Alumni Highlights

Nayeli Sanchez participated in the Plant Genomics @ MSU REU Program during summer 2015 where she performed research with Maren Friesen in the Department of Plant Biology studying root associated bacteria in Trifolium. At the time, Nayeli was a rising junior at Monroe County Community College and participation in the program was her first exposure to research. Nayeli transferred to Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Fall 2015 and in Fall 2016 she was accepted into the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program at EMU where she began a research project with Dr. Ulrich Reinhardt studying swimming behavior of the invasive Sea Lamprey in the Great Lakes. She presented her research on Sea Lampreys at the McNair Scholars National Conference and also at the annual EMU undergraduate research conference. In 2017, Nayeli was accepted into the University of Toledo’s Land-Lake Ecology REU Program where she performed research into the health effects of algal bloom toxins in vulnerable populations. Nayeli’s passion for research has continued to grow since her first experience at MSU and following graduation she plans to attend graduate school and would like to study aquatic biology.

Zach WareJoncas graduated with a BA in biology from St. Olaf College in 2017. He participated in the Plant Genomics @ MSU REU program during the summer of 2015 where he performed research with Beronda Montgomery into the function of the TSPO protein of the cyanobacterium Fremyella diplosiphon. His summer research was published in the journal Biochemistry in 2017. During the summer of 2016, Zach participated in a second research internship at the Mayo Clinic and worked with the biotech start-up company Lifengine Technologies. In the summer of 2017 he began a full time research position in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Program at Mayo Clinic. Zach also works part time as the lab manager of Lifengine Technologies.

Beth Alger was an REU participant in 2015. She studied interactions between the type III effector proteins of the plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae and Arabidopsis in the Day lab. She graduated with a degree in Molecular Biology from California State University, Monterey Bay and returned to MSU in 2016 as a graduate student in the Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Program and is performing research with Patrick Edger on polyploid evolution and subgenome dominance in octoploid strawberry. She was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to support her graduate research and served as a research mentor in the 2017 REU program.

Katerina Lay was a participant in the Plant Genomics program during summer 2013. Katerina performed research with Dr. Eva Farre on the mechanisms that regulate circadian rhythms in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. She graduated from Clemson University in 2014 with a degree in genetics. Following graduation, Katerina worked as a research technician on several plant-related projects at Clemson before returning to MSU fall 2015 to join the Genetics Graduate Program. Katerina served as a mentor in the 2017 REU program.


Abigail Miller majored in Biochemistry at MSU. She was an REU participant in 2014 and performed a research project under the guidance of Rob Last and Pengxiang Fan in which she studied the biochemical properties and evolution of enzymes required for acylsugar biosynthesis in the glandular trichomes of tomato and closely related wild relatives. In 2015, Abigail was awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the American Society of Plant Biologists to continue her research, which was published in PNAS in 2016. Abigail is currently a graduate student at Cornell University in the Bretscher lab.


Mollie Enright was an REU participant in 2014 where she performed research under the guidance of Dr. Dan Jones. Mollie used preparative high performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry followed by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to purify and structurally characterize trichome derived acylsugars from petunia. Acylsugars are plant specialized metabolites that are important for defense against insect pests. Her REU research was published in 2017 in Metabolomics. Mollie graduated in 2015 with a degree in chemistry from Gordon College and now works as a program manager at Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization that specializes in developing curricular and outreach programs to teach students and the public about green chemistry.

Matt Simenc studied Botany at Humboldt State University and participated in the Plant Genomics REU program during the summer of 2013. Matt worked in the Shiu lab where he utilized computational approaches to predict essential genes in Arabidopsis thaliana. Research that Matt contributed to was published in 2015 in The Plant Cell. In fall 2015, Matt begins a Masters program at Cal State Fullerton where he will work on genome annotation under the guidance of Joshua Der.


Sam Lotz participated in the Plant Genomics program during summer 2013 and performed research with Dr. David Kramer to investigate the photosynthetic properties of Arabidopsis knockout mutants in genes of unknown function using advanced spectroscopic techniques. Sam graduated in 2014 with a degree in bioinformatics from Slippery Rock University. He liked his experience at MSU so much that he decided to join the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as a graduate student in the Dickson lab.


David Hufnagel graduated from MSU with a degree in Molecular Genetics and Genomics. During his REU experience, David worked in the Barry lab on a project to examine terpene diversity in the trichomes of wild relatives of tomato. His research culminated in a publication in the Plant Journal. Following completion of his REU experience, David joined the Shiu lab at MSU where he developed skills in bioinformatics and contributed to several papers related to genome annotation and gene and genome evolution. Following graduation, David joined the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology at Iowa State University where he is a graduate student working with Dr. Matthew Hufford on the hybridization and evolution of teosinte, an ancestor of modern maize varieties.

Julia Miller participated in Plant Genomics @ MSU in 2012 and worked in the Barry lab on a project to characterize a mutant of tomato that alters fruit quality. Julia graduated from MSU in 2014 with a double major in Plant Biology and Molecular Genetics and Genomics and is currently a graduate student in Plant Biology at Cornell University where she is working in the Piñeros lab on the functional and structural aspects of transporters mediating abiotic stress responses. In 2015, Julia was awarded a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to support her studies.