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ARS Home » Research » 1890 Faculty Research Sabbatical Program » 1890 Faculty Research Sabbatical Program Partnerships Hub » 1890 Partnerships - Crop Production and Protection

1890 Partnerships - Crop Production and Protection
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Ebrahiem Babiker (Poplarville, MS); 601-916-0467

Researcher’s statement: I am interested in genetic, genomics and breeding of blueberry and muscadine grape. My lab integrates principles of plant breeding, genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics to develop molecular tools and locate genomic regions associated with fruit quality and phenology related traits in blueberries and muscadine grape.

Raman Bansal (Parlier, CA); 559-596-2768

Researcher’s statement: I am a Research Entomologist, and my research focuses on generating and utilizing knowledge about insect physiology and toxicology to improve the pest management. I am particularly interested in insect pests of tree nuts (almond, pistachio, walnut). Research methodologies include, but are not limited to, generating molecular resources through big data approaches, developing novel genomics approaches such as gene silencing and gene editing, bioassays for toxicological responses, development of novel treatments, and comparative transcriptomics using RNA-seq and quantitative PCR.

Seth Britch (Gainesville, FL); 302-388-3655

Researcher’s statement: Our research program consists of two complementary domains, (i) investigating the environmental limits of pesticide efficacy and developing novel integrated vector management (IVM) systems, and (ii) investigating historical associations between climate variation and population dynamics of disease vector mosquitoes and sand flies to develop predictive systems protecting endemic and emerging regions from severe vector borne disease. In (i) we conduct field and laboratory research in an array of ecological regions at field sites in Kenya, Thailand, Greece, California, South Carolina, and Florida, targeting a range of natural and laboratory reared populations of disease vector mosquitoes and sand flies with diverse combinations of application technology and botanical and synthetic adulticides, larvicides, and spatial repellents. A substantial focus in (i) is protecting U.S. military war fighters in austere field environments from severe nuisance and disease vector insects with the use of innovative IVM applications of military field materials and equipment and development of a Mobile Pesticide App decision support system. In (ii) we collaborate closely with NASA and DoD partners to develop landscape scale predictive models of Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) activity in endemic regions of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and link these predictions through transport pathways to high-risk areas of the United States highlighted by historical climate-mosquito dynamics and seasonal environmental signals. A substantial focus of (ii) is analyzing >60 yr of U.S. mosquito collection records and long term normalized difference vegetation index and other remotely sensed climate data.

Rodney Cooper (Wapato, WA); 509-439-5170

Researcher’s statement: I am a Research Entomologist with the Temperate Tree Fruit and Vegetable Research Unit in Wapato, WA. My research focus is on plant-insect associations of Hemiptera pests of tree fruits and potatoes, including pear psylla, leafhopper vectors of x-disease Phytoplasma, potato psyllid (vector of Liberibacter solanacearum), and beet leafhopper (vector of Phytoplasma trifolii and beet curly top virus). I am using molecular gut content analysis to identify non-crop sources of insect pests and infective vectors of plant pathogens. A long-term goal of my research is to improve landscape level management of insect pests and vectors, and to develop pest risk forecast models based upon the early spring occurrence of insects on non-crop host or shelter plants.

Hui Duan (Beltsville, MD); 301-504-5350

Researcher’s statement: My lab conducts research on genetic improvement of ornamental plants, especially woody plants, through plant biotechnology. The research uses new breeding technologies including transgenic and gene editing to introduce valuable consumer (flower/foliage color, plant architecture etc.) and sustainability traits (biotic and abiotic stress resistance etc.) into select ornamental woody plants.

Georgia Eizenga (Stuttgart, AR); 870-672-6104

Researcher’s statement

Our lab focuses on genetic improvement of cultivated rice using diverse rice species. The rice ancestral species which are closely related to the cultivated rice as it is grown today, contain genes lost during the domestication process. The ultimate aim of this research is to identify these "lost" genes and incorporate them into currently grown U.S. rice varieties. To rediscover these genes, we are examining a collection of ancestral rice species (Oryza species), the cultivated African rice and selected lines of the "Rice Diversity Panel 1", a collection of 424 rice varieties from around the world. Studies are being performed to identify genes associated with yield, disease resistance, seedling cold tolerance and salt tolerance using genome-wide association mapping studies (GWAS), biparental mapping populations and chromosome segment substitution lines with SNP genotyping to identify candidate genes.

Alan Franzluebbers (Raleigh, NC); 919 208-9344

Researcher’s statement: Research conducted in the Soil Ecology and Management Lab focuses on conservation approaches to achieve agricultural sustainability. Current field-based projects are on silvopasture management (, and on-farm trials investigating improved N management of field crops. Lab protocols emphasize soil health determinations, including total C and N and soil microbial activity.

Mary Guttieri (Manhattan, KS); 785-347-2234

Researcher’s statement: My research program conducts winter wheat germplasm enhancement (breeding) using marker-enabled breeding technologies. Our primary breeding targets are improved resistance to important diseases of wheat, including the rust diseases and wheat streak mosaic virus, and improved nutritional quality for human consumption. We have a major breeding effort to incorporate the diversity of the tetraploid wheat ancestor, Triticum dicoccoides (wild emmer), into winter wheat. Our research is conducted in the laboratory, greenhouses, seed house, and multiple field sites.

Ryan Hayes (Corvallis, OR); 541-738-4125

Researcher’s statement: Forage, turf, and cover crop species are widely grown in the U.S. and are critical components of sustainable landscapes and agroecosystems. Most of the cool season grass seed used to plant these crops is grown in the Pacific Northwest due to the mild winters and dry summers that are ideal for their production. Research in disease resistance, plant pathogen diversity, development of plant disease decision aids, invertebrate pest population dynamics, and agronomy is conducted to support grass seed production. Breeding and genetics research to improve annual ryegrass as a cover crop, including crop termination and root exudate traits, is conducted to expand the crop’s use and support soil conservation across the U.S.

Louis Hesler (Brookings, SD); 605-693-5228

Researcher’s statement: I am a Research Entomologist, and my current research interests include host-plant resistance to insects in various crops, with experience mainly in soybean and wheat. I have also conducted research on beneficial insects, principally predators of insect pests, and I’m working to develop a research component dealing with insect pollinators as well. My ARS research assignment broadly includes various strategies for managing arthropod crop pests, so there is plenty of latitude for establishing research ties with 1890 faculty.

Md Islam (Canal Point, FL); 561-926-5227 Ext. 123

Researcher’s statement: Identifying gene and genomic regions along with associated molecular markers for key disease resistance, sugar and yield related traits in order to facilitate selection using molecular markers physically associated with superior alleles of traits will result in Saccharum genotypes with improved disease resistance, sugar content and consequently yield. High throughput phenotyping methods and robust genotyping using next generation sequencing technique are currently being used in our lab. We are also conducting genomic selection, cataloging the genomic variants for disease resistant and sugar metabolism gene for sugarcane breeding. Developing improved cultivar for commercial sugarcane (Saccharum spp. Hybrid) for sustainable and higher sugar production.

Jean-Luc Jannink (Ithaca, NY); 607-255-5266

Researcher’s statement: My research focuses on statistical approaches to analyze and interpret the increasing quantity of DNA data available to breeding programs in combination with the phenotypic diversity these programs traditionally excel at putting to use. High throughput methods for collecting phenotypes are also developing so that we also need new approaches to leverage this high-dimensional data to accelerate gain from selection. Given this increased emphasis on data, we also work on information technology that makes it easier for breeders to handle more, and more diverse, data. In some way, all the analyses we work on aim to enable programs to make better selection decisions more rapidly.

Rebecca Schmidt-Jeffris (Wapato, WA); 509-454-6556

Researcher’s statement: The biological control of arthropod pests of tree fruit by predators and parasitoids. We study conservation of resident natural enemies through development of selective pesticide programs, landscape manipulation, and supplementary food products. We are also developing best practice guidelines for purchasing and releasing commercially available natural enemies for pest control, including timing and release rates and testing efficacy of drone releases. My team also studies the basic biology of natural enemies, including predatory mites, earwigs, spiders, predatory bugs, ladybeetles, and parasitoid wasps (Trechnites insidiosus, Ganaspis brasiliensis, and Leptopilina japonica).

Peishih Liang (Hilo, HI; 808-959-4349

Researcher's Statement: I am a Research Agricultural Engineer, and my research focuses on applying spectroscopy, imaging, sensors, and x-rays in postharvest food quality and safety, and pest management. My past and current projects include using near infrared spectroscopy/hyperspectral imaging for monitoring the quality/safety of persimmons, potatoes, tree nuts, etc., developing x-ray methods for Sterile Insect Technique programs, and using multispectral imaging for plant phenotyping. While stationing in Hilo, Hawaii, I'm particularly interested in implementing these technologies in insect pest-related applications.

Mali Mahalingam (Madison, WI); 608-890-0300

Researcher’s statement: Understanding the molecular basis of tolerance to abiotic stresses (heat and drought) in plants, particularly in barley. Our lab uses genetics, phenomics, genomics and biochemical approaches to decipher the function of key genes invovled in abiotic stress signaling. Another aspect of our research invovles the identification of key genes and their functions associated with malting quality in barley.

Chris Mattison (New Orleans, LA); 504-286-4392

Researcher’s statement: My research is focused on the primary and secondary prevention of peanut and tree nut allergies. We purify and characterize peanut and tree nut allergens to better understand how they cause food allergy. My lab uses molecular and cellular biology techniques to study antibody-allergen interactions, elucidate allergen structure-function relationships, and characterize peanut and tree nut allergens prior to and following commercial processing steps.

James Polashock (Chatsworth, NJ/HQ Beltsville, MD); 609-726-2523

Researcher’s Statement: I am a Research Plant Pathologist. My program focuses on diseases of blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and cranberry (V. macrocarpon). Our lab is based in southern New Jersey in the heart of the Pine Barrens, where the majority of blueberry and cranberry production in the state is based. Our lab is dedicated to generating molecular resources for these species that can be used in breeding programs for crop improvement, with emphasis on resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors. Our approaches include whole genome sequencing, genetic mapping, pathogen characterization, QTL analyses, transcriptomics, hyperspectral imaging, etc. We are also pursuing gene silencing and gene editing techniques as well as characterization of the ‘berryland’ soil microbiome. Our multidisciplinary program involves lab, greenhouse and field work as well as close collaborations with the local grower community.

I am based in Chatsworth, NJ, and headquartered out of the Genetic Improvement of fruits and Vegetables Lab (GIFVL) in Beltsville, Maryland (NEA).

Jose Ramirez (Peoria, IL); 309-681-6195

Researcher’s statement: Dr. Ramirez’s research include the study of multipartite interactions (insect-pathogen-symbiotic microbe interactions) to identify factors that influence pathogen infection in the arthropod host. Current efforts also involve the isolation and characterization of entomopathogenic microbes to develop novel microbe-based biopesticides to control arthropod vectors and the pathogens they transmit.

Brian Rector (Reno, NV); 775-784-6057

Researcher’s statement: My research is focused on classical biological control of invasive weeds; natural enemies (e.g. insects, mites, fungi) from the native range of an invasive weed species are evaluated in the laboratory/greenhouse and petitioned for release into the invaded range if they are found to be both damaging and highly host-specific. In addition to scientific literature searches, field surveys, and biological studies of weed natural enemies, research activities may also include taxonomic descriptions of new species and molecular genetic studies of weed and/or natural enemy populations, depending on one’s interests and expertise. My research program focuses on important weeds of the arid western United States, but I would also be interested in collaborating on a study of an invasive weed from the applicant’s home region, which they could then continue at their home university after their sabbatical ends.

Erin Scully (Manhattan, KS), 785-776-2710

Researcher’s statement: My work focuses on improving genomic resources for stored product insects and identifying genes and mutations that are associated with the ability to detect and respond to pheromones, kairomones, and other volatiles and the ability to tolerate biotic and abiotic stresses. I use a combination of bioinformatics approaches, such as genome assembly, RNA-Seq, and proteomics, and functional genomics approaches, such as RNAi, to address these topics. I also have a broad range of expertise in plant, insect, and microbial genomics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and plant-insect-microbial interactions.

Gordon Selling (Peoria, IL); 309-681-6338

Researcher’s statement: We are developing novel uses for high amylose corn starch inclusion complexes where the ligand is either a biobased fatty acid or fatty amine salt. These biodegradable complexes are best made using steam jet cooking (commonly used in the paper industry), or microwave heating. Yields are quantitative and use very safe reagents. We have published articles showing the value for these complexes in controlling pests and pathogenic fungi or other microbes. As the technology is very safe and uses commercially available materials/processes, it is suitable for scale-up globally.

Anna Testen (Wooster, OH), 330-641-2862

Researcher’s statement: Research in my lab focuses on developing sustainable disease management strategies for specialty crops produced in controlled environment agriculture (CEA) systems, ranging from high tunnels to vertical farms. Major areas of research include developing disease management strategies for soilborne diseases in high tunnel vegetable production and synthetic pesticide-free methods to manage diseases in greenhouse vegetable production. We work to improve diagnosis of CEA pathogens and determine the impacts of management strategies on beneficial microbes.

Roger Thilmony (Albany, CA); 510-559-5761

Researcher’s statement: My group’s research is focused on crop biotechnology. Genetic engineering is performed on a diverse set of plant species including rice, wheat, switchgrass, Brachypodium, tomato, tobacco, Arabidopsis and citrus and we are open to working on other plant species as well. Sophisticated plant molecular biology techniques are developed and utilized to create useful molecular tools for precisely performing genome engineering in plants. Recently a highly effective gene stacking technology called GAANTRY was developed and shown to efficiently engineer 10 or more genes into plants. Also, a suite of novel promoters, terminators and insulator sequences have been identified that control green tissue-specific, root-specific, seed/fruit-specific and pollen- or reproductive-specific expression in plants.

Kristin Trippe (Corvallis, OR); 541-738-4181

Researcher’s statement: The mild, marine climate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon supports a broad diversity of seed crop rotations, including grass, clover, meadowfoam, and hemp. Crop management practices within this production system are equally diverse. While some farmers employ conventional practices that involve frequent tillage and bailing of crop residues, other farmers use one or more practices that are thought to improve the health of the soil including returning crop residues to the soil, infrequent tillage, and frequent rotations. Little is known about how these differing practices effect soil health, soil microbiomes, or pest and pathogen populations. The aim of our research program is to deepen this understanding and to determine if conservation farming practices improve yield or decrease costs.

Joshua Udall (College Station, TX); 979-213-0137

Researcher’s statement: Crop germplasm research focuses on cotton, pecan, sorghum, and warm season grasses. As a scientist, my primary interest is in the genetic diversity and domestication of cotton. Here we maintain the National Germplasm Collection of cotton. I use genomic approaches (genome sequencing) to identify regions of the cotton genomic that impact fiber and agronomic characteristics.

Christina Walters (Fort Collins, CO)

Researcher’s statement: My lab works on questions related to preserving viability of pollen or seeds and predicting shelf-life using various biochemical or biophysical tools. There are two major preservation platforms that we target: freezer (-20C) and cryogenic (-170 to -196C). We work on many different species; some of our favorites are oaks, citrus, coffee, cocoa and nut crops (cryogenic storage) or lettuce, sunflower, Brassica sp, soybean, pea and peanut (freezer storage). We are currently conducting research on feasibility of cryogenic storage or microbe collections.

Jacob Washburn (Columbia, MO); 573-355-4786

Researcher’s statement: My lab works on understanding the genetic and physiological basis of plant phenotypes and adaptations to both environmental (drought, heat, etc.) and human imposed conditions (fertilizer, density, monoculture, etc.). We use traditional phenotyping, drones, rovers, physiological instruments, and other methods to evaluate plants in the field, greenhouse, and growth chamber. We apply quantitative genetics, physiological models, and machine/deep learning to biological, evolutionary, and agricultural systems.

Martin (Marty) Williams (Urbana, IL); (217) 244-5476

Researcher’s statementA Lead Scientist in USDA-ARS’s Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit in Urbana, Illinois, Dr. Williams leads the unit’s weed science thrust in addressing critical obstacles in crop production systems by conducting research to define principles and develop improved practices for crop production, including research on weed biology and ecology, issues related to herbicide use, and multi-tactic weed management systems.  He is recognized for delivering solutions to vegetable seed and food processing industries in the U.S. and beyond. 

Jennifer Wilson (Wooster, OH), 330-263-9715

Researcher’s statement: Our lab focuses on viral diseases of corn and soybean, especially those transmitted by insect vectors. We examine many aspects of virus-host-vector interactions, combining knowledge from the disciplines of plant virology, entomology, and molecular biology. We use a combination of classical and cutting-edge techniques from electropenetrography (EPG) to microscopy to next generation sequencing. I also work closely with an ARS plant geneticist, Erik Ohlson, who focuses on host resistance to viruses and we’d be happy to host a faculty member on any project related to viruses of corn and soybean.


Chenghai Yang (College Station, TX); 979-571-5811

Researcher’s statement: My research has focused on the development and application of remote sensing technologies for precision agriculture and pest management. Specific research objectives include: 1) develop and evaluate remote sensing technologies for detecting and mapping crop growth and pest conditions (i.e., pathogens, arthropods, and weeds); 2) develop GIS-based prescription maps for site-specific ground and aerial applications of crop production and protection materials; and 3) compare different remote sensing platforms (i.e., satellites, aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems) for assessing the performance and efficacy of aerial and/or ground applications for pest control and other crop management practices.