May 27, 2022

Meet our students

Adam William Schoen
University of Maryland

Born in Maryland, I have always had a great passion for agriculture that is present in this great state! Starting as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Nidhi Rawat’s Crop Pathology Lab, I found a passion for small grain genetics while working with wild wheat relative Aegilops tauschii. From that point, I had the great opportunity to begin working with Dr. Vijay Tiwari, reestablishing UMD’s small grain breeding and genetics program. Under his guidance and mentorship I have been able to have experience all the way from molecular genetics to field experimental variety trials. Currently, I am the assistant barley breeder, focusing on improving barley varieties for both yield and disease resistance traits through traditional and modern breeding methods. Additionally, in wheat, I am establishing a genomic selection pipeline in order to improve soft red winter wheat varieties for the Mid-Atlantic region. My hope is to one day run my own small grain breeding program, hopefully in the Mid-Atlantic region in order to continue collaborations with UMD as well as the breeders in this region.


Andrew Herr
Washington State University
Ph.D. student

 

I grew up in rural Indiana on a small sheep farm before attending Iowa State University (ISU), where I earned a B.A. in Agronomy focused on plant breeding and biotechnology. While at ISU, I worked under Dr. Jainming Yu in his maize breeding program. I conducted a high-throughput phenotyping project on analyzing root traits across heterotic groups using RGB cameras to extract root architecture data. Experience in high-throughput imaging made for a smooth transition to Washington State University, where I work in Dr. Arron Carter’s winter wheat breeding program. My research focuses on using UAVs and multispectral imaging to collect phenotypic trait data of the breeding population for selection and line advancement through genomic selection and machine learning strategies. I enjoy hiking, hunting, cooking, and serving at my local church in my free time.


Anmol Kajla
University of Maryland
Ph.D. student

I am from northern region of India, Punjab, which is the agricultural hub of the country and therefore my upbringing around fields aroused my initial predilection for agriculture. I did my bachelor’s from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana majoring in Plant breeding, genetics, and biotechnology. Then, for my masters, I moved to Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA. I have worked on various physiological aspects of turfgrass and their relation to the genotype during my master’s program and have learnt different behaviors of plants with respect to its changing environment. During my research, I developed a profound fascination in studying about the genetics of the crop and their physiological response towards the environment. Currently, I am pursuing my Ph.D. at University of Maryland in Dr. Vijay Tiwari’s small grain crop breeding and genetics lab. My research project focuses on fine mapping of a QTL for increased spikelet number per spike on chromosome 2D in soft red winter wheat. In addition, I am also working on developing TILLING population of a local barley cultivar, ‘Nomini’. After my Ph.D. I am hoping to work as a researcher and enter either the breeding industry or a land-grant university.


Dalton Jones
Utah State University
M.S. student

My name is Dalton Jones, and I’m working on my master’s degree at Utah State University. I grew up near Ogden, Utah, and obtained my bachelor’s degree in Botany from Weber State University. During my undergraduate degree, I worked on research involving minimizing the use of pesticides through plants’ natural relationships with their environment. I was also introduced to the complexities of genetics. Those complexities led me to pursue plant breeding as a career path. Now, I’m excited to be working under Dr. Margaret Krause on a project using high-throughput phenotyping to facilitate the early selection of lines in breeding programs.


Daniela Miller
North Carolina State University
Ph.D. student

My name is Daniela Miller and I am pursuing a PhD at North Carolina State University under Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira. I am originally from Maryland, where I made my first wheat cross in an undergraduate course, and have been fascinated by breeding and genomics ever since. I am working on two PhD projects: one is characterizing genomic regions controlling glaucousness in spikes and flag leaves of wheat, using GWAS, QTL mapping, and RNAseq; the other project is to build a reference-quality genome assembly for soft red winter wheat cultivar ‘AGS2000.’ I am interested in the application of long-read sequencing technology to accelerate positional cloning and identification of large structural variation. I look forward to conspire with the other great students in the WheatCAP program. After graduation, I hope to continue a research career in genomics or computational biology.


Dwight Davidson
Kansas State University
M.S. student

My name is Dwight Davidson, I grew up on a dairy farm near the small town of Hope Kansas. I received my undergraduate degree in Life Science at Kansas State University. I competed in track and field as a javelin thrower while doing my undergrad. Now I am a research assistant and graduate student at Kansas State University pursuing a Master’s in Agronomy with Eduard Akhunov and Allan Fritz. I am a certified UAS pilot collecting RGB, NDVI, thermal, and hyperspectral data. We use the RGB data for canopy surface modeling, crop height, biomass estimation, chlorophyll, pigment content, and determining levels of photosynthesis. NDVI is used to determine plant status/health. Thermal imaging to detect water stress. Hyperspectral imaging can theoretically be used for any indices requiring wavelengths between 400nm-1,000nm but we are focusing more on water content correlation with the reflectance of the leaf at ~900nm.


Ellie Taagen
Cornell University
PhD in Plant Breeding

 

My name is Ellie (Ella) 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 Dr. Steve Jones of 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 at Cornell University and entering a career with opportunities to engage a range of stakeholders in agricultural production and food security.

Topics in plant breeding that I am particularly curious about studying are traits affecting yield and end-user preferences, and I continually find myself drawn to research with an international focus.  I am passionate about aligning breeding goals with supply chain stakeholder’s values and facilitating access and adoption of improved varieties and enabling biotechnologies.  The Wheat CAP presents an exciting opportunity to contribute to the further characterization and deployment of QTL for grain yield components in bread wheat.  My research is focused on three QTL associated with grain weight and morphology on chromosomes 5A and 5B.  Currently I am working with the wheat reference population synthetic W7984 x Opata M85.


Jennifer Tapia
Oklahoma State University

 

I am a graduate student in Dr. Liuling Yan’s lab in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater. I am from Ecuador, a country that is known for its vast biodiversity and natural resources, which sparked my interest in biology and plant science. Since I was in high school, I have known what I wanted for my future. I pursued a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at The Armed Forces University – ESPE where I spent 6 years learning about molecular biology, genetics, and plant physiology. To gain more practical and basic experience in the plant sciences, I did a series of internships with two of these being in Ecuador and two from Oklahoma State University. These last two internships not only provided valuable knowledge in plant diseases, molecular techniques, and wheat production in Oklahoma, but also increased my desire to pursue a graduate degree in an area related to the overall agronomic practice of producing crops. I returned to OSU in fall, 2021, and currently, I am trying to decipher the molecular mechanisms of genes underlying agronomically important traits in wheat using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system. 


Jhon Concepcion
Michigan State University
Ph.D. student

I am Jonathan, a PhD student in Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology at Michigan State University. I have a B.S. in Biology from Central Luzon State University. Previously, I served as a researcher at Philippine Rice Research Institute and Louisiana State University, where I’ve been involved in breeding line development, marker-assisted selection, phenotypic evaluations, and field performance trials.I am working with Dr. Eric Olson on Fusarium Head Blight Resistance. Specifically, I am working on high-throughput on-field phenotyping for FHB resistance and develop selection indices for breeding value prediction for FHB resistance based on hyperspectral imaging data. In addition, we are working on detecting allele frequency shifts and selection signatures associated with FHB resistance and Deoxynivalenol levels. The over-all goal of this project is to enhance phenotyping accuracy and broaden breeding genomics for Fusarium head blight resistance towards accelerating genetic gain in wheat. Growing up in family and community of farmers in a rural community, I’ve seen the struggle farmers must go through to increase their production and profit. With the knowledge, training, skills, and wisdom I will get from this program and project I am currently on, I am hoping to someday contribute to the plant breeding community and help our farmers.


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.


Katherine Lauren Delaney Running
North Dakota State University
PhD in Genomics and Bioinformatics

I grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but spent a lot of time on my aunt and uncle’s grain and cattle farm in Manitoba. Riding along in the combine and talking about wheat pathogens with my uncle was pivotal to my choice to study wheat genetics in my PhD. As an undergrad, I worked in Dr. Naden Krogan’s lab at American University in Washington, D.C. studying the transcriptional regulation of floral development in Arabidopsis. I now am working in Dr. Justin Faris’s lab on the molecular mapping and cloning of necrotrophic pathogen susceptibility genes in wheat. Additionally, I am conducting a yield component and seed morphology association study in the Global Durum Panel. Science education and outreach are important to me, so I plan plant science themed education activities for K-12 students each semester. I would like to be a researcher at a university or research institution.


Kyle Parker
Texas A&M University
Ph.D. Candidate

I was born and raised in San Diego, California. My love of plants came from wanting to work outside. I Initially on a whim applied to UC Davis for Plant Sciences and immediately fell in love. Originally with a focus on horticulture, I got the opportunity to work in a tomato genetics lab on campus where I got to see plant breeding for the first time. After graduation from my undergraduate program, I worked for a season at HM Clause for a hot pepper breeding program. I got firsthand experience working in private industry and enjoyed the fast pace international environment where everyone was valued and contributed. After spending 6 months living out of a backpack abroad in the Pacific and South America, I knew it was time to return to the fields to further my education. I was looking to broaden my horizons from vegetable crops into agronomic crops and was luckily enough to be accepted into the wheat program at Texas A&M. My proposed work here will look at genomic selection/prediction across years as well as developing doubled haploid wheat plants with a focus on improving biotic stress resistances as well as yield and end use quality. After my PhD is completed, I hope to work as a plant breeder either internationally or domestically bettering crop plants for the changing world. There is something about knowing your work will be someone’s food one day that makes me want to do it forever.


Kylie Scott
West Texas A&M University
M.S. student

 

Kylie Scott is a master’s student studying Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU). She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in the same area of study at WTAMU in May 2021 as an Attebury Honors Scholar. Kylie is currently working with wheat breeder Dr. Jackie Rudd and geneticist Dr. Shuyu Liu at the Texas A&M Agrilife Wheat Improvement Center as a part of her thesis research. She holds a Graduate Assistantship under her adviser, Dr. Brock Blaser, where her responsibilities encompass teaching freshman plant science laboratories and assisting Dr. Blaser in department-related projects.


Lucas Berger Munaro
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ph.D. candidate

 

My name is Lucas, I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under Dr. Jessica Rutkoski. My research focuses on developing more efficient breeding methods for winter wheat profitability in a wheat-soybean double-crop system. I am originally from southern Brazil, I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy from the Federal University of Technology of Parana, Brazil. I worked briefly as a soybean breeder for Nidera Seeds Ltda before taking a position as an agronomist for Coamo Agroindustrial Cooperativa, Brazil’s largest agricultural cooperative. In this position, I provided technical assistance and advice to farmers on various aspects of crop production. I later began a Master’s of Science degree in Agronomy at São Paulo State University, Brazil, focusing on genetics and plant breeding. During my Master’s I worked as Assistant Scientist at Kansas State University under Dr. Romulo Lollato where I developed my Master`s research evaluating genotype x environment x management patterns in winter wheat across the U.S. Southern Great Plains using 19 years of variety testing data. After getting my Master`s I continued working with Dr. Romulo Lollato until I started my Ph.D at the University of Illinois.


Max Fraser
University of Minnesota
Ph.D. 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.


Meng Su
University of Idaho
PhD Candidate

Hi, I’m Meng Su. I come from Shaanxi, China. I touched wheat breeding when I did my undergraduate project and also I did research about wheat quality in my Master study in China. It’s really interesting to do something about genetics and breeding, especially on wheat, because it has large genome and lots of mutants. In America, I continue doing wheat breeding research. Now, my project is QTL analysis on 5A which controls the spikelet number of wheat. It’s one of important traits for yield.  After completing my graduate study, I want to be a researcher and to do research on genetics and molecular biology.


Mik Hammers
Colorado State University
MS Student

My name is Mik Hammers and I am pursuing my graduate degrees in plant breeding at Colorado State University. I am from Arkansas and received my undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas. My time volunteering at the university food pantry inspired me to focus my career around food security and agriculture, and I believe that using crop improvement as a tool to help create more sustainable agricultural systems is an important step to take. My current research focuses on evaluating wheat spike characteristics using an image based approach, and how to use machine learning to increase the efficiency of these methods. I am also looking for marker trait associations for these spike characteristics and determining they predictability using genomic selection. For my PhD I will keep up with my python and genomic selection skills I have learning in my MS, but hope to apply them to new projects more geared towards environmental aspects such as heat tolerance or pest resistance.


  Nico Lara
North Carolina State University
PhD candidate

My name is Nico Lara, and I’m from Wooster, Ohio. I did my undergraduate at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; while there, I became fascinated by genetics and genomics, and pursued many opportunities to learn about more about the field. My experiences led me to the field of plant breeding. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. under Dr. Gina Brown-Guedira at NC State University, focusing on regional adaptation in wheat, and developing new tools like a practical haplotype graph for soft red winter wheat to advance and support breeding efforts.

 


  Noah DeWitt
North Carolina State University
PhD 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.


Pabitra Joshi
University of Idaho
PhD candidate

My name is Pabitra Joshi and I am pursuing PhD in Plant science at University of Idaho under Dr. Jianli Chen. I am originally from Nepal. I finished my undergraduate degree from Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal. Because my major was Agriculture, I studied plant breeding, genetics, biotechnology, statistics, tissue culture and these subjects triggered my interest in plant breeding. I worked as an intern at the National Maize Research program in Chitwan and during that period I was introduced to practical breeding procedures for small grains. I also learned about the basic principles of plant breeding and the whole process of cultivar development from planning to final variety release. Perhaps most importantly, this experience taught me the value of teamwork in science. To take my interest to a new level, I applied for PhD at University of Idaho, Plant Science Department. Fortunately, I was accepted into the Universities graduate program and have the privilege of working in Dr. Jianli Chen’s Wheat Breeding lab. Since the world’s population is increasing, the demand for wheat is also growing and there is a need to develop new wheat cultivars which not only have higher yield but can also withstand adverse climatic conditions, diseases, and pests. My PhD project involves the use of high throughput genotypic and phenotypic data to estimate genomic selection prediction accuracy for grain yield and agronomic traits. My PhD project also involves the validation and fine mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for dwarf bunt and common bunt resistance.  Especially in organic wheat cultivation, the use of bunt resistant varieties is the best way to manage these diseases.  My future career goal is to enter the plant breeding industry and pursue a career in research and development in crop improvement.


Peter Schmuker
Washington State University
PhD candidate
Email: peter.schmuker@wsu.edu

Hello, I am a graduate student in the spring wheat breeding program at WSU under Dr. Pumphrey. I am originally from Illinois where I obtained my undergraduate degree in Biology from UIUC. As an undergraduate I worked in a lab studying drought tolerance in bioenergy sorghum. It was during my research and coursework that I became interested in how plant genetics could be directly applied to food security and sustainability. This led me to starting down the career path of a breeder. My work at WSU centers on characterizing genetic sources of Hessian Fly resistance and utilization of genomic selection technologies. After graduate school, I hope to work as a breeder or research geneticist.


Priscilla Glenn
University of California-Davis
PhD candidate

My name is Priscilla Glenn and I am a 5th year PhD candidate under the tutelage of Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky at UC Davis. During my dissertation, I have studied plant genetics with a focus on yield traits in wheat, while my classes have advanced my overarching understanding of agriculture and breeding. I have experience in experimental design, positional cloning, trait introgression, QTL discovery, data analysis, gene interactions, and grain quality. Throughout my PhD I have also attended workshops on a variety of topics including machine learning, seed production, and communicating with consumers as well as the Cornell Ag Hackathon in which my team was a finalist. In addition, this past summer I interned with the BASF hybrid wheat breeding program, which gave me insight into the innovative mindset and the collaborative nature of the industry. As a geneticist and agronomist, I aspire to uncover the connection between genetic variation, desirable phenotypic traits, and varying field environments, regardless of the crop. Throughout my dissertation, I have experienced the awe which comes after unraveling complex gene interactions in wheat, and the satisfaction from incorporating a novel gene into our elite yield varieties, knowing that our farmers will be able to utilize these genes to their benefit. I graduate in June 2022 and I am currently most interested in working in the agriculture industry back in my home state of Texas and exploring career paths which combine genetics, breeding/line selection, and/or field work.

Selena Lopez
Colorado State University
Ph.D. candidate

My name is Selena Lopez, and I’m from central Minnesota. I grew up surrounded by farms and gardens, so I’ve always had an interest in plants. I originally wanted to be an agronomist, but as I started my bachelor’s degree in plant science at the University of Minnesota, I learned more about the incredible world of plant breeding. I continued my education at Michigan State University for a Master’s degree in Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology. I’m currently pursuing a PhD at Colorado State University in Esten Mason’s lab. Generally, I am interested in heat and drought research in wheat and other grain crops. Specifically, I’m interested in incorporating genomic and high throughput phenotyping data with climate variables to improve prediction models.


Wardah Mustahsan
Kansas State University
Ph.D. candidate

My name is Wardah Mustahsan and I am in my last year of  my PhD in Agronomy at Kansas State University in Agronomy. I am originally from New Orleans, Louisiana and obtained my undergraduate degree in Biology from Xavier University. During my undergrad I worked on various research projects related to plant physiology, cellular biology, and bioinformatics. My undergraduate research projects paved the way for my interest in agricultural sciences (plant breeding and agronomy). I continued my education at Texas A&M University pursuing a master’s in Plant Breeding focusing on transcriptomics analysis on heat tolerance in contrasting rice varieties. My current PhD program focuses on characterizing recombinants and NILs  associated with a key 2DL-yield genomic region.  Further delimiting the region through fine-mapping will allow greater precision for cloning. Another project is analyzing the genetic architecture of yield and yield related traits, through QTL-related analysis, such as yield, flowering time, physiological maturity, and kernel characteristics. Other studies focus on QTL mapping of stripe rust in an Overley x Overland population. My future prospects would be to work in ag industry in breeder-related activities.


  Yuzhou Xu
Kansas State University
Ph.D. candidate

My name is Yuzhou Xu. I am a PhD student in genetics program at Kansas State University now. My current research is focused on identifying resistant genes of Fusarium head blight in a wheat mutant. FHB is an important disease for wheat in US. I will use my knowledge on biotechnology and functional genomics to isolate the gene and transfer it to US wheat to make resistant varieties that can help farmers to increase wheat yield. Moreover, I will develop DNA markers for different disease resistance genes for application in wheat breeding. WheatCAP program give me great support. I have developed two F5:6 RIL populations and map-based cloning is under way now.


Zhen Wang
Texas A&M University
Ph.D. candidate

Hello, I’m Zhen Wang, a new Ph.D student working with professor Shuyu Liu at Texas A&M University. Wheat is an important crop all over the world, it can be used for making many different foods. My hometown ShanXi province is famous for its noodle culture, and there is also an important wheat growing region in China, so that’s why I prefer wheat as my research theme. I started work in wheat field from my bachelor’s thesis, it’s about wheat low nitrogen tolerance experiment. And during my Master’s phase in China Agriculture University, I conducted wheat yield gene mapping, which is a new research direction for me. I spent a lot of time in the field and the lab, worked with other students in our group, and made some progress in the yield gene mapping, and I found the real pleasure in my research thesis.
Now I’m working in a mapping population derived by TAM112 and Duster, mainly for greenbug resistant gene mapping. It’s challenging for me to analyze so much data and study specialized courses at the same time, but I believe joining the WheatCap project will be helpful for me to deal with all these pressures, and I will also share my experience in wheat gene-mapping. After I get my Ph.D degree, I want to be a researcher, and learn more about wheat genes.