Lab Members

Current Graduate Students:

Jacob Washburn


Jacobs studies the evolution C4 photosynthesis within the grass tribe Paniceae using bioinformatics, genomics, phylogenetics, and morphological traits. The tribe is of particular interest because of the recurrent evolution of at least three distinct types of C4 photosynthesis and the fact that it contains various domesticated crop and weed species with high economic and social importance. This research has applications to both basic scientific discovery and to the improvement/utilization of food, forage, and bioenergy crop species.


Sarah Unruh


Sarah studies the relationship between Orchids and their mycorrhizal fungi. Orchids are dependent on these fungi as their seeds have little nutrition. They rely on fungi to grow into an embryo and provide carbon along with other nutrients to support germination and development.
Fungi giving, seemingly without receiving, is an odd interaction with plants. Sarah is sequencing fungal genomes and using RNAseq to study this interaction and evolution of this symbiosis.



Andrea Ravelo


Andrea’s research interests are broad but mainly lie at the interface of evolutionary biology and ecology. She is interested in how ecological processes and spatial distribution at the landscape scale affect plant evolution and diversity. Utilizing tools such as GIS and next-generation sequencing she would like to reconstruct the natural history of different taxa through space and time. More specifically, she will be looking at orchids and how their symbiotic relationship with fungal mycorrhizae might influence their overall evolutionary success and distribution.


Hong An

unnamedHong studies the origin and domestications of Brassica rapa and Brassica napus using phylogenetic, population genetic and bioinformatics methods. Brassica rapa serves as various nutritious vegetables for humans and Brassica napus is a worldwide multiuse crop, especially as a very important edible oil resource. They all have many domesticated sub-species which are grown all over the world. This study contributes not only to dissecting the genetic diversity of these crops but also to the improvement of worldwide breeding.


R. Shawn Abrahams


Shawn is investigating the co-evolution of plant-insect interactions within the mustard family. A recent study from the lab, found the co-evolution between white cabbage butterflies and cabbage plants was driven by two ancient genome duplication events. The idea is that some duplicated genes are co-opted for new or more specialized functions over time, leading to new traits. In the case of cabbage and white cabbage butterflies, the research suggests that duplication led to modifications in glucosinolates, a natural chemical defense used by the plant to deter predation by the butterflies. Shawn will be using various omics approaches to explore additional genetic changes that occurred in the glucosinolate pathway following a more recent polyploid event in cabbage. He hopes that this research will add to our basic knowledge of the mechanisms of co-evolution and may inform efforts to boost plant immunity.


Makenzie Mabry


Makenzie is investigating the role of duplicate genes, regulatory regions, and networks in Brassica oleracea to elucidate the genotype to phenotype relationship. B. oleracea is an important vegetable crop consisting of many morpotypes (Kale, Kohlrabi, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Cabbage, and Brussels sprouts). Makenzie is also interested in dissecting the population structure of these morphotypes including their wild relatives. She hopes this research can not only further our basic understanding of polyploidy but also the larger role it plays in evolution.


Current Undergraduate Students:

Julia Brose-


Sarah Gebken-


Daniel Westfall-









Shelby Sample-

Emad Alsamadi-



Previous Graduate Students:

Dustin Mayfield-Jones–  Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Senior Laboratory Technician

Patrick Edger– Michigan State University, Assistant Professor (

Tatiana Arias– BIOS: Colombia’s Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Institute, Research Project Coordinator

Erica Wheeler– Royal BC Museum, Botany Collection Manager (

Kate Hertwick– University of Texas at Tyler, Assistant Professor (



Previous Undergraduate Students:

Kevin Bird-PhD Student at University of Missouri

Wade Dismukes– PhD Student at Iowa State University

Satya Kothapalli– Monsanto

Michelle Tang– PhD Student at University of California, Davis

Sarah Unruh– PhD Student at University of Missouri

Nate Ellis– Post Doctoral Student at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Jill LeRoy– DuPont Pioneer

Starr Matsushita– Medical School

Kirsten Wright– Graduate School