Department News

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

The new Science Learning Center is taking shape.  Brigitte Bruns and Lisa Donovan were given a tour of the facility this week.  Click here to view the gallery.

Ed, a member of John Burke's lab, successfully defended his dissertation on genetic diversity across the range of wild sunflower (Helianthus anuus). Congrats!

Jessica Brown, a UGA Plant Biology major, has been awarded the very first “Plant Biology Undergraduate Research Support Award." She will be working with Dr. Dorset Trapnell on "Phylogeny of Epidendron magnoliae, a North American epiphytic orchid."

Rosemary Wills

Check out this cool piece on polyextremophile Deinococcus radiodurans, aka Conan the Bacterium, from Rosemary Wills, freshman UGA PBIO major and Momany lab member.

Jason, co-advised by Jim Leebens-Mack and Wendy Zomlefer, successfully defended his dissertation on the systematics of palms with a focus on the Arecoideae. Congrats!

The University of Georgia invites applications at the Assistant/Associate Professor level for a tenure‐track faculty position addressing the big data/data science challenges posed by Computational Plant Biology starting August 2016. We welcome applications from candidates who address fundamental computational, technical, and biological challenges in plant biology using appropriate study systems including forest trees and/or their interacting organisms. The candidate should have a Ph.D.

Kudos to Alumnus Yainitza Hernandez!


The LISELL-B Project coordinated by PBIO alumna Yainitza Hernandez (PhD, 2011) recognized as “Bright Spot in Hispanic Education” by White House.


photo of Professor Zheng-Hua Ye

They are once again the only UGA researchers on the IS highly cited list !!!

Dr. Chris Peterson was recently awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with co-PIs Dr. Frank Lombardo of the University of Illinois and Dr. Chris Godfrey of the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Lombardo is a structural engineer, Godfrey is a meteorologist and Peterson specializes in forest wind disturbance and regeneration; they will combine their three areas of expertise to study the spatial distribution of debris from buildings and trees after tornado damage occurs to retrospectively infer characteristics of the tornado.

The Plant Biology Student Symposium will be held Monday, August 24th from 9AM to 4PM.  Alumnus Virginia Jin, Randy Mejeur and Michael Purugganan will be our featured speakers.  Click on link to view schedule.  /sites/default/files/2015_symp_schedule_0.pdf

Dear Colleague:

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) is writing to encourage you to support a grassroots campaign to nominate pioneering geneticist Barbara McClintock to be the new face of the $10 bill.

In response to an announcement from Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew that the new $10 bill would “feature a notable woman,” a group of graduate students at the University of California, Davis, launched the Barbara on the Bill campaign. And earlier this week, GSA’s Executive Committee agreed to endorse the students’ effort.

Here’s what you can do to help:

UGA PBIO has contributed two new "guest" editors (1 year first term) to the prestigious journal, Plant Cell: Drs. Jim Leebens-Mack and Xiaoyu Zhang

Congratulations Caroline Coatney and Alex Matte-Santos, Plant Biology's newest masters' degree graduates.  Congratulations to Nate Ellis and Li Wang, Plant Biology's newest Ph.D. graduates.

Hiral Patel, shown here taking measurements in the greenhouse, did her UGA honors thesis under the mentorship of graduate student Chase Mason in the Department of Plant Biology.  Hiral has been accepted into the Medical College of Georgia for fall 2015. Chase, now Dr. Mason, is a Katharine H. Putnam Postdoctoral Fellow at the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.  Wohooo!


Congrats to Li Wang for successfully defending her dissertation under the direction of Dr. Xiaoyu Zhang in the Department of Plant Biology: " Dynamic Histone Replacement and Pol II Redistribution during Heat-induced Transcriptional Activation”

Figure - RNA structure as predicted by the method proposed for the grant

Russell Malmberg is a co-PI on a grant just awarded from NIH/NIGMS Mathematical Biology to develop bioinformatic tools to predict the 3D structure of RNAs from primary sequences.  Liming Cai of Computer Science is the lead P.I., and Cory Momany of Pharmacy is also a co-PI on the same grant.   Figure - green is the actual RNA structure, blue is the prediction by the method proposed for the grant.

Lucy Devaney, a high school student from Athens Academy, joined the research team in the Donovan lab as a UGA "Young Dawgs" intern this summer.

Check out new paper by Jason Comer, Wendy Zomlefer, Craig Barrett, Jerrold Davis, Dennis Wm. Stevenson, Karolina Heyduk & Jim Leebens-Mack

American Journal of Botany highlight:


photo of Jess Stephens

Check out new paper by Jess Stephens, Will Rogers, Chase Mason, Lisa Donovan and Russell Malmberg!

American Journal of Botany highlight:


Plant Biology graduate student Kristin Engle receives award

Plant Biology graduate student Kristen Engle (on right) received the Martin Keller Award for Excellence for the 2015 BioEnergy Science Center Retreat!  She is pictured here with her advisor Professor Deb Mohnen (on left).

Plant Biology loves its graduate students' dedication to their teaching responsibilities! Students in the department go above and beyond to show their dedication to teaching. This semester, recent grad Alan Bowsher was awarded the UGA Graduate School Interdisciplinary Certificate in University Teaching, and Caitlin Ishibashi, Jeff Cannon, Uma Nagendra, Ed McAssey, and Chase Mason all received UGA Graduate School Teaching Portfolio Certificates!

photo of Chelsea Cunard

Congrats to Plant Biology graduate student Chelsea Cunard for being awarded the Best Talk at a joint conference between the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council and North Carolina Invasive Plant Council, held at the UNC Chapel Hill Botanical Gardens!

This year, the Plant Biology Graduate Student Association (PBGSA) sponsored the "Future Plant Scientist" award at the 2015 Georgia Science and Engineering Fair here in Athens. Graduate students spent half a day meeting with middle and high school students from across the state to discuss and judge their projects and encourage their continued participation in science. The students ultimately chose to award Maggie Clutter from Oconee County Middle School their prize for her project on the American chestnut.

Dr. Wendy Zomlefer has been awarded a UGA Public Service and Outreach Fellowship for fall 2015.  Wendy is Curator of UGA’s Herbarium and has been actively involved with outreach activities across the state. This fellowship will provide an opportunity for Wendy to refocus her educational outreach activities on the State Botanical Garden, thereby building a bridge between these two facilities that are naturally aligned through their educational missions of promoting plants and plant collections.

Kierson Jones graduated with a BS in Plant Biology in December 2014.  He is currently working as a technician on multiple projects in Dr. Khang's lab.  He is studying rice blast (Magnaporthe oryzae), a destructive fungal pathogen of rice.  His research involves early post-penetration fungal morphology and development, extra-invasive hyphal membrane (EIHM) dynamics, and comparative transcriptome analysis in rice roots.Kiersun Jones.jpg

Since June 2014, PBIO undergrad Emma Shipman has worked in the Khang lab studying early infection morphogenesis of the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae​. With other lab members, she co-authored a poster and paper (in review) on dynamics of effector-secreting cell establishment by M. oryzae​. She is starting graduate school in September at the University of California at Davis's Plant Biology Graduate Group.

What do PBIO grad students do on Spring Break? They host a regional conference! Uma Nagendra and Jeffery Cannon led a group of graduate students to host the Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference (SEEC) at UGA this past March. The conference brought 225 early career researchers from over 40 institutions to UGA for presentations and posters, as well as a plenary, career panel, field trip, and trivia. Attendees practiced effective science communication with new "rapid research talks" and a lunchtime workshop.

photo of morning glory flowers

What will you be doing on May 18th - Fascination of Plants Day? 

Fascination of Plants Day is an internationally coordinated activity started by the European Plant Science Organization aimed at heightening awareness and cultivate fascination for plants.   (

We are excited to announce the promotions of Stephanie Chirello to Administrative Specialist II and Gretchen Bowen to Sr. Accountant.   Also, please welcome our newest staff member, Chelsea Harvey, Administrative Associate I.

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photo of graduate student Eric Goolsby

Congratulations to Eric Goolsby, an Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program student in the Donovan lab, for his NSF DDIG grant: "Evolution of hyperaccumulation in wild Helianthus: a phylogenetically explicit assessment of evolutionary history and adaptive hypotheses"

Congratulations to Sabrina Sewell (M.S., 2013) and Wendy Zomlefer (her advisor). They received the Windler Award at the 76th Annual meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists in Chattanooga, TN.  The award is presented annually to the author(s) of the best systematic botany paper published in Castanea the previous year.  Sabrina's paper was based on the second chapter of her thesis, a study of vegetation of the unusual Piedmont Gabbro Upland Depression Forests in Jasper County, GA.  She received a $500.00 check from the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society.

Jess Stephens and co-authors publish Saracennia Phylogeny!

Stephens, Jess, Will Rogers, Karolina Heyduk, Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, Ron Determann, Travis Glenn, Russell Malmberg. 2015. Ressolving phylogenetic relationships of the recently radiated plant genus Sarracenia using target enrichment.  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 85: 76-87

Plant Biology graduate student Alex Harkess is definitely on a roll!

1) Awarded an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant!

2) Paper published in New Phytologist !

3) Finalist in the UGA 3-minute dissertation competition to be held Wed April 8!

Keep it up!

Congratulations to Chase Mason on a successful PhD dissertation defense!  Join us for his departmental exit seminar April 6.

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.

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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!