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Cargill-based Faculty

Fifteen MPGI members reside at the Cargill Building for Microbial & Plant Genomics on the St. Paul Campus. Their research interests are varied, overlapping in a genomics core.

Brett Barney

Associate Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
 
Biosynthetic pathways for commodity fuels and high-value products from bacteria and algae. Organisms from extreme environments and applications of these species in bioprocessing. Detailed understanding of symbiotic relationships between algae and bacteria. Basic evolutionary techniques related to novel protein design (directed evolution).

Ran Blekhman

Assistant Professor, Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development

My lab's broad focus will be on Population, Evolutionary, and Medical Genomics in humans and other primates. I am interested in understanding how genetic variation between individuals, populations, and species creates a wide range of phenotypic diversity. My lab will generate genomic data, and employ computational, statistical, network-theory, data mining, and population genetic approaches, with the goal of achieving a comprehensive understanding of the genetic basis underlying specific complex traits and diseases. Work in my lab will (1) characterize the mechanism and evolutionary history of interactions between host and its associated microbiota, (2) identify genetic variants causing complex disease, and (3) shed light on the evolution of gene regulation in humans.

Website: http://blekhmanlab.org/

Yaniv Brandvain

Assistant Professor, Plant Biology

We are dedicated to understanding the origin, diversity, distribution of, and evolutionary forces active within, the flowering plants. Our group is fundamentally integrative, synthesizing genomic, theoretical, phylogenetic, comparative, molecular and field work to address these biological questions. We use genomic data to understand the history of divergence, adaptation, introgression and biogeography in emerging model systems. We use large-scale comparative analyses to reveal the major drivers of species diversity, phenotypic variation, and reproductive isolation in the flowering plants. We complement these genomic and comparative inferences with both functional analyses of the genetic and ecological bases of reproductive isolation, and basic population genomic theory to generate hypotheses and novel inference methods.

Sue Gibson

Associate Professor, Plant Biology

We are using molecular genetics and genomics tools to characterize how plants sense and respond to soluble sugar levels and regulate primary and secondary metabolic pathways. These studies will increase our understanding of how nutrient levels affect plant development and metabolism, and may aid in developing plants that produce greater amounts of food, biofuels or terpenoid indole alkaloids (anti-cancer compounds).

Jane Glazebrook

Professor and Associate Dean, Plant Biology

Pathogen pressure exerts a major drag on crop yields. The outcomes of plant-pathogen interactions are determined by a fascinating complex interplay between pathogen efforts to extract nutrients from plant hosts and host efforts to prevent this. Major host and pathogen genes that play roles in these interactions are subject to ongoing selection as both pathogens and hosts evolve improved mechanisms for attack and defense.

Fumiaki Katagiri

Professor, Plant Biology

Plants have innate immunity in which recognition of pathogen attack initiates signaling events resulting in induction of immune responses. Pathogens not only initiate the signaling events but also attack the plant signaling network to overcome plant immunity. As pathogens evolve much faster than plants, the plant signaling network must be able to withstand pathogen assaults without heavily relying on short-term adaptation. We study what structural features and dynamic rules of the plant immune signaling network underlie the behavior of the network by applying biological and computational approaches to highly tractable model plant-pathogen systems.
 

Dan Knights

Assistant Professor, BTI
 
My lab’s focus is the functional characterization of complex host-microbe interactions in host diseases and behavior. Perhaps the grandest bioinformatics challenge of the genomics era is to place genes into functional disease pathways using data sets of limited sample size. Human genome studies have identified associations between genetics and disease, but in a surprising number of diseases, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, autism, HIV, and obesity, as well as aspects of animal behavior, our “second genome”–the mixture of genes in our resident microbes–has recently been implicated. In many of these cases we still understand little about the mechanisms of host-microbe interactions. Although sequencing and other “omics” technologies now generate so much biological data we have to ship it on an airplane, many of the bioinformatics methods for analyzing these data are in their infancy. Furthermore, the data are high-dimensional and increasingly multi-omics, with many types collected for each sample, requiring tools from machine learning for data integration and the incorporation of prior knowledge. The methods my lab is developing will help lay the foundation for identifying host disease and behavior pathways across the host-microbe interface.
 

Igor Libourel

Associate Professor, Plant Biology

Our research is focused on discovering the design principles of this core metabolism. The picoalgae Ostreococcus is a prevalent genus in the world’s oceans and is used in our lab as a model system. We study the metabolic features of Ostreococcus, and investigate the relationship between metabolic adaptation and the environment.

Suzanne McGaugh

Assistant Professor, Evolution, Ecology and Behavior
 
My lab's research interests include:
     - Contributions of positive and background selection in the genome
     - Genetic signatures of stress and aging
     - Molecular evolution
     - Population genetics and genomics
     - Quantitative genetics
     - Recombination's impact on the genome
     - Speciation

Chad Myers

Associate Professor, Computer Science and Engineering

My research focuses on machine learning approaches for integrating diverse genomic data to make inferences about biological networks. The main purpose of our work is to further our understanding of gene function and how genes or proteins interact to carry out cellular function.

Daniel O'Sullivan

Professor, Food Science and Nutrition

Microbiology, Food biotechnology, Bacteriophage, Gene regulation in Lactococcus, Probiotic cultures, Antimicrobial compounds, Bifidobacteria genomics.

Phillip Pardey

Director of the International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (InSTePP) Center 

His research deals with the finance and conduct of R&D globally, methods for assessing the economic impacts of research, and the economic and policy (especially intellectual property) aspects of genetic resources and the biosciences.

Jonathan Schilling

Associate Professor, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering

Wood-degrading microbes are uniquely adapted to metabolize carbon from recalcitrant, nitrogen-poor lignocellulose. These organisms, principally basidiomycetous fungi, are managed pests in the built environment; however, they play a vital role in forest biogeochemistry, and their mechanisms offer commercial potential in biofuels, bioplastics, and bioremediation. My research therefore aims to better characterize the mechanisms of wood biodegradation and to apply this information to wood preservation, forest management, and ‘green’ biotechnology.

Srinand Sreevatsan

Associate Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine

Dr. Sreevatsan is a veterinarian with advanced training in molecular microbiology, epidemiology, and diagnostic medicine. The principal focus of his laboratory is to define the molecular mechanisms by which bacterial organisms establish infection. His interests surround several issues in host-pathogen interactions with specific emphasis on the evolution of the pathogen and it's adaptation to hosts.

Kenneth Vernick

Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept. of Microbiology, University of Minnesota

Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept. of Parasitology & Mycology Institut Pasteur, Paris, France

The goal of our research is to understand the host-pathogen interactions that underlie malaria transmission by the mosquito vector. We study natural vector and parasite populations in Africa to identify genetic mechanisms in the mosquito that can kill malaria parasites before they are transmitted. The studies are aimed towards developing a new generation of malaria control approaches.

Dan Voytas

Professor, Genetics, Cell Biology and Development

Director, Center for Genome Engineering 

The ability to modify the genome of an organism at a specific locus is an invaluable research tool and has the potential to be an amazing therapeutic tool.  The Voytas Lab specializes in two types proteins that allow this kind of genome modification: Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs) and Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs). 
 
The work of the Voytas Lab focuses on the goal of modifying plant genomes for basic research and for crop improvement.  Toward this goal, we work with cassava, arabidopsis thaliana, rice, tobacco, soybean, and maize with the help of many collaborators.  In addition, the Voytas Lab is involved in many projects in animal systems whose goals include curing lethal genetic diseases in humans and investigating the role of specific genes in addiction.  These projects in animals are only possible with the help of close collaborators.

Nevin Young

Professor, Plant Pathology

My colleagues and I use genomics to understand the genetic organization of legumes, the plant family that includes crops like soybean, pea, and alfalfa. A key starting point toward our goal is sequencing the complete genome of a simple model legume known as Medicago truncatula. With this information, we are working to understand the molecular evolution that has taken place over millions of years and resulted in the modern crops.