Features


Edward Buckler, Ph.D., Research Geneticist, USDA-ARS
Dr. Buckler is a Research Geneticist with the USDA-ARS and an Adjunct Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University. He began his career studying molecular evolution and archaeology, which got him interested in using natural diversity to improve crops and increase sustainability. Dr. Buckler developed association mapping approaches and germplasm to pinpoint genes and find natural variation controlling many maize traits. His group has also developed a wide range of big data, bioinformatic, and molecular tools that have been used to characterize and tap diversity in over 2,000 species. Currently, his group is developing approaches to use multiple sources of biological knowledge to design sustainable energy efficient crops that are adapted to numerous environments. Dr. Buckler has numerous leadership positions within the crop and genetics communities and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.


Clare Casteel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of California-Davis
The primary research goal of the Casteel lab is to identify the functions of microbes in plant-insect interactions and elucidate the key molecular mechanisms responsible for these relationships.  Current focus of the lab is on the molecular genetics of plant signaling and defense in response to insect vectors and the pathogens they transmit. We use a combination of molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and biochemistry together with field and laboratory trials to elucidate molecular mechanisms underlying ecologically important relationships. We are currently using Arabidopsis and tomato to (1) determine the impact of individual viral proteins on plant-aphid interactions; (2) investigate host targets of viral proteins responsible for producing the host plant phenotype and extended phenotype in the insect vector; (3) decipher the early signaling events and the mechanisms of plant resistance that occur during pathogen transmission by insect herbivores; and (4) establish how the elements of global change will affect the functions of microbes in plant-insect interactions. Dr. Casteel received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Missouri, Columbia (2003) and her Ph.D. in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (2010).


Devin Coleman-Derr, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, Plant Gene Expression Center, and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, UC Berkeley / USDA ARS, Albany, CA
Dr. Coleman-Derr’s lab investigates the effects of drought and other abiotic stresses on the microbiomes associated with Sorghum bicolor and other grass species. Recent studies demonstrated that microbial symbionts of crop plants are capable of enhancing the abiotic stress tolerance of their host. However, only a tiny fraction of plant microbiomes have been uncovered and evaluated. Thus, research and new tools are needed to develop a better understanding of the interrelationship between crop plant abiotic stress tolerance and crop plant microbiomes. Dr. Coleman-Derr is also interested in understanding the role of plant growth promoting microbes (PGPM) in improving abiotic stress response in their plant hosts. Using a variety of culture and genomics-based approaches, they are working to uncover the host machinery manipulated by several PGPM species which, in turn, may serve as potential targets for direct crop improvement through conventional breeding practices. Additionally, the lab works on developing statistical methods and computational tools to investigate plant-associated microbiomes and stress response. These tools will be used to enable cross-species and cross-environment comparative analyses and a more holistic understanding of the plant and its microbial community. Dr. Coleman-Derr received his B.A. in Natural Sciences at New College of Florida in 1998 and his Ph.D. in Plant Biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 2012.


Sean Cutler, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Cell Biology, Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, Graduate Advisor for Recruitment, Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, University of California-Riverside
Research in the Cutler lab is focused on two complementary interests: the identification of new factors that regulate plant cell expansion and the dissection of natural variation using small molecules. Both of these goals have been pursued in parallel using LATCA, a collection of small molecule cell expansion inhibitors that the lab identified in several chemical genetic screens conducted over the past few years.


Gautam Dantas, Ph.D., Professor, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, Department of Pathology & Immunology, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Molecular Microbiology, The Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology
The Dantas Lab works at the interface of microbial genomics, synthetic biology, systems biology, and computational biology. Their current research focuses on understanding the evolution and exchange of antibiotic resistance amongst diverse microbial communities, on systems-guided design of novel antibiotic and probiotic therapies, and on engineering microbial catalysts to produce value chemicals such as biofuels. Dr. Dantas is a recipient of the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, the Harvard University Certificate for Distinction in Teaching, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation Breakthrough Award, the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Foundation Scholar Award, the Academy of Science – St Louis Innovator Award, and the Washington University Distinguished Educator Award. Dr. Dantas received his B.A. (1996-2000) in biology and chemistry from Macalester College, his PhD (2000-2005) in biochemistry from the University of Washington under the guidance of Dr. David Baker, and post-doctoral training (2006-2009) in microbial genomics from Harvard Medical School under the guidance of Dr. George Church.


Evan DeLucia, Ph.D., G. William Arends Professor of Biology and Baum Family Director, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
Dr. DeLucia’s research and teaching interests are in physiological plant ecology, ecosystem ecology, and global change ecology which include responses of forests and agro-ecosystems to climate change; carbon and nitrogen cycling; photosynthesis and carbon allocation of woody plants; water relations and plant architecture; physiological and genomic interactions between plants and insects; application of genomic tools to ecological research; land use change and biogeochemistry; and ecological consequences of biofuel production. How the use and management of land affects the climate system and the responses of forest and agro-ecosystems to elevated carbon dioxide and other elements of global change are at the center of Dr. DeLucia’s research interests. Using ecological, physiological, and genomic approaches, Dr. DeLucia seeks to understand how global change affects the carbon cycle and the trophic dynamics between plants and insects. Dr. DeLucia received his B.A. at Bennington College in 1979 and his Ph.D. in 1986 in plant ecology and physiology at Duke University. 


John Dueber, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Bioengineering, Department of Bioengineering, College of Engineering, University of California-Berkeley
The Dueber Lab develops strategies for introducing designable, modular control over living cells. We are particularly interested in generating technologies for improving engineered metabolic pathway efficiency and directing flux. Our projects have applications in the development of biofuels, specialty chemicals, and environmentally friendly processes. Dr. Dueber received a B.S. from the University of Delaware in 1999.  In 2005, he received his Ph.D. from the University of California-San Francisco. 



Carrie Eckert, Ph.D.,
Director—Center for Biodesign Works—Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder. Senior Research Associate—Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder.  Senior Scientist—genetic engineering of diverse microbes, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Biosciences Center 
NREL is a national lab of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.
Dr. Eckert specializes in the development and adaptation of genetic tools in non-model microbes for metabolic engineering. She is the Rapid Genetics team lead for the Center for Bioenergy Innovation (https://cbi.ornl.gov/) and a number of other collaborative projects with the Gill group in addition to her work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dr. Eckert holds a B.S. in Biology at the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, University of Colorado, Anschutz Campus.


Emily Heaton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Biomass Crop Production , Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University
The Biomass Crop Production and Physiology lab led by Dr. Heaton aims to understand the growth and productivity of dedicated biomass crops in the Midwest and how they can be managed to provide multiple ecosystem services. We specifically seek to elucidate the reciprocal impact of environment on key physiological processes like photosynthesis, biomass accumulation, water use and nutrient cycling. Typical activities focus on the plant and field plot scale, with inferences at the watershed and ecosystem scale. Through collaboration, we use our data to explain observed phenomena and predict future behavior, with an ultimate goal of providing useful information to policy and the public about the role biomass crops can and should play in the Midwestern USA. Dr. Heaton received a B.S., Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001 and a Ph.D., Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006.


Hailing Jin, Ph.D., Professor & Cy Mouradick Endowed Chair, Plant Pathology and Microbiology, University of California, Riverside, CA

Dr. Jin's lab studies the molecular mechanisms of plant immunity and pathogen virulence, with an overall goal to develop effective and environmentally friendly strategies to control plant diseases and to ensure sufficient food production. Their research projects include small RNAs and cross-kingdom RNAi in plant - pathogen interactions; regulatory mechanisms of RNAi machinery in plant - pathogen interactions; and epigenetic regulation of plant immune responses. Dr. Jin received her Ph.D. in 1996 from Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology.


Cheryl Kerfeld, Ph.D.,
  Hannah Distinguished Professor of Structural Bioengineering, MSU-DOE Plant Research Lab and the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Michigan State University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The Kerfeld group combines methods in bioinformatics, cellular imaging, synthetic and structural biology for understanding the fundamental principles of and the engineering bacterial metabolism.  Their research is focused on bacterial microcompartments, carbon fixation, and cyanobacterial photoprotection mechanisms.
Dr. Kerfeld received her B.A. in Biology and English from the University of Minnesota, an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota via the Regents’ Scholars Program, and a Ph.D .in Biology from UCLA. She also holds appointments in the Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology and the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Divisions of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute.

Linda Kinkel, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota
Our research focuses on the ecology and evolutionary biology of soil and endophytic microbiomes in relation to plant health and productivity. Of particular interest to us are the roles of microbial species interactions, including antibiotic inhibition and resource competition, in determining the composition and functional capacities of plant-associated microbiomes. Antibiotics are hypothesized to confer a selective advantage to the producer when competition is important to microbial fitness and enrichment of antibiotic-producing phenotypes can suppress plant diseases and enhance plant fitness.  Using experimental and modeling approaches coupled with molecular and culture-based analyses, our work seeks to disentangle the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of microbial species interactions within complex microbial communities. These results provide a foundation for the development of novel approaches for managing plant microbiomes for enhanced productivity.

J. Clark Lagarias, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, Chair of BMCDB Graduate Group, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California-Davis
Modern agriculture relies on crops that have been carefully tailored for environments by selective breeding. Phytochromes are attractive targets for crop improvement efforts aimed to enhance seed germination, seedling establishment, plant architecture and flowering time. The overall goal of this research is to understand the structural basis of both photosensory and regulatory functions of phytochromes from cyanobacteria to plants. Such basic knowledge will be leveraged for development of new strategies to alter the light responsiveness of agriculturally significant plant species. For example, our discovery of dominant photochemically uncoupled phytochrome alleles holds significant promise for crop improvement. Such plant-derived reagents may overcome environmental concerns while addressing the pressing need for increased food production on a finite amount of arable land needed to nourish the growing world population. Dr. Lagarias earned his B.A./B.A. in Chemistry/Botany in 1975 and his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1979, both from University of California-Berkeley. 


Alexander Leydon, Ph.D.,
Postdoctoral Associate, Nemhauser Lab, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
The Nemhauser lab has been studying plant hormones, signaling networks, and development for a long time. Dr. Leydon joined the lab February 2017 after finishing his Ph.D. on the transcriptional network that controls pollen tube differentiation and sperm release with Dr. Mark Johnson at Brown University. Dr. Leydon is interested in using synthetic biology to understand plant development, cellular differentiation, and hormone signaling.


Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, Ph.D.,
Distinguished McKnight Professor, Kirkwood Chair of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, University of Minnesota
Research efforts in the Schmidt-Dannert group focuses on harnessing the biosynthetic potential of higher fungi and engineering biological systems for more efficient multi-enzyme biocatalysis and biosynthesis using synthetic biology approaches. Her lab was among the first to sequence and mine the genomes of Basidiomycota fungi for their unique terpenoid natural products biosynthetic pathways by characterizing their enzymes. More recently, the Schmidt-Dannert lab became intrigued by the spatial organization of biological systems at the subcellular and molecular level. They are now investigating and designing different systems with the goal of creating robust self-assembling biocatalytic systems and materials that eventually can be fabricated cost-effectively at a scale suitable for real-world applications. Dr. Schmidt-Dannert completed her B.S. and M.S. in Biochemistry and Genetics at the TU Braunschweig and in 1994 performed her Ph.D. research at the National Research Center for Biotechnology (GBF, now Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research) in Braunschweig.


Heike Sederoff, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology; Chair, Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster; University Faculty Scholar, North Carolina State University
My research group focuses on the regulation and engineering of primary carbon assimilation, allocation and translocation in oil seed crops (Brassicaceae) and marine microalgae. We have re-designed plant metabolic pathways using synthetic circuits. These new pathways are composed of bacterial or archaeal enzymes to increase CO2 fixation rates and improve carbon allocation. The modifications have resulted in increased biomass and seed production. An important aspect in our research is to understand how these modifications affect other metabolic pathways and nutrient use efficiency. We are also developing new technologies to engineer the plastid genome. This will enable research into the regulation of plastid-encoded genes in carbon assimilation and regulatory networks.


Gerald Tuskan, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Center for Bioenergy Innovation, ORNL Corporate Fellow, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oak Ridge, TN
The Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI), led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is custom engineering feedstock plants and microbes for a sustainable bioeconomy. CBI builds on a robust legacy of scientific understanding to provide breakthroughs for a new generation of cost-effective, environmentally positive, and industrially relevant bioproducts and biofuels. The vision for CBI is to accelerate domestication of bioenergy-relevant plants and microbes to enable high-impact, value-added coproduct development at multiple points in the bioenergy supply chain. CBI is developing new biomass feedstocks, engineering microbes to produce fuels from biomass, and creating microorganisms to convert lignin into highly valued products. Dr. Tuskan received his B.S. in Forest Management in 1978 from Northern Arizona University and his Ph.D. in Genetics in 1984 from Texas A&M University.


Jianping Yu, Ph.D.,  Scientist, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Biosciences Center
Dr. Yu’s research interests include production of fuels and chemicals from cyanobacteria; regulation of photosynthesis and carbon metabolism; and ethylene-forming enzyme. Areas of expertise include cyanobacterial genetics; photosynthesis and carbon metabolism; systems biology; synthetic biology; ethylene and hydrogen production; and metabolic engineering. Dr. Yu received his B.S. in Biology from Sichuan University in 1985 and his Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Michigan State University in 1996. NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.



Huimin Zhao, Ph.D.,
Steven L. Miller Chair, Departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Bioengineering, Biosystems Design (BSD) Theme Leader, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Zhao lab develops and applies synthetic biology approaches, particularly directed evolution, to engineer functionally improved or novel proteins, pathways, and genomes. In parallel, the Zhao lab investigates the protein structure-function relationship, cell metabolism, and mechanisms of gene expression and regulation. Our current research program centers on four distinct yet related areas, including foundational tool development, drug discovery and development, industrial biotechnology, and mammalian synthetic biology. Dr. Zhao received his B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1992 and his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 under the guidance of Dr. Frances Arnold.


Matias Zurbriggen, Ph.D., Head of Institute, Synthetische Biologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany
The Zurbriggen lab’s research perspective is to apply synthetic biology approaches to control and understand eukaryotic signaling processes and regulatory networks in a quantitative and spatiotemporally resolved manner. To this aim, they follow an interdisciplinary approach at the interface of engineering and life sciences, focusing on synthetic signaling networks and metabolic pathways, biological sensors, and chemical and optical switches.














For questions, please contact Kathleen Mackey by email at kmackey@danforthcenter.org or by phone at 314-587-1203.