Broadly, my research interests include anything related to plant breeding and genetics. The projects I get most excited about combine interdisciplinary approaches, such as statistics and image analysis, to generate meaningful insight into genetic variation through the optimization of experimental design and data analysis.
Genetics of Complex Traits
Genetic gain through plant breeding is an essential means to ensure a stable, nutritious, and sustainable food supply. The ultimate goals of my research are to directly or indirectly facilitate this process by studying patterns of genetic diversity and understanding the inheritance of traits that are important for applied crop improvement. During my PhD, I used a diallel mating design, an F2 mapping population, and image-based phenotyping to describe the genetic architecture of shoot growth in carrots, which is important for successful crop establishment. As a postdoc, my research aims to understand how selection has influenced the genetic, morphological, and metabolic diversity present in Brassica oleracea, which, depending on who you ask, contains up to 14(!) distinct morphotypes. This species is especially exciting as it produces glucosinolates (also known as mustard oils), which impart the characteristic Brassica flavor, have co-evolved with pests, and have putative health benefits.
Domestication of Vegetable Crops
Crop domestication is a fascinating and important area of study, defined by questions regarding the origins of crops, how they were modified to their present state, and where and when these processes took place. A deeper understanding of these events has direct implications for plant improvement by identifying the extent of genetic diversity, which traits are under quantitative vs. qualitative genetic control, and ultimately which forms of selection are most likely to result in genetic gains. I am currently investigating the demographic history (i.e. changes in population size and population structure) and influence of human selection in Brassica oleracea using genomic data. I love B. oleracea as a system to study domestication as it is a classical example of crop domestication and phenotypic plasticity, with selection acting on different organs to produce crops such as kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. The major questions I hope to answer are: (1) How has selection influenced genome-wide levels of genetic diversity?, (2) Has selection for enrichment of specific plant organs affected metabolite composition, specifically amino acid and glucosinolate content?, and (3) How is this variation controlled at the whole-genome level (i.e. how many genes are contributing and how are they positioned in the genome)?