Faculty Research Profiles

Faculty Research Profiles are listed below grouped by discipline. You will learn what is the primary focus of each faculty's research program and are encouraged to contact them if you are interested in collaboration or graduate studies. Visit their faculty page for more details about their research, teaching, and publications.

Plant Biology | Plant Pathology | Weed Science

Research Emphasis: to understand and solve fundamental and applied problems in plant and fungal growth and development, and disease and weed management in crop production systems. Research programs cover a broad range, including virology, plant and fungal biochemistry, molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, physiology, genetic engineering of crop plants, plant-microbe interactions, disease management, aquatic biology, and integrated weed management.

Plant Biology

Plant Gamete Biology and Fertilization. Leonor Boavida is interested in both cell surface and intracellular signaling pathways mediating gamete interactions, fertilization, and zygotic activation in plants

Leonor Boavida headshot

 

Dr. Zhixiang Chen’s research interests are in two related areas of molecular plant stress responses. The first area concerns transcriptional regulation of plant responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. The second research area deals with protein quality control, trafficking and degradation pathways including autophagy and multivesicular bodies in plant stress responses.

Zhixiang Chen headshot

The Fields Research Group takes a multi-pronged approach to plant research and education. 

Dr. Jeneen Fields conducts research in plant science in the areas of breeding and pathology. Her research program focuses on plant health and resilience against pathogens and insects. Her work focuses on the development of resistant varieties and quality trait improvement in legumes and herbs that benefit human health. 

She is interested in how students learn in the area of STEM and techniques that strengthen learning, engagement, and retention. Her research in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning focuses on differentiated instruction and the impact of addressing multiple learning styles on student learning within the c structure of courses. 

She leads an annual Study Abroad experience to explore plant life and their uses within cultures.  Her current Study Abroad is to Peru where students travel the country, visit rainforests and indigenous fruit and vegetable production facilities to learn about agriculture in the country.

Jeneen Fields headshot

Dr. Iyer-Pascuzzi’s research investigates the mechanisms that plant roots use to perceive and respond to the environment. There are two primary areas of research in the lab. The first is focused on understanding the molecular basis of plant resistance to bacterial wilt, caused by Ralstonia solanacearum. Ralstonia is a devastating soil-borne pathogen that first infects root systems. Despite the devastation it causes, little is known regarding the networks that underlie resistance or susceptibility, and root responses to R. solanacearum are unclear. Using both tomato and Arabidopsis, we focus on understanding resistance responses at three levels of root development: root cell types, root developmental stages, and root architecture. Current questions include, what are the spatio-temporal dynamics of pathogen invasion in resistant and susceptible genotypes? How are different root cell types and developmental stages affected by bacterial wilt? What are the gene regulatory networks involved in the response to bacterial wilt within each cell type? We use a combination of cell biology, genetics, and genomics approaches to address these questions. The major goal of this research is to identify novel forms of resistance to bacterial wilt. Our second area of research is centered around the role of Nodule Inception-Like Proteins (NLPs) in root development. NLP proteins are a unique family of transcription factors found in a wide diversity of plant species. We are studying the molecular mechanisms through which these proteins mediate root development and stress responses in Arabidopsis. Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi headshot

There are two research foci of the Johal lab. The first is to explore mechanisms of disease and resistance in maize by employing real diseases, as well as a collection of mutants called disease lesion-mimic mutants. The second focus is to identify genes and genetic networks that regulate the architecture of the maize plant. A combination of genetic, genomic, molecular and physiological approaches is used for these explorations. In addition, the Johal lab is constantly in the hunt to improvise genetic tools needed to generate or detect agronomically important variation in diverse germplasms, both elite and natural. Gurmukh Johal headshot

The Kessler Lab studies the cell and molecular mechanisms that control pollination and seed yield in flowering plants. Sharon Kessler headshot

Dr. Lisch is interested in the regulation and evolution of plant transposable elements and the role that transposable elements have played in the evolution of plant gene regulation. Transposable elements, or transposons, are, by far, the most dynamic part of the eukaryotic genome, and the majority, often the vast majority, of plant genomes are composed of these genomic parasites. Although they are an important source of genetic novelty, transposons can also be a significant source of detrimental mutations. Because of this, plants (and indeed all eukaryotes) have evolved a sophisticated “immune system” whose function is to detect and epigenetically silence them. Dr. Lisch’s research centers on determining the means by which transposons are detected and then maintained in a silenced state and the effect that this process has had on the trajectory of plant evolution. Damon Lisch headshot

Scott McAdam focuses on the evolution of drought tolerance and response in plants, from stomatal behavior to xylem physiology and hormones Scott McAdam headshot

Research in the McNickle group investigates interactions among plants and other organisms as an evolutionary game. Research in the lab involves a mixture of mathematical theory to generate hypotheses, and empirical work to test those hypotheses, and ranges in scale from cells to ecosystems. Gordon McNickle headshot

Research in Mengiste lab focuses on molecular-genetics of fungal resistance in model and crop plants. Tesfaye Mengiste

The goal of the Mickelbart lab is to identify and characterize genetic determinants and traits that allow plants to acclimate to low-water environments. Michael Mickelbart headshot

The Oakley lab is broadly interested in the ecological and evolutionary genetics of plants. One main focus of our research is the genetic basis of local adaptation. Local genotypes are often found to grow, survive, and/or reproduce better than non-local genotypes, suggesting that adaptation to one environment is costly in other environments (fitness tradeoffs across environments). Despite much empirical study, little is known about the mechanisms and genetic basis of local adaptation. Using locally adapted populations of Arabidopsis thaliana from near the northern and southern edge of the native rage, we investigate the genetic basis of local adaptation, adaptive traits (e.g., freezing tolerance), and genetic tradeoffs (fitness tradeoffs attributable to individual loci). We have developed a variety of genetic stocks that we use in field and growth chamber experiments in concert with genetic and genomic approaches.

A second main focus of our research is the consequences of genetic drift for adaptation and population persistence. A number of factors common in natural populations (e.g., a history of population bottlenecks) can increase both the chance loss of beneficial mutations and the chance fixation of deleterious mutations. Heterosis, the increased fitness in crosses between populations relative to fitness within populations, is thought to be due in part to the masking of these fixed deleterious recessive alleles in the heterozygous state. We are investigating the geographic pattern and genetic basis of heterosis in natural populations of A. thaliana to study the balance between selection and genetic drift in nature.
Christopher Oakley headshot

Dr. Pruitt's research focuses on bacterial interactions with plants, with a particular focus on human pathogens that contaminate fresh produce and how that affects food safety. The goals of this research are to understand how pathogenic bacteria are introduced into the plant system and what bacterial, plant and environmental factors allow them to survive and proliferate. Robert Pruitt headshot

The Staiger lab uses state-of-the art imaging and quantitative cell biology approaches to investigate how a dynamic network of cytoskeletal filaments coordinates cell growth and response to phytopathogens. Christopher Staiger headshot

Dan Szymanski’s lab is trying to understand how protein complexes can function across wide spatial scales to control plant morphology. His research combines forward genetics, biochemistry, and quantitative live cell imaging. Recently, in collaborations with materials scientists and computational biologists, his team is learning how plant cells dynamically reorganize the cytoskeleton and the cell wall to program cell morphogenesis. Target traits for genetic improvement are cotton fiber quality and leaf anatomy. Another major project in the lab is the development and use of proteomic methods for systems level analyses of protein complex composition and dynamics. Dan Szymanski headshot

 

Dr. Yoon’s research focuses on unraveling the molecular mechanisms that control plant hormone ethylene function and its role in plant stress responses. Gyeong Mee Yoon headshot

We are looking for enthusiastic researchers to join the group. If you are interested in a postdoc / graduate student position in Dr. Zhou’s lab, please send your CV and a brief cover letter to Dr. Zhou at zhouyun@purdue.edu. We explore the cellular and molecular mechanisms in control of meristem development and stem cell homeostasis in Arabidopsis and in ferns, using both experimental and computational approaches. Yun Zhou headshot

Plant Pathology

The Aime Lab conducts research on the systematics, biodiversity, and evolution of Fungi focusing on: 1) the earliest diverging lineages of Basidiomycota (Pucciniomycotina, Ustilaginomycotina, and Wallemiomycetes); 2) rust fungi; 3) fungi in tropical ecosystems; and 4) fungal diseases of tropical tree crops. We apply a variety of tools and methods, from genomics to field studies in remote regions, to the study of these vastly underexplored Fungi. Dr. Aime is Director of the Purdue University Herbaria (Arthur Fungarium and Kriebel Herbarium). Catherine Aime headshot

Janna Beckerman's research seeks to provide practical disease management solutions for specialty crop growers in Indiana and the surrounding regions. Janna Beckerman headshot

Guohong Cai's lab uses tools from genomics, molecular genetics to greenhouse and field research to study soybean diseases with serious economic impact in Indiana and the North Central region. Current focus is on Phytophthora root rot, soybean sudden death syndrome and frogeye leaf spot. Guohong Cai headshot

Dr. Zhixiang Chen’s research interests are in two related areas of molecular plant stress responses. The first area concerns transcriptional regulation of plant responses to biotic and abiotic stresses. The second research area deals with protein quality control, trafficking and degradation pathways including autophagy and multivesicular bodies in plant stress responses. Zhixiang Chen headshot

Dr. Cruz’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the integration of fungal biology, ecology, and epidemiology for plant disease management. His specialties include plant pathology, crop protection, risk assessment, ecology, epidemiology, emerging diseases, and phenomics. Christian Cruz headshot

The Fields Research Group takes a multi-pronged approach to plant research and education. 

Dr. Fields conducts research in plant science in the areas of breeding and pathology. Her research program focuses on plant health and resilience against pathogens and insects. Her work focuses on the development of resistant varieties and quality trait improvement in legumes and herbs that benefit human health. 

She is interested in how students learn in the area of STEM and techniques that strengthen learning, engagement, and retention. Her research in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning focuses on differentiated instruction and the impact of addressing multiple learning styles on student learning within the c structure of courses. 

She leads an annual Study Abroad experience to explore plant life and their uses within cultures.  Her current Study Abroad is to Peru where students travel the country, visit rainforests and indigenous fruit and vegetable production facilities to learn about agriculture in the country.

Jeneen Fields headshot

Stephen Goodwin's research focuses on the genetics of host-pathogen interactions between the fungal wheat pathogen, Zymoseptoria tritici, and its host, to understand mechanisms of pathogenicity and resistance, respectively. Ancillary projects are on the genomics and population biology of fungal pathogens. Stephen Goodwin headshot

Dr. Iyer-Pascuzzi’s research investigates the mechanisms that plant roots use to perceive and respond to the environment. There are two primary areas of research in the lab. The first is focused on understanding the molecular basis of plant resistance to bacterial wilt, caused by Ralstonia solanacearum. Ralstonia is a devastating soil-borne pathogen that first infects root systems. Despite the devastation it causes, little is known regarding the networks that underlie resistance or susceptibility, and root responses to R. solanacearum are unclear. Using both tomato and Arabidopsis, we focus on understanding resistance responses at three levels of root development: root cell types, root developmental stages, and root architecture. Current questions include, what are the spatio-temporal dynamics of pathogen invasion in resistant and susceptible genotypes? How are different root cell types and developmental stages affected by bacterial wilt? What are the gene regulatory networks involved in the response to bacterial wilt within each cell type? We use a combination of cell biology, genetics, and genomics approaches to address these questions. The major goal of this research is to identify novel forms of resistance to bacterial wilt. Our second area of research is centered around the role of Nodule Inception-Like Proteins (NLPs) in root development. NLP proteins are a unique family of transcription factors found in a wide diversity of plant species. We are studying the molecular mechanisms through which these proteins mediate root development and stress responses in Arabidopsis. Anjali Iyer-Pascuzzi

There are two research foci of the Johal lab. The first is to explore mechanisms of disease and resistance in maize by employing real diseases, as well as a collection of mutants called disease lesion-mimic mutants. The second focus is to identify genes and genetic networks that regulate the architecture of the maize plant. A combination of genetic, genomic, molecular and physiological approaches is used for these explorations. In addition, the Johal lab is constantly in the hunt to improvise genetic tools needed to generate or detect agronomically important variation in diverse germplasms, both elite and natural. Gurmukh Johal headshot

Dr. Sue Loesch-Fries’ research is to determine the roles of virus genes in virus replication and in disease development, with the expectation that the results will lead to novel approaches for virus control. Loesch-Fries’ group works with alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV), an important pathogen of legumes, with focus on host and virus proteins involved in the formation of replicase complexes, which are factories where AMV RNAs are synthesized. The yeast two-hybrid system was used to identify proteins in susceptible Arabidopsis plants that are potential interaction partners of the virus proteins. These proteins and the virus proteins have been tagged with fluorescent markers such as the green fluorescent protein to determine protein-protein interactions and localization of host and virus proteins in infected cells by confocal microscopy. Sue Loesch-Fries headshot

Research in the Mengiste lab focuses on molecular mechanisms of plant responses to economically important fungal pathogens which reduce crop productivity worldwide. Critical genetic components of plant resistance are identified through genetic and genomic approaches in the model plant Arabidopsis, and two crop plants tomato and sorghum. By applying genetic, molecular, and biochemical approaches, we seek to determine how these key components regulate plant immune responses required for resistance. Molecular and biochemical mechanisms of tomato resistance are studied with a focus on the role of tomato receptor like kinases, and their substrates to shed light on tomato immune responses to broad host fungal pathogens. In parallel, attempts are made to translate some of the findings into genetic improvement of crops for disease resistance. In sorghum, the natural variation in the germplasm is being explored to identify genes or genomic regions that confer broad-spectrum resistance to anthracnose and grain mold diseases. The overarching goal is to expedite genetic improvement of sorghum to increase productivity in disease prone sorghum producing regions.

Current research areas

  • Arabidopsis immune response signaling, including the role of receptor kinases, transcription regulators and co-regulators, and chromatin modification in fungal and bacterial resistance.
  • Molecular mechanisms of tomato resistance to fungal pathogens, with a focus on role of receptor like kinases, regulators of induced systemic resistance to gray mold disease caused by Botrytis cinerea and early blight caused by Alternaria solani.
  • Genetic improvement of sorghum for resistance to fungal pathogens. Mechanisms of sorghum resistance to the parasitic weed Striga hermonthica.
Tesfaye Mengiste headshot

Dr. Miller directs an extension and research program focused towards disease control in turfgrasses. Our research centers on the detection and quantification of turfgrass pathogens in the environment and the development of disease management strategies that require fewer inputs. Past and current research projects include fungicide resistance detection in dollar spot populations, fairy ring biology and prevention, spring dead spot management and cultural control, the effects of fertility and fungicide application methodologies on disease control, and detection of Pythium spp. in irrigation water. Lee Miller headshot

Dr. Staiger's research leverages powerful genetic tools associated with the Arabidopsis-Pseudomonas pathosystem and combines these with advanced imaging and quantitative cell biology approaches to discover new signaling pathways associated with biotic stress. Christopher Staiger headshot

Dr. Telenko conducts applied field crop pathology research to support her Extension responsibilities. She has an interdisciplinary plant pathology program involved in studying the biology, management, and distribution of field crop diseases and their potential impact on Indiana agriculture. Darcy Telenko headshot

Jin-Rong Xu works with Fusarium graminearum and Magnaporthe oryzae on the regulation of infection-related morphogenesis, fungal-plant interactions, secondary metabolism and sexual development. We are also interested in characterizing the mechanism of RNA editing and its relationship with other sexual stage-specific genetic and epigenetic phenomena. Jin-Rong Xu headshot

Dr. Zhang’s lab focuses on studying plant-nematode interactions with the aim of developing new tools for nematode management in agriculture. Lei Zhang headshot

Weed Science

Dr. Kevin Gibson’s research has focused on the development of weed management systems that increase the competitive ability of crops, reduce the need for herbicide inputs, and provide sustainable weed control in agronomic and vegetable crops. He is currently assessing alternative control strategies such as cover crops and intercropping to limit seed rain and reduce the need for herbicide use in vegetable crops. Dr. Gibson is also interested in the distribution, abundance, and management of invasive plants. He has conducted research on the population dynamics and management of garlic mustard, an exotic invader of forests, that suggests that garlic mustard establishment is highly dependent on early season emergence.

Dr. Johnson conducts an applied Weed Science research program to support his Extension responsibilities. His research priorities vary and are defined by needs of the Indiana grain and forage producers and the industry that advises and serves that clientele. Bill Johnson headshot

The primary goal of the Young lab is to provide a deeper understanding of herbicide efficacy and how to more efficiently utilize herbicides for weed management. This research includes the discovery and management of herbicide-resistant weed biotypes, leveraging knowledge of herbicide physiology to optimize herbicide activity, and mitigating off-target movement of herbicides. Bryan Young headshot