Organization and Leadership

Leadership Team

Arif Ashraf

Arif is born and raised in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka. He is a postdoc in the Facette lab, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is a plant developmental biologist, and his postdoctoral research focuses on cell polarity, nuclear movement and asymmetric cell division for stomatal development in the crop plant, maize. Arif’s doctorate thesis helped to identify the role of membrane proteins as signaling components and transporters for abiotic stress, which is fundamentally crucial for root development and hormonal regulation.

Arif is serving as an ambassador for American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) since 2015 and also a Plantae fellow. He is the recipient of ASPB-‘Ambassador of the year’ award – 2019. Arif enjoys writing and blogs about plants at He has translated the book “My Life as a Plant” into Bengali. Arif is also involved as Editorial board member with Maize Genetics and Genomics Database and Feature Editor with Molecular Plant.

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Allison Barnes

Allison grew up in Bennington, Nebraska, where 4-H fostered her interest in plant science and agriculture. She is currently an NSF PGRP post-doctoral fellow at North Carolina State University studying maize phospholipid metabolism adaptations to highland environments. Her research focuses on characterizing a phospholipase that is important for highland survival. Allison obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she studied how plants remodel their membranes in response to freezing stress. During the final year of her Ph.D., Allison was a USDA NIFA-AFRI Predoctoral Fellow.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dogs, reading, and doing crafts like paint by number and sewing.

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Sandra Hoffberg

Sandra is an NSF Plant Genomics Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology in the lab of Deren Eaton. Her research focuses on the phylogenetic relatedness of species in the genus Amaranthus and spread of herbicide resistance among agricultural weeds in this genus.  As a graduate student at the University of Georgia, Sandra helped develop DNA library preparation methods for next generation sequencing, and she continues to lead annual workshops to teach bench protocols and reproducible data analysis to evolutionary biologists. 

Sandra is an active member of the Genetics Society of America, where she is in the Early Career Leadership Program. 

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Advisory Board

Gabriela Auge

Gabriela Auge is a group leader at the Institute of Biosciences, Biotechnology and Translational Biology of the University of Buenos Aires. In her lab, they study how plants pass information from one generation to the other to understand how they adjust their life cycles to seasonal changes, investigating the underlying molecular mechanisms and exploring the consequences of transgenerational environmental effects at ecological and evolutionary levels. Gabriela is also a Lecturer of Plant Physiology at the National University of Quilmes and coordinator of the Argentinian Women in Plant Biology and Argentinian Seed Biology Networks.

Sunil K. Kenchanmane Raju

Sunil comes from the Sahyadri region (the benevolent mountains) in Karnataka, India. He is a postdoc at Michigan State University studying epigenome variation across plant species through an evolutionary perspective using comparative epigenomics. His research focuses on identifyingepigenomic variation regulating differential cold stress response in maize and its wild relative Tripsacum dactyloides. Sunil’s Ph.D. dissertation work provided valuable insights into the potential use of induced epigenetic variation in plant breeding for yield and stability related traits. His research showed increased yield and reduced GxE in epigenetically modified soybean lines.

Sunil is an active member of American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) since 2012 and currently vice-chair of the ASPB-Ambassador Alliance overseeing the Ambassador program.

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Arjun Krishnan

Arjun Krishnan is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University and is a part of two departments: Dept. Computational Math, Science & Engineering and Dept. Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. His team works broadly in the areas of computational genomics and biomedical data science. Before coming to MSU, Arjun completed his bachelor degree in Biotechnology in India before moving to the US for his PhD in Computational Biology at Virginia Tech. Following that, he completed his postdoctoral research at Princeton University.

Erin Sparks

Erin Sparks is Assistant Professor in Plant and Soil Sciences and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute at the University of Delaware, where she started her position in 2017. She has a B.S in Biomedical Engineering, a Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology, and Postdoctoral experience in Plant Molecular Biology. Erin is a co-founder of the GreenPI Slack channel to connect new faculty working on plants, and she is passionate about community building and career development. Erin’s lab works on understanding the development and function of aerial roots in cereal crops.

Robert Last

Robert Last is Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Plant Biochemistry at Michigan State University and recently served as President of the American Society of Plant Biologists. His long-term research interest is understanding how higher plants use metabolism to adapt to environmental factors, and how primary consumers of plant foods – including humans – benefit from these metabolic strategies. Until recently his research was entirely focused on using genetically tractable ‘model organisms’, but his lab now takes advantage of genomics technologies to study the enormous range of metabolic strategies that plants have evolved over tens and hundreds of millions of years.

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