Department News

News on current and former faculty, staff, postdocs, and students at UGA Department of Plant Biology.

PBIO professor Michelle Momany was scientific co-chair for the 28th Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar, the largest international meeting in the field. The UGA fungal group was well-represented with Chang Hyun Khang’s lab and Zack Lewis’ lab also attending (

Congratulations to Alan Bowsher on a successful PhD dissertation defense!

"The Dogwood Genome Project: A Model for Woody Ornamental Genomics" has been funded for ~1.5 million by the NSF Plant Genome Research Program. The project is led by Jim Leebens-Mack with co-PIs CK Tsai, Phillip Wadl, Magdy Alabady, and JennyQiuyun Xiang.  Congratulations!

Wendy Zomlefer, curator of UGA Plant Biology Herbarium, just received an NSF Workshop grant.  In the coming year, she will host representatives of at least 10 herbaria from Georgia and the Southeast for a two-day program on best herbarium practices.

Congratulations to Jim Leebens-Mack.  He has been approved for promotion to Full Professor.  No wonder he is smiling!


Thursday, February 12, 2015 we celebrated Jim's retirement with a dinner at Trump's.  The Department gave him a photograph of the region of Costa Rica in which he conducts his research.

IMG_4023 (800x592).jpg

Congratulations to Rishi Masalia for successfully passing his oral qualifying exam. He has now been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy in Plant Biology!

Congratulations to Ilkay Dorter for successfully passing his oral qualifying exam. He has now been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy in Plant Biology!

As part of the outreach component of her current NSF Collections in Service of Biological Collections (CSBR) grant, Wendy Zomlefer is giving a herbarium basics workshop for Trees Atlanta, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting tree-planting in Atlanta and the Beltway Arboretum.  The workshop will be held on Saturday, Feb. 21.  See

Congratulations to Tiantian Zhang for a successful defense of her PhD dissertation! She is completing her degree under the direction of Professor Michael Hahn.

Congratulations to Yiwen Yang for a successful defense of her PhD dissertation! She is completing her degree under the direction of Professor Michael Hahn.

Russell Malmberg, Professor of Plant Biology and member of The Plant Center at UGA, was honored during UGA  vs. Georgia Tech. football game for being awarded a University Professorship... looking good on the Sanford Stadium jumbotron!

Kelly Dawe and Magdy Alabady received a grant to study maize Abnormal chromosome 10 (Ab10), which skews chromosome segregation through a mysterious mechanism that involves the formation of ³neocentromeres² that move independently during meiosis. They hypothesize that a novel C-terminal kinesin gene located on Ab10 controls this behavior. The goal of this work is to fully characterize the kinesin and to initiate a larger study to identify other factors involved.

Alex Harkess, Michael McKain, and advisor Jim Leebens-Mack co-authored a recently accepted paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution: “Multiple Polyploidy Events in the Early Radiation of Nodulating and Nonnodulating Legumes”. This paper utilizes leaf transcriptomes in a phylogenetic context to identify whole genome duplications across the legumes and how they might influence the repeated evolution of nodulation.

Dr. Wendy Zomlefer

Kudos to Dr. Wendy Zomlefer, curator of UGA Plant Biology Herbarium.  She received funding from NSF to digitize data on southeastern plants. This will assist researchers studying climate change, species endangerment and conservation.

Nov 2014:Congratulations to PBIO Graduate Student Uma Nagendra (Peterson lab)  for winning first prize in the Dance-Your-PhD contest.

Nov 2014: Kudos to Dorset Trapnell (UGA Plant Biology)!  She received funding from the Australian Orchid Foundation to study several species in the sexually deceptive orchid genus Drakaea (Hammer Orchids) in southwestern Australia.

Oct 2014: Jim Leebens-Mack (UGA Plant Biology) is part of an international team with a high profile paper in PNAS revealing  important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on Earth.  Check it out!

COME JOIN US IN ATHENS!   UGA Plant Biology is currently participating in 2 faculty searches:  1) Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics-Biological Data Science (application review begins Dec 1st),   2) Endowed Professorship in Innovative Science Education (application review begins Nov 14th).

Check out the job ads at

Kudos to the following graduate students for submitting NSF Dissertation Improvement Grants: Chelsea Cunard (advisor Rick Lankau), Eric Goolsby (advisor Lisa Donovan), Alex Harkess (advisor Jim Leebens-Mack), Caitlin Ishibashi (advisor John Burke), and Katie Putney (advisor Shumei Chang)!

Many thanks to Cynthia Baker in UGA Sponsored Programs for guiding this new generation of scientists through the proposal submission process.

Gina Baucom (U Michigan, former UGA Genetics student and postdoc) and Shumei Chang (UGA Plant Biology)  have been funded by USDA to study the genetic and ecological mechanisms underlying the evolution of herbicide resistance in the common morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea.

Magdy Alabady (UGA Plant Biology) has been funded by USDA to identify genetic effectors and modulators of stress tolerance that act downstream of Salicylic Acid and other oxidative stimuli in Popular, in a collaboration with C.J. Tsai , Scott Harding, and LiangJiao Xue (UGA Genetics).

RIshi Masalia - Science Cafe

The article highlights the Athens Science Cafe, an organization co-founded by Pearl and Masalia in conjunction with the OVPR to promote scientific communication and education.

The full article can be found at the UGA Graduate School Magazine website.

The 1.5 million dollar award focuses on evolutionary innovations in photosynthetic physiology of plants living in water-limited habits

Congratulations to our faculty member Zheng-Hua Ye and research associate Ruiqin Zhong! They are the only UGA researchers on the list of 2014 Highly Cited Researchers!

Chase Mason received the Wilbur Duncan Award from grad coordinator Chris Peterson. Congratulations Chase!

Faculty vs Grad Students in a series of three minute talks to see who can best explain their science to a nonspecialist audience.

Watch the whole thing here.

The Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory that Regents Professor Andrew Paterson directs addresses dimensions of plant biology relevant toward a more bio-based economy, balancing increased food security with expanded bioenergy supplies while mitigating the challenges of a looming worldwide water crisis.

Read the full article on the UGA website at

Daniel Wubbah

Daniel Wubah, a former graduate student in our department, is now the provost at Washington & Lee. Daniel completed his degree in mycology with emeritus professor Mel Fuller. Our congratulations to Daniel!

Read the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Kudos to Burke lab post-doc Jennifer Mandel! The work she did as a graduate student is having an impact on the management and protection of an endangered species of sunflower. Jennifer stated, "the US Fish and Wildlife Service is about to list the species and much of their data presented for listing the species is the work I did as a graduate student (i.e., they cite our publications on the taxon)".

Dr. John Burke is in the local news discussing research on heirloom crop varieties and meeting global food demands.

Read the full article at:

Our own amazing graduate student Chase Mason is featured on the UGA homepage. Congratulations Chase!

See the full article at:

Dr. John Burke has been awarded the 2013 Creative Research Medal, which is awarded annually for faculty doing outstanding research or creative activity focusing on a single theme identified with University of Georgia.

For the full article go to:

Dr. Peggy Brickman is one of two faculty at UGA being named in 2013 as Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professors, the University's highest recognition for superioir instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels!

See the full article at:

Recently Congressman Paul Broun said, "all that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."

His statement generated a response from 10 department heads reassurin...g Congressman Broun and Georgia taxpayers that we develop our course material from the scientific literature rather than "the pit of Hell" he claims.

Stephanie Pearl is our recipient of the 2012 Wilbur Duncan Award for Outstanding Plant Biology Graduate Student. Congratulations Stephanie!

A new University of Georgia study shows that some native clearweed plants have evolved resistance to invasive garlic mustard plants—and that the invasive plants appear to be waging a counterattack. The study, published in the early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is thought to provide the first evidence of coevolution between native and invasive plant species.

Burke Lab Press

John Burke's lab is getting GREAT press coverage (Nature online news,, Scientific American, Wired, Yahoo! News,, and more) of a paper that just came out of his lab this week - the gene behind van Gogh's double-flowered sunflowers.

Here's the link to the paper

Shu-Mei Chang

Kudos to Dr. Shu-Mei Chang. She is being awarded the Sandy Beaver Excellence in Teaching Award from Franklin College this year! Way to go!