New Faculty in the Department of Plant Sciences

As noted in the Chair’s Message, the Department of Plant Sciences is undergoing a number of new faculty hires, which will continue in the upcoming years. In this and upcoming issues of The Leaf newsletter, we will share brief profiles of new faculty members, along with their areas of expertise and contact information.

In this issue, we introduce Maeli Melotto, Steve Knapp, Daniel Runcie, and Amelie Gaudin.

 

Maeli Melotto

Maeli Melotto, UC Davis
Maeli Melotto, UC Davis

Biography: Melotto, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, specializes in plant-pathogen interactions. Melotto completed her Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at Michigan State University before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2014 from the University of Texas.

Research interests: Plant disease, food safety, molecular biology of plant-microbe interactions, phyllosphere microbiology (aboveground portions of plants as a habitat for microorganisms), model and crop plant pathosystems, plant defenses against human and plant pathogens, stomatal immunity, bacterial pathogenesis on plants, produce contamination with human pathogens.

Brief overview: Food production and food safety are constantly threatened by pathogenic microbes (such as bacteria and viruses) that can decrease crop yield and contaminate the edible parts of the plant. Our research is focused on understanding the close interaction between plants and pathogens at the molecular level.

We aim to determine the physiological changes that happen in both the plant and the pathogen when they come into contact. Specifically, we want to know how the plant immune system works to fight against pathogen infection and how pathogens employ virulence strategies to overcome plant defenses.

This line of research is critical for the development of environmentally sound methods to minimize the impact of diseases and economic losses in agriculture worldwide, and to reduce food contamination with human pathogens in crops such as leafy vegetables.

Current projects:

  • Molecular mechanisms of stomatal immunity
  • Human pathogen internalization and survival into leafy vegetables
  • Genetic components of crop plant resistance against fungal and bacterial pathogens
  • Transition from avirulent to virulent life styles of bacterial pathogens

 

 

Steve Knapp, UC Davis
Steve Knapp, UC Davis

Steve Knapp

Biography: Knapp, a professor and director of the Strawberry Breeding Program in the Department of Plant Sciences, specializes in plant breeding, genetics, and genomics. Knapp has been a professor at both Oregon State University and at the University of Georgia, Athens. Most recently, he was global director for vegetable breeding with Monsanto’s Vegetable Research and Development Program in Woodland, California, before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2015.

Research interests: Plant breeding, genomics, statistical genetics, bioinformatics

Brief overview: California is the dominant producer of both fresh and processed strawberries, providing more than 87 percent of the strawberries consumed in North America. Strawberry varieties developed at UC Davis produce about 60 percent of the strawberries consumed worldwide. The goal of our Strawberry Breeding Program is to develop new, commercially useful varieties of strawberries that have higher quality berries, are less vulnerable to pests and diseases, and can be grown more efficiently.

We work to develop and deliver outstanding cultivators by collaborating with growers and colleagues, preserving and multiplying germplasm, conducting cutting-edge genetics and genomics research, and planting yield trials in collaboration with growers throughout the state.

Current projects:

  • Development of short-day and day-neutral strawberry cultivars
  • Genetics of resistance to soil-borne pathogens, photoperiod response, and fruit quality in strawberry
  • Strawberry genome evolution, diversity, and domestication
  • Genomics-enabled breeding in strawberry

 

 

Amelie Gaudin

Amelie Gaudin, UC Davis
Amelie Gaudin, UC Davis

Biography: Gaudin, an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, specializes in agroecology. Gaudin completed her Ph.D. in plant agriculture at the University of Guelph and conducted research as a crop physiologist at various CGIAR centers (the International Potato Center and the International Rice Research Institute) before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2015.

Research interests: Agroecology, adaptation and resilience to climate change, conservation practices, ecological intensification, resource use efficiency, crop stress physiology, root systems, domestication.

Brief overview: In a changing climate, agriculture faces many challenges to sustainably increase food production. Our research program centers on using agroecological principles to tackle these challenges and help develop more efficient, sustainable, and resilient cropping systems.

We conduct research on systems rather than specific crops in geographic areas ranging from the Corn Belt to California to the tropics. We integrate methods from various disciplines to study how conservation practices and climate-smart management options help maintain or recover ecosystem services after an area has undergone environmental stresses. We also seek to understand how root systems respond to limiting resources and their potential to develop more efficient crops.

Current projects:

  • Potential of cropping system diversification for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the northern Corn Belt
  • Trade-offs and synergies between mitigation and adaptation strategies in California processing tomato production systems
  • Evaluation of conservation agriculture practices to enhance maize tolerance to drought and to maintain/recover regulation of agroecosystem services under stress
  • Impact of domestication and breeding on crop root ecology, growth, and architecture, and the implications for nitrogen uptake
  • Ecological intensification of almond orchards

 

 

Dan Runcie, UC Davis.
Dan Runcie, UC Davis.

Daniel Runcie

Biography: Runcie is an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences. Using statistics, models, and lab experiments, he looks at how plants respond to changing environments. He completed his Ph.D. at Duke University and was a postdoctoral scholar in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology before joining the faculty in 2015.

Research interests: Evolution of plant life history, evolution of gene regulation, quantitative genetics and statistics, computational models of plant physiology and gene networks

Brief overview: Research in our lab focuses on why certain plant traits are more advantageous in some environments than others, and how the growth or development of these traits is molded by evolution and artificial selection. We try to identify genes and molecular pathways in plants that react to environmental cues such as temperature or day-lengths, and to predict how different cultivars or wild races will perform in natural environments.

Our goals are to improve predictions of crop performance, learn about forces that shape the evolutionary histories of natural populations, and identify critical systems that limit plant responses to climate change.

We approach these goals with a variety of tools, including statistics, quantitative genetics, gene network and models, bioinformatics, and lab experiments. Most of our projects use gene-expression analysis to probe molecular variation involved in particular gene networks. We try to link gene-expression traits to variation in development or physiology.

Current projects:

  • Modeling how genetic pathways and physiology control when plants flower
  • Statistical methods for “big data” in genetics, specifically gene expression
  • Identifying how plants adapt to high elevation environments

 

(Profiles written by Robin DeRieux, CA&ES Dean’s Office)

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