2013 Organizational Cohort

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Sarah Dohle, Plant Biology Graduate Student in the Gepts Lab
My project focuses on biotic stress resistance in Lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus). I am currently making a genetic map for lima bean, discovering SNPs, and developing RILs and backcross populations. I previously worked as a molecular biologist at a biofuels startup company, Agrivida, developing transgenic plants optimized for cellulosic ethanol production. I also interned at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and assisted with an ongoing project to develop new maize lines with increased provitamin A content for Zambia. After graduate school I would like to continue doing applied breeding research to improve food production.
Contact: smdohle at ucdavis dot edu

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Claire Heinitz, Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Student in the Walker lab
I am working to characterize wild Vitis germplasm for use in grapevine rootstock breeding programs. Specifically, my research is focused on the evolution of chloride exclusion in wild grapevines from the southwest U.S. and how we can use these materials to breed more salt-tolerant rootstocks. I am also interested in the population dynamics of these species in the wild – extensive hybridization, long-distance migration via birds, and gene flow from cultivated vineyards all lead to challenges for germplasm utilization and conservation. I am looking forward to this symposium to hear how other researchers are finding creative solutions to unique breeding challenges.

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Gena Hoffman, Plant Biology Graduate Student in the Ronald Lab
I earned my B.A. in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley in 2010. My undergraduate research was conducted in the lab of Dr. Peggy Lemaux, where I worked towards increasing the digestibility of sorghum by overexpressing the key redox protein, Thioredoxin. My current project focuses on immune responses in rice as a model system for cereal crops. Plant and animal cells sense conserved microbial signatures via receptors on the plasma membrane and in the cytoplasm. These protein sensors are often referred to as pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), which activate complex signaling networks resulting in resistance to pathogens. My research goal is to identify novel regulators of PRR-mediated immune responses in rice based on a genome-scale network of rice genes established by the Ronald lab, called RiceNet. I will identify and validate subnetworks (i.e. sets of genes) that mediate PRR-mediated immune responses in rice. Ultimately, my project will lead to the development of new strategies for engineering pathogen resistance in cereal crops. Personally, I am motivated to break the cycle of malnutrition and disease in developing countries by increasing access to proper nutrition, through plant breeding. Additionally, I work to increase public understanding of new agricultural technologies.
email: ghoffman at ucdavis dot edu

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Joshua Hegarty, Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Student in the Dubcovsky Lab
I am studying plant breeding and my work is focused on map based cloning of important disease resistance genes in bread wheat and barley. The primary target is Yr48, a gene conferring a durable partial resistance to wheat strip rust, which is a major problem in California wheat cultivation. I am also working on mapping genes in barley that are responsible for its non-host resistance to wheat stripe rust. In addition, I am working to map and characterize a resistance to Cereal Yellow Dwarf Virus (CYDV) in barley. I plant to pursue a professional career in crop improvement and am particularly interested to work with underutilized crops that show promise for increasing food security.

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Randi Jiménez, a Horticulture and Agronomy Student in the Van Deynze Lab
Randi received her B.S. in Plant Biotechnology at UC Davis in 2009. In 2012, she completed her MSc in Horticulture and Agronomy at UC Davis working with transcription factors in Arabidopsis and tomato. Randi is currently supported by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, and her work in the Van Deynze lab involves discovering sources of Geminivirus resistance in wild pepper (Capsicum sp.) accessions and integrating it into a cultivated background.

Returning Students:

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Paul Bilinski, Plant Biology Graduate Student in the Ross-Ibarra Lab
My research questions address the evolution of repetitive sequences in the crop Maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) and its wild progenitor teosinte. I want to better understand how repetitive sequences impact overall genome size, and how genome size changes in response to environment. To answer these questions, I use next-gen sequence data from multiple Zea taxa gathered along environmental gradients in the US, Mexico, and South America. I hope that my research will eventually contribute to finding ways to breed better crops for local microclimates. I am excited to be part of this symposium again and exchange my scientific ideas with some of the brightest minds in the field.
Contact: pbilinski at ucdavis dot edu

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Chad Jorgensen, Horticulture and Agronomy Graduate Student in the Dvorak Lab
My work is focused on the dissection of the domestication syndrome in wheat by working with a recombinant inbred and a backcross recombinant inbred population developed from a cross of wild tetraploid Triticum dicoccoides and cultivated T. durum, from which I will identify QTLs for domestication and agronomic traits. Interestingly, I am seeing transgressive segregation for seeds size and yield in the backcrossed population. I am also working with a T. aestivum population which segregates for a disomic substitution from the D genome progenitor, Aegilops tauschii, in order to map a domestication gene in the D genome. My goals are to continue working with wild relatives of crop plants, utilizing plant breeding and genetics, in order to assist farmers in their struggle to keep pace with the world’s appetite.
Contact: cmjorgensen at ucdavis dot edu