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Plant Biology Graduate Students

Graduate student Sanhita ChakrabortySanhita Chakraborty

Harris Lab
sanhita.chakraborty@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Kolkata, India. I received my Masters in Botany from the University of Calcutta, with specialization in Plant Genetics and Genomics. I have an active interest in music and reading. Recently, I have also started exploring my inchoate cooking skills in my spare time!

Research Description

I joined the Plant Biology graduate program at UVM in the fall of 2012, with a special interest in plant development, and how it is modulated by environmental factors. After two rotations, I joined the Harris lab. Currently, I am studying the process of nodulation in the model legume Medicago truncatula, in salt-stressed conditions.

Graduate student Susan Fawcett.Susan Fawcett

Barrington Lab
susan.fawcett@uvm.edu

Profile

I grew up in Petoskey, Michigan and received a bachelor of fine arts and a bachelor of general studies from the University of Michigan in 2005. In 2012 I received a masters in biology from Northern Michigan University where I researched the flora and ecology of a neotropical savanna on Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras. Most recently, I worked at UC Berkeley as a freelance illustrator and employee of the UC / Jepson Herbaria. When not looking at plants, I enjoy playing old time music, drawing, snorkeling and cross country skiing.

Research Description

My first taste of field work came as an intern at the Fundacion Jardin Botanico del Orinoco, in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, on a general collecting trip in the Sierra de Lema in the Venezuelan Guyana. I've since participated in research on fisheries and fungi in the Peruvian Amazon, warbler migration in Nicaragua, the flora of vernal pools in the Baja peninsula of Mexico, aquatic plants of Northern Wisconsin and on drought tolerance of vegetation on serpentine soils in California. As a member of the Barrington Lab, I will be studying the evolution of ferns. My interests include taxonomy, phylogenetics, biogeography and ecology.

Graduate student Karl FetterKarl Fetter

Keller Lab
karl.fetter@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Greensboro, North Carolina and did my undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I studied biology and German literature and researched Devonian fossil plants with Dr. Pat Gensel. After graduation, I worked for the US Forest Service and National Park Service in North Carolina and California. I returned to UNC-Chapel Hill and studied with Dr. Alan Weakley to complete my master’s degree in plant systematics. I spent about a year curating a Devonian plant collection in the Department of Paleobiology at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where I rekindled my enthusiasm for dead plants! I enjoy cooking, good wines, hanging out with friends, and I’m known to play bagpipes from time to time too.

Research Description

My research and work experiences have given me a deep-time perspective on the evolution of plant life, a subject that fascinates me. My work in the Keller lab revolves around the idea that natural selection works through phenotypic variation to select genotypes that are locally adapted between populations and within a species. By studying the genomes of organisms under gradients of selection, we can understand how evolution created the natural world around us. I work with the Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), a widespread North American boreal forest tree that occurs in widely variable environments. I am identifying leaf phenotypes that may be under selection to produce populations with locally adapted trait optimums. My goal is to develop an integrated system for studying natural selection using leaf phenotypes and genomics so we can understand how populations of plants modulate an important organ to increase their fitness across variable environments.

Graduate student Matt GrassoMatt Grasso

Linitlhac Lab
msgrasso@uvm.edu

Profile

I was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I moved to Vermont when I was seven and have lived here since. I received my B.S. in Plant Biology from the University of Vermont in 2013. I did undergraduate research in the Barrington Lab working on the reproductive biology of Vermont’s Polypodium species. I enjoy skiing, playing guitar, and playing soccer.

Research Description

Plant development is unique from animals in that living cells are fixed in place and enclosed within a cell wall matrix. As an apical meristem grows divisions are made adding cells to the top of the plant body. In this sense plant development is a process of construction, and the addition of new cells is in part governed by the physical arrangement of existing ones. Assessing how mechanical inputs influence processes of cell division and differentiation is a goal of this project. In doing this we aim to create a system in which mechanical forces can be applied to isolated plant cells in a consistent manner.

Graduate student Jordan HarrisJordan Harris

van den Berg Lab, Proctor Maple Research Center
Jordan.L.Harris@uvm.edu

Profile

After high school, I was employed in the tree care industry while attending a community college for courses related to plant sciences. I transferred to the University of Maryland where I received my Bachelor’s degree (2012) in plant sciences with a specialization in urban forestry. I went on to earn my Master’s degree (2014) at the University of Maryland for investigating the epidemiology of a bacterial pathogen associated with disease of landscape ornamentals in Washington D.C. When graced with spare time, I enjoy taking full advantage of all the natural amenities Vermont has to offer and drinking beer, always in that order.

Research Description

My previous research in plant pathology was essentially a stepping-stone into the exciting field of genetics. I joined the Plant Biology graduate program at UVM in the fall of 2015 with interest in continuing my education in this vastly progressive field of science. I hold particular interest with investigating temperature-mediated nonstructural carbon flux activities in dormant perennials, particularly with maple (Acer sp.).

Publications

-Harris, J. L. & Balci, Y. Population structure of the bacterial pathogen Xylella fastidiosa among street trees in Washington DC. Plos One 10, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121297 (2015).

-Harris, J. L., Di Bello, P. L., Lear, M. & Balci, Y. Bacterial Leaf Scorch in the District of Columbia: Distribution, host range, and presence of Xylella fastidiosa among urban trees. Plant Disease, 140521144958000, doi:10.1094/pdis-02-14-0158-sr (2014).

Graduate student Suryatapa JhaSuryatapa G. Jha

Tierney Lab
suryatapa.jha@uvm.edu

Profile

My friendship with plants began when I was in high school and my mother gave me the responsibility of tending to her terrace garden. Since then, my love for plants has only increased and I gradually became more interested in how they function.

I received my M.Sc. in Botany from Presidency College, Kolkata, India in 2006. In 2012, I joined UVM Plant Biology as a graduate (PhD) student with an interest in answering questions of plant development using tools of genetics and molecular biology.

When not working, I enjoy reading, gardening and cooking.

Research Description

I am currently working in Tierney lab, studying VPS26c, a retromer subunit which plays a role in endosomal trafficking pathways. I am working to look at the expression profile of VPS26c gene in Arabidopsis, its expression in cell types and the root hair phenotypes in vps26c mutant alleles. In future, I would like to work on characterization of the protein and explain the interplay of this protein in the tip growth of Arabidopsis.

In my first year here at UVM, I also worked in Harris lab on my second rotation project studying how the nodulation in Medicago truncatula is affected by the two opposing factors, red light and high concentrations of nitrate.

During my first rotation in Preston lab, I worked towards functionally characterizing Arabidopsis Soc-1 like genes, and their evolution in Petunia flowering time pathways.

Graduate student Meghan McKeown.Meghan McKeown

Preston Lab
meghan.mckeown@uvm.edu
Meghan's website

Profile

I grew up in Seattle, Washington and have always had an immense love for the outdoors and any activity that could bring me outside. I really enjoy skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, climbing and playing soccer. When I am not doing lab work at the University I am usually exploring the Green Mountains of Vermont or Adirondacks of New York by bicycle, ski or foot.

Research Description

I received my BA in Biology in 2011 from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where I had previously done two years of undergraduate research focused on the evolution of West Nile virus. I am currently a PhD student in Jill Preston’s lab where I study the evolution of the vernalization response and gene network in the Pooids. I am using gene trees to trace the evolutionary history of the genes involved in this network. I am interested in learning how the genes were incorporated into the network and how many times the response has evolved in this group.

Graduate student Kattia Palacio Lopez.Kattia Palacio Lopez

Molofsky Lab
kattia.palacio-lopez@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Bucaramanga, Colombia, and I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia. After graduating in 2007, I moved to Concepción, Chile, where I got my M.S. in 2010. In 2012, I arrived to Burlington, Vermont for my Ph.D. in Dr. Molofsky’s lab. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies, meeting friends, and hiking during the summer.

Research Description

I have worked examining phenotypic plasticity in plants as a fundamental strategy to cope with environmental heterogeneity as well as an explanation for interspecific differences in their distribution range. Moreover, I have been studying the pattern and magnitude of covariation among a set of traits (phenotypic integration) and the role of phenotypic plasticity in the success of invasion by alien plant species over the native ones, where I am using meta-analysis approaches. Currently, I am working in a meta-analysis about phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation in plants. Also, I study the phenotypic variance in response to temperature in Arabidopsis thaliana where I am focusing on flowering time and how hybridization process affects that variance.

Selected Publications

Palacio-López, K., Gianoli, E. 2011. Invasive plants do not display greater phenotypic plasticity than their native or non-invasive counterparts: a meta-analysis. Oikos. 120: 1393-1401.

Gianoli, E. Palacio-López, K. 2009. Phenotypic integration may constrain phenotypic plasticity in plants. Oikos. 118: 1924-1928.

Palacio-López, K., Rodríguez, N. 2008. Plasticidad fenotípica en Lippia alba (Verbenaceae) en respuesta a la disponibilidad hídrica en dos ambientes lumínicos (Phenotypic plasticity in Lippia alba (Verbenaceae) in response to water availability in two light environments). Acta Biológica Colombiana. 12: 187-198.

Graduate student Nikisha PatelNikisha Patel

Barrington Lab
nikisha.patel@uvm.edu

Profile

I grew up in Connecticut and I’ve always enjoyed being outside and observing nature, and plants in particular. I went on to study evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, where I worked with Dr. Gregory Anderson. My undergraduate research focused on the reproductive biology of Solanum and the evolution of functional dioecy. I cultivated an interest in conservation biology and particularly in the evolution of breeding systems in plants which continues to be the center of my academic interests at the University of Vermont.

Research Description

I study fern systematics in the Barrington Lab here at the University of Vermont. I’m interested in the evolution and biogeography of apomictic reproduction in two fern genera: Phegopteris and Polystichum. I am using phylogenetic methods to parse hybridization histories in apomicts as well as working to understand how hybridization, polyploidy and apomixis interact to influence species diversity in Phegopteris and Polystichum.

Graduate student Beck PowersBeck Powers

Preston Lab
beck.powers@uvm.edu
Beck's Flickr Photostream

Profile

I received a BS in Plant Biology from UVM in 2013 during which I conducted undergraduate research with Dr. Jeanne Harris on the interaction of light signaling and development in a model legume. My academic interests lie in the morphology and evolution of plants, especially angiosperms, and how development shapes the ultimate phenotype upon which evolution can act. I am able to cultivate these interests while working towards my Master’s under the guidance of Dr. Jill Preston.

Research Description

Much of the floral diversity in color, size, and shape in extant angiosperm flowers represents coevolution of plants and pollinators as they have specialized to meet the needs of each other. One interesting novelty in which flowering plants have adapted to pollinators is the fusion of petals to form varying degrees of a corolla tube. Such a petal configuration protects inner male and female organs during floral development and provides a structurally stable and attractive guide for pollinators. Sympetaly evolved multiple times throughout the diversification of angiosperms, most notably in the asterid clade of core eudicots. My research seeks to understand both the genetic and developmental changes involved in the evolution of sympetaly in several asterid taxa.

Graduate student Giovanna Sassi.Giovanna Sassi

Harris Lab
giovanna.sassi@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Montreal, Canada where I received a Bachelor of Science (1999), with honors, in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Concordia University and it was here where I first learned and became fascinated with the molecular communication between plants and microbes, particularly the symbioses formed with mycorrhizae in the Laurentian forest ecosystem. I pursued this interest in plant-microbe interactions during my Masters degree (2002) at the MacDonald Agricultural Campus of McGill University, Canada, where I studied the expression and translational changes that ensued when susceptible or resistant plant cultivars become infected by Potyvirus. My research interests then lead me to Cornell University (2003-2007), here I investigated the virulence role of fungal extracellular matrices on susceptible corn plants. In 2007, I joined the Harris lab at the University of Vermont and have built on my previous skill set and curiosity for symbioses as well as unexpectedly uncovered a new affinity for bioinformatics.

Research Description

I am studying the evolution of the NITRATE TRANSPORTER 1/PEPTIDE TRANSPORTER family (NPF) subfamily 1 in angiosperms and the origins of root meristem function for the eudicot-specific LATD/NIP clade. Using Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood analyses of both nucleotide and amino acid sequences from 400+ plant species, I have identified 5 monophyletic subclades (named A, B, C, D1 and D2) that comprise the NPF1 subfamily. Our MtLATD/NIP gene falls within subclade C along with orthologs from 56 other species, including sequences from 17 species of basal eudicots, indicating the appearance of an ancient LATD-like gene at least ~115 MYA. In order to determine the point at which MtLATD/NIP meristem function was acquired in the evolution of the NPF1 family, I am testing a subset of LATD/NIP orthologs, identified from diverse plant species in the phylogeny, by transforming each of the cloned orthologs into the Medicago latd mutant, defective for both root and nodule meristem function, then asking whether the ortholog is able to restore the mutant phenotype to normal. In this way, we will be able to test the meristem function of these orthologs in nodulating and non-nodulating taxa and ask whether the acquisition of meristem function predates the origins of nodulating plant species.

Selected Publications

UVM Students inspire through actions big and small. Burlington Free Press, January 31, 2010. http://www.uvm.edu/cals/pdfs/publications/Jan10.GSassiGreenHouse.pdf

Zhou, F.S., Mosher, S., Tian, M.Y., Sassi, G., Parker, J. and Klessig, D.F. 2008. The Arabidopsis gain-of-function mutant ssi4 requires RAR1 and SGT1b differentially for defense activation and morphological alterations. Mol Plant Microbe In 21: 40-49

Evolution of the NITRATE TRANSPORTER 1/PEPTIDE TRANSPORTER family (NPF) subfamily 1 in angiosperms and origins of the eudicot-specific LATD/NIP clade. Poster and Presentation Abstract, 2014. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 12th Plant Biology Symposium - "Evolution of Plant Form and Function: Insights from the Integration of Development, Ecology and Genetics" and the New England Workshop on Symbiosis.

Graduate student Weston Testo.Weston Testo

Barrington Lab
weston.testo@uvm.edu

Profile

Growing up on a farm in rural Upstate New York, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time exploring the fields and forests nearby. From a young age, I have been interested in understanding why plant species grow where they do and how their habitat shapes their appearance and biology. It is that curiosity which keeps leading me into the forest, looking for new experiences.

I received my B.A. from Colgate University in 2012, where I was a biology major and writing minor. While there, I studied under Dr. James Watkins, who introduced me to the wonderful world of fern biology! We worked extensively in Costa Rica on projects investigating fern ecology and physiology and also studied the biology of a threatened fern from eastern North America. We have become good friends and continue to collaborate on numerous exciting projects.

When I am not in the lab or looking at plants in the herbarium, I enjoy exploring the outdoors as well as cooking and reading a good book.

Research Description

I am a PhD student in David Barrington's lab, where I am studying the diversification of Huperzia, a large genus of lycophytes which are extremely diverse in Central America and the Andes. In addition to elucidating the evolutionary relationships of the Neotropical species, I am interested in understanding the morphological and physiological adaptations that have allowed these plants to succeed in a wide variety of habitats. I am broadly interested in fern and lycophyte ecology and evolution, and am also examining the biology of hybrid and polyploid ferns as well as the demography and ecology of several unusual fern and lycophyte species.

Graduate student Brittany Verrico.Brittany Verrico

Keller Lab
brittany.verrico@uvm.edu

Profile

I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I completed my undergraduate degree from Washington & Jefferson College, also located in Pennsylvania. I studied Biology and German, and I spent a semester abroad in Cologne, Germany where I increased my proficiency and understanding of the German language and culture. My intellectual curiosity, however always remained with the study of plants. My undergraduate research focused on plant ecology and phenology. As an undergraduate, I investigated native and non-native species richness patterns through successional time with Dr. John Parker during an REU Internship at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. When I am not working, I enjoy reading, exploring my new backyard (the Green Mountians!) and making homemade greeting cards.

Research Description

My interests currently lie at the confluence of plant conservation, plant genomics, and global change ecology. I am a new MS student to Steve Keller’s lab, where I will study red spruce (Picea rubens), a dominant ecological and economically important species to Vermont’s high altitude forests. My goal is to study this species along elevational gradients in the Green Mountains to address climate change impacts on species composition and gene flow.

Click here to meet the Field Naturalist students.

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