Chris Topp 

Chris Topp, Ph.D.

Assistant Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Christopher Topp is an Assistant Investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (since 2013), a non-profit plant science research institute. For more than fifteen years, Dr. Topp has studied fundamental processes, both small and large, that drive the growth and productivity of crop plants. Originally trained as a centromere biologist at the University of Georgia (Ph.D.; 2003-2009), he studied the biochemistry and evolution of cell division machinery in maize and oats. As a USDA-NIFA postdoctoral scholar (2011-2013) at Duke University (2009-2013), he led a team of engineers, computer scientists, and biologists in the development of a 3D root imaging and analysis pipeline, which was used to map regions of the rice genome controlling root growth. His current research focuses on subterranean phenotyping in multiple crop species, as well as identifying the environmental and genetic factors that condition their growth. By integrating these efforts with natural variation and modern genomics, he aims to contribute to the development of new crop varieties with root systems capable of drought tolerance and efficient nutrient uptake. His team at the Danforth Center continues to develop technologies and infrastructure that enable the analysis of the 'hidden half' of plants.

James Schnable 

James Schnable, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James Schnable has spent the last twelve years studying how plants perceive and respond to their environments. His research group at UNL develops new methods to share information across groups of crop species and their wild relatives to identify genetic changes that alter the ability of plants to tolerate stress or use resources more efficiently. Projects in his lab are enabled by close collaborations with computer scientists, statisticians, engineers, and applied plant breeders to develop new quantitative genetic and high throughput phenotyping techniques to analyze novel types of data, including high throughput RGB and hyperspectral imagery collected from plants on a daily basis and parallel GWAS and selection studies conducted in related grain crop species. Schnable is currently an assistant professor, affiliated with both the Center for Plant Science Innovation and the Quantitative Life Sciences Initiative.

Michael Gore 

Michael Gore, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University

Michael Gore is an associate professor of molecular breeding and genetics for nutritional quality and international professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, where he is a member of the faculty in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section in the School of Integrative Plant Science. Mike is also a faculty fellow in the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and Cornell Institute for Food Systems. He holds a B.S. and M.S. from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Before joining the faculty at Cornell, he worked as a Research Geneticist with the USDA-ARS at the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona. His expertise is in the field of quantitative genetics and genomics, especially the genetic dissection of metabolic seed traits related to nutritional quality. He also develops and applies field-based, high-throughput phenotyping tools for plant breeding and genetics research. In addition to his course teaching responsibilities at Cornell, Mike teaches two short courses at the Tucson Plant Breeding Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and throughout the world, serves on the editorial boards of Crop Science, Theoretical and Applied Genetics, The Plant Phenome Journal, and Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, and served as the Chair for the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (SCC080) - the USDA-sponsored advisory group of representatives from land grant universities. His career accomplishments in plant breeding and genetics earned him the National Association of Plant Breeders Early Career Scientist Award in 2012, the American Society of Plant Biologists Early Career Award in 2013, and the Maize Genetics Executive Committee Early Career Excellence in Maize Genetics Award in 2016.

Jeff Schussler 

Jeff Schussler, Ph.D.

Senior Research Manager, DuPont Pioneer

 Jeff Schussler has been working on improving drought tolerance in maize since joining DuPont Pioneer in 2001. He specializes in plant physiology and trait dissection studies with the goal of improving yield and yield stability in maize. Jeff is a member of the Pioneer Drought Team and has led efforts to establish managed stress environment research in California, Texas, Kansas and Chile. He has also helped develop the DuPont Pioneer precision phenotyping network for trait evaluation in North America. Currently, Jeff is stationed at the Marion, IA research center, where he coordinates field evaluations of yield and yield stability maize products in North America. He contributed to the development of Optimum® AQUAmax™ drought tolerant hybrids, first released in 2011. Prior to his time with DuPont Pioneer, Jeff worked in herbicide discovery for ISK-Japan at its North American research center in Cleveland, Ohio. Jeff also served as a Research Biologist working on maize yield enhancement with Monsanto in St. Louis. Jeff obtained his undergraduate degree in agronomy from Central Missouri State and his M.S. and Ph.D. in plant physiology from the University of Minnesota. He also spent time as a post-doctoral research associate studying drought stress in maize with the USDA-ARS in Morris, Minn. He is a member of the Crop Science Society of America and the American Society of Plant Biologists.​​

Gordon McNickle 

Gordon McNickle, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor​, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University

Gord​on McNickle’s group investigates interactions among plants and other organisms as an evolutionary game. They are interested in strategies used by plants to acquire resources and how resource acquisition shapes species coexistence and community structure. A part of research in the lab focus on belowground interactions, competition for nutrients and interactions between pathogenic or non-pathogenic organism (e.g. mycorrhiza). This includes investigating tools for phenotyping plant roots, and mechanisms of self/non-self recognition and how competition with neighbors influences root foraging strategies and dry matter allocation to root and shoot. Research in the lab also involves doing some modeling on how plant games shape coexistence and community structure and how competition alter growth strategies if the plant is attacked by herbivores.

Mina Rostamza, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher​, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University

Mina Rostamza is a postdoc in Dr. Gordon McNickle’s lab. She has been working on how soybeans alter patterns of root placement in response to nutrient heterogeneity and neighbors. She is primarily interested in genotypes that preferentially proliferate more roots inside the nutrient patch while reduce root growth outside of the nutrient patch. Mina is also doing some modeling to explore the effects of different harvest and cost functions on the outcome of plant allocation models. Mina received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Tehran, Iran. ​


Michael Gore 

Ben Weers, M.S.

Research Scientist, DuPont Pioneer

Ben Weers has been working on improving yield in maize since joining Pioneer in 2000.  He specializes in the design, execution, analysis and interpretation of field experiments within the Integrated Product Characterization and Development group in DuPont Pioneer.  Specifically, Ben has lead the field evaluation efforts for the Agronomic Traits department and facilitated the identification of multiple novel sources of variation for maize yield increases under abiotic stresses as well as optimal yield conditions. Ben obtained his undergraduate degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University.   After his undergraduate, he obtained his M.S. degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics at the University of Minnesota where he studied genotype by environment interactions for Fusarium Head Blight in barley. 

Michael Gore 

Melba Crawford, Ph.D.

Professor, Departments of Agronomy, Civil Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University 

 ​​Melba Crawford is the Purdue Professor of Excellence in Earth Observation, the Director of the Laboratory for Applications of Remote Sensing, and the Associate Dean of Engineering for Research. She has faculty appointments in Agronomy, Civil Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her research interests focus on development of advanced methods for remote sensing data analysis, and applications of these methods to precision agriculture and land cover mapping and monitoring.  She is currently engaged in a Purdue College of Agriculture/College of Engineering initiative to utilize advanced sensing technologies on wheeled and UAV platforms for phenotyping.  Dr. Crawford is a Fellow of the IEEE and immediate past President of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society.  She was a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin from 1980-2005, where she founded an interdisciplinary research and applications development program in remote sensing.  In 2004-2005, Dr. Crawford was a Jefferson Senior Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State.  She also served as a member of the NASA Earth System Science and Applications Advisory Committee and was a member of the NASA EO-1 Science Validation team, which received a NASA Outstanding Service Award. ​​​

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