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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Ariadna Gonzalez Solis

Ariadna, originally from Mexico City, is currently a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the lab of Marisa Otegui. Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that allow cells to control the degradation of plasma membrane proteins involved in plant development and signaling. During her masters and PhD, Ariadna studied the structure, function and metabolism of plant lipids. She enjoys teaching biochemistry and mentoring students.
In her spare time, she likes hiking, biking and running.

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Pan Liao

Pan Liao is currently a postdoc in the Department of Biochemistry at Purdue University. He is investigating how volatiles from petunia flowers released from cells into the environment and discovering genes for the biosynthesis of valuable specialized metabolites from medicinally plants. His research interests include plant biotechnology, biochemistry, secondary metabolism, lipid metabolism, pathway discovery and pathway “crosstalk”. His long-term research plan is to go on discovering novel genes and pathways responsible for the biosynthesis of medicinal valuable compounds, provide novel strategies to produce them or increase their production in different organism systems, eventually provide support for the health of human beings. Pan is currently a leadership member of the Plant Postdocs, his major role as Global communication lead is to extend impact of (or introduce) Plant Postdocs to peers located in other countries. Pan is also an ambassador at the Purdue Center for Plant Biology (CPB) and a council member of the Purdue Postdoctoral Association (PPDA). If you are interested in his research, please follow him at @PanLiao1.

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Lise Pingault

Lise is currently a postdoc at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the lab of Dr. Joe Louis. Her research focuses on insect-plant interactions with the identification of key genes, signaling networks, metabolites, and regulatory mechanisms involved in plant resistance to insect pests. She enjoys outreach events with lab members. In her spare time, she likes singing, baking, biking, and traveling.

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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.

Susana Wadgymar

Susana Wadgymar is an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Davidson College, a liberal arts institution for undergraduates in North Carolina. Her research group examines how genes and the environment influence adaptation in plants, often in the context of climate change or conservation management. Susana has a B.S. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Toronto and was a Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Georgia.

Mariano Alvarez

Mariano is the Chief Science Officer at Avalo, a plant biology company focused on the use of artificial intelligence in plant breeding and sustainable agriculture. His team is broadly interested in interpretable machine learning, association mapping, and phenotypic plasticity. Before cofounding Avalo, Mariano completed his PhD in Ecology and Evolution at the University of South Florida before completing his postdoctoral research at Duke University.

Moi Exposito-Alonso

Evolutionary ecologist and geneticist Moises (Moi) Exposito-Alonso is a Staff Associate at the Carnegie Departments of Plant Biology and Global Ecology, and Assistant Professor (by courtesy) of Biology at Stanford University. Moi received a BSc. in biology from the University of Seville, Spain, working as an ecologist in the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC). After he earned his Ph.D. in plant genomics supervised by Detlef Weigel at the Max Planck Institute, Germany, he conducted a short postdoc in statistical evolutionary genetics at the University of California Berkeley. His group at Carnegie combines experimental ecology, computational genomics, and evolution-inspired gene editing to understand whether and how plants will evolve to keep pace with climate change.

Phil Taylor

With over 15 years AgTech industry experience, Phil currently serves as the Open Innovation Lead for Crop Science R&D at Bayer, based in St. Louis, MO. He plays a central role in fostering strategic relationships around the globe and developing programs to enable novel ways of accelerating innovation to support Bayer’s R&D pipeline and drive external innovation ecosystems.
A strong champion for both external and pre-competitive partnering as a driving force for innovation and change, Phil has held multiple leadership roles at Bayer focused on delivering collaborative approaches to enable R&D and enhance the company’s position as an action leader in open innovation and partnering. He was appointed a Bayer Science Fellow in 2020.
Before joining industry, Phil trained as a Plant Cell Biologist, receiving his Ph.D. from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K., and held post-doctoral positions at The University of Leeds and The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, as well as a British Council Fellowship at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Outside of Bayer, Phil is active in the academic and global innovation communities as a member of multiple advisory boards and professional society committees.
A native of the UK, Phil now lives in St. Charles, Missouri, with his wife Amanda and their four children, Jack (14), Hugh (12), Owen (9) and Meredith (7).

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