 2BS, 2AS from the cross of CO 960293-2/TAM 111. QTL on 2BS is associated with yield, thousand kernel weight and harvest index. QTL on 2AS is associated with kernels per spike.

As a next-generation plant breeder and geneticist, I have an interest on accelerated breeding and release of more resilient wheat lines and varieties to break yield barriers in wheat. I will be looking forward to serve on public institutions on developing nations.


Xiaoyu Zhang
Oklahoma State University
Ph.D. candidate

I grew up in Jinan, China, and got my master degree in Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Now I am a Crop Science Ph.D. student in Oklahoma State University. In three years of field research experience in wheat, I’m proficient in lots of scientific instruments for plant physiology and climate change, and then two years of lab experience in wheat molecular genetics gives me a much deeper understanding of wheat. Now my research project focuses on cloning a major gene for spikelet number in common wheat. A total of 1,438 GBS markers were developed to genotype 186 F2 lines generated from a cross between CItr17600 and Yangmai18. A major QTL for spikelet number was found on the long arm of chromosome 7B, which has the LOD value of 13.75 and explained 35.4% of the total phenotypic variation. In the future, I want to join the faculty to begin a research career in wheat molecular breeding.


  Yuzhou Xu
Kansas State University
Ph.D. candidate

My name is Yuzhou Xu. I am a PhD student coming from China in Kansas State University now. I choose the plant breeding as my major in Kansas State University, and my research will focus on identification of wheat QTLs and breeding. The Genetics Graduate Program is the interdepartmental program associated with several departments in Agricultural School to offer specialized education in genetic and breeding to students in multi-disciplines. My interest is mainly on plant breeding, especially wheat breeding and genetics study.

My research will be focus on identification of a gene for wheat resistance to Fusarium head blight, an important disease in wheat in both US and China. I will use my knowledge on biotechnology and genomics and bioinformatics tools to isolate the gene and transfer it to US wheat to make resistant wheat that can help farmers to increase wheat yield. Also I will develop DNA marker for different disease resistance genes for application in wheat breeding. The research data will be published in high tier journals.

After I get my Ph.D. degree in Genetics program, I will return to China and hope to become a wheat geneticist in China Agricultural University (CAU). I believe it will provide me an ideal environment for scientific research, and in there I can make full use of what I will have learned in my Ph.D. study to engineer crop varieties with high yield potential.

Zachary James Winn
University of Arkansas
MS candidate

Zachary James Winn is an Arkansas native from Springdale. After receiving his Bachelors of Arts Degree in Biology and Music from the University of Arkansas, Zachary returned to the U of A for his Masters in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences. Having concern for the food security of future generations, Zachary chose his degree path to become a wheat breeder; through this he wishes to increase agricultural productivity and insure the sustainability of the human population. Zachary plans on pursuing higher education and ultimately continuing research in yield increasing genes.