Kathleen (Katie) Greenham, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Plant & Microbial Biology University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Ph.D, University of California, San Diego B.S., Queen's University, Kingston, ON Canada greenham[at]umn.edu
I’ve always loved science and problem solving. In college, while being drawn to literature, I found my passion working in a research laboratory. In graduate school my research focused on deciphering the signaling pathways of the phytohormone auxin during seedling development in Arabidopsis thaliana. An unexpected phenotype of an auxin signaling mutant introduced me to the world of circadian biology. I was instantly fascinated by this internal clock that tracks changes in daylength and coordinates plant growth with the external environment. Later, my interests shifted towards exploring the consequences of this internal timekeeping on plant fitness. Little did I realize at the time that studying the circadian clock meant sacrificing my own clock when performing essential multi-day time course experiments.
As an NSF National Plant Genomes Initiative Postdoctoral Fellow, I applied co-expression network analysis to integrate temporal changes in transcriptomic and physiological responses to drought in the crop Brassica rapa. This study revealed early temporal indicators of drought perception and the importance of time when assessing stress response. Due to the extensive polyploidy inherent in crop genomes, we are more dependent on computational approaches and the need for broadening our collaborations to computer science, engineering and mathematics. If my research experience has taught me anything, it is that discovery often happens outside our comfort zone and we must be willing to accept being uncomfortable if it means learning something new.
While my work focuses on plant fitness, I really love spending time on my own fitness. A successful day for me contains either a CrossFit workout or getting out on my bike. No matter the state of fitness, I believe the world is never brighter than after a good cup of coffee.
Ananda Menon Biology, M.S. College of William and Mary Biology, B.A. College of Wooster As an undergraduate, my exam final in introductory biology asked the question: “Plants are sessile and modular. How does this affect their life strategies?” This intentionally vague question was immensely influential in my life, though I did not understand it at the time. In the Greenham Lab, I have been fortunate to learn techniques in plant gene editing, phenotyping, grant writing and greenhouse upkeep. My position also allows me to be part of several ongoing projects on characterizing circadian rhythms and plant stress response, which has been an immensely rewarding experience. We have begun doing preliminary work in characterizing the circadian dynamics of nectar production and pollinator attraction in Brassica rapa. Outside the lab, I enjoy keeping tropical fish and houseplants, watching bad TV and playing video games.
Alveena Zulfiqar, Ph.D. PhD., Quaid-I-Azam University, Pakistan/ Dartmouth College, USA
During my Ph.D. I studied the role of two component signaling elements in modulating the transcriptional outputs in Arabidopsis thaliana via crosstalk between hormones. Through my research I was able to identify the molecular basis of ethylene mediated inhibition of hypocotyl elongation. I am always intrigued by the genetic basis of physiological and molecular responses of plants. Circadian regulation is important to plants, including our crops because it has a major impact on plant physiology, development and metabolism. I will focus on deciphering the communication between cells via circadian oscillators. Apart from science, I love to spend time over the river and in the woods.
Zachary Myers, Ph.D. Ph.D., University of Oklahoma B.S., University of Oklahoma
My scientific career has been driven by an intense curiosity about how things work. Growing up in rural Oklahoma meant that I spent a lot of time outdoors, but my interest in plants at that age was limited to identifying (and avoiding) poison ivy, and perfecting our wild blackberry harvesting. My undergraduate research in Biology at the University of Oklahoma was animal-focused, and gave me critical insight into my (lack of) tolerance for hurting zebrafish or patience for counting thousands of Drosophila. Toward the end of my program, I met and began working with Dr. Ben Holt, where I was introduced to the greener side of biology. I quickly became fascinated with how plants “read” their environment and started working in the field of photoperiodic-dependent flowering. I continued my education in Ben’s lab, and received my PhD in 2019. My PhD work was multi-faceted, including projects developing microscopy techniques in plants to detect protein-protein interactions, exploring the molecular genetics of photomorphogenic development in Arabidopsis thaliana, and designing synthetic systems to probe transcription factor complex function. These projects introduced me to the immense complexity of plant transcription factors.
In 2020, I joined Dr. Nathan Springer’s lab and began studying abiotic stress responses in maize and Setaria viridis, with a focus on genomics-based approaches. In 2021, I was awarded a USDA NIFA postdoctoral fellowship and spent the next 2 years developing and applying genomics and single-cell based approaches to understand the structure of molecular heat stress responses in Setaria. Toward the end of my fellowship, I began working with Drs. Katie Greenham and Feng Zhang, and am currently jointly appointed as a postdoctoral associate in their respective labs. My research projects in Katie’s lab explore gene regulation and transcription factor biology in ways that are new and exciting to me. I am working to help understand the distribution and variety of circadian clocks across plant tissues, and to understand the significance of their spatial organization. I am also returning to some of my earliest scientific training, and developing a new microscopy toolkit for validating our single-cell and spatial observations, and to facilitate clock monitoring in single tissue types.
Outside the lab, I love to spend time with my family, cook and bake, read, hike, and DM my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign!
Angela (Angie) Ricono; M.S. Plant and Microbial Biology PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities M.S., The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA B.S., Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne FL
While there are numerous ways that plants continue to fascinate me, what I find most compelling about these organisms is their incredible ability to adapt to stress. Some might assume that non-sessile organisms (ie. mammals) which can often flee, fight, or at least conceptualize stress, are more likely to succeed in such demanding environments. However, we continue to find captivating plant adaptations that allow them to excel in stochastic and inhospitable environments. What, then, makes one plant better at withstanding stressful environments over another? Are there specific adaptations that we can identify; and if so, can we use these “tools” to improve less tolerant crops? One mechanism that plants may use to become more tolerant is through alterations in (specialized) metabolism. Although there are numerous ways that this can arise, what I am most interested in is understanding how differences in time-of-day specific (circadian) regulation of specialized metabolism contributes to plant stress responses. My PhD research; therefore, explores this question in very tasty (and occasionally spicy) Brassica rapa cultivars, with a particular focus on sulfur-related metabolites.
Before becoming a scientist, I was a thespian-bartender hybrid for many years. I continue to pursue both aspects as often as I can, although now-a-days this is usually through a Netflix-wine combo. My beautiful pup, Ella, sincerely appreciates these endeavors and is more than happy to provide her opinion should any show/movie not be up to her tastes. Our most recent non-lab related aspirations include: finding every vegetable that I can pair with Farro (it’s not Brassica, but it’s delicious and Ella agrees), discovering fun new things that the Twin Cities have to offer, and hopefully -finally! – really discovering who John Galt is.
Danielle Schoenecker B.S., University of Minnesota
I have always been interested in the biological sciences from a young age. Some of the first books I read supplied my brain with animal facts and identification. Although my interests now align with plant biology, I have kept the wonder of observing the differences between them and studying their evolution. I am especially fascinated by plant community interactions as well as plant resistances to extreme temperatures, pests, and drought.
Working for the Greenham lab has been highly enjoyable! So far, I have helped with a variety of tasks from plant care and seed collection to gene cloning and analysis to pollinator observations out in the field. There is always something new to learn about! While I am here, I hope to continue to learn more about the circadian rhythm in plants and how it guides the processes of Brassica rapa morphotypes.
Outside of work, I love to bike, draw, read, and hang out with friends! I also keep a variety of houseplants (terrestrial and aquatic), as well as a menagerie of pets including bunnies, fish, a leopard gecko, and a kitten.
Adelaide Hazen University of Minnesota
Kathleen Markham; Researcher, University of Minnesota Madeline Olberg; Assistant Professor starting 2024, Cornell
Thomas Neary Kerri Newcomer Magda Riccibird Leila Rquibi Eileen Kosola Stevan Zorich Karl Penaz John Chirayil Sydney Winecke Tracy Vu Olivia Kanzler Ekin Ercetin