Current Lab Members:

Changbin Chen

Changbin Chen, PhD

Principal Investigator

Phone: 612 626 5965 (Office), 612 624 1243 (Lab)

Address: 260 Alderman Hall (Office), 239 Alderman Hall (Lab)

Graduate Faculty: Plant Biological Sciences and Applied Plant Sciences.

Member: The Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute (MPGI)

Research Interests

  • Regulatory mechanisms of plant homologous recombination, and plant breeding through chromosome rearrangement.
  • Breeding novel tomato varieties for the north and short season locations. 
  • Medicinal plants as specialty crops for the Mid-west. 

About me

I am a graduate of New York Institute of Photography and like to take micro- and macro- photographs of plants. And I cook foods with tonic herbs.

Education & Training

  • Postdoctoral Fellow. The University of Pennsylvania, Department of Biology (Advisor: Dr. Doris Wagner), 2000-2002
  • Postdoctoral Fellow. The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Biology (Advisor: Dr. Hong Ma), 1999-2000, 2003-2006.
  • Ph.D.Chinese Academy of Sciences Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology & Ecology joint East China Normal University, China, 1999, Plant Biology (Plant Molecular Genetics)
  • M.S.  East China Normal University, China, 1992, Plant Biology (Plant Systematics & Diversity)
  • B.S.Hubei University, China, 1989, Biology
Stefanie Dukowic-Schulze

Stefanie Dukowic-Schulze, PhD

Senior Research Associate (Researcher 6)

Phone: (612) 624-3071

Research Interests

  • Plant meiosis
  • Mitochondria
  • phasiRNAs
  • Chromosome dynamics

About me

My research expertise spans from DNA repair in somatic cells in Arabidopsis (the topic of my PhD thesis) over meiotic recombination and meiosis/ reproductive development in plants to UV-B photomorphogenesis which has commonalities with my previous work on DNA repair. In Dr. Changbin Chen´s lab, I have been mainly working on a collaboration-project with three other institutions to examine what defines meiotic recombination in maize. The project achieved renewed funding with me now in an advisory function, having tranferred to another group in the department, working with Dr. Gary Gardner.
From my years in the Chen lab, I have several topics I would be highly interested to follow up on, among them the role of mitochondria and phasiRNA in meiosis.

Education & Career

  • 2018 - present  - Senior Research Associate, UV-B photomorphogenesis- Lab of Dr. Gary Gardner, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota
  • 2015 - 2017 Senior Research Associate, Plant Meiosis & Plant UV-B response - joint appointment Lab of Dr. Changbin Chen and Lab of Dr. Gary Gardner, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota
  • 2013 - 2015 Research Associate, Plant reproductive biology - Lab of Dr. Changbin Chen, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota
  • 2011-2013 Postdoctoral Researcher, Maize meiotic recombination - Lab of Dr. Changbin Chen, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota
  • 2009-2010 Postdoctoral Researcher, Mammalian Carcinogenesis - Lab of Dr. Jonathan Sleeman, University of Heidelberg/FZK, Germany
  • 2009 PhD Biology - Genetics & Molecular Biology in Plants; Lab of Dr. Holger Puchta; Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany
  • 2006 Diploma (M.S.) Biology -  University of Karlsruhe, Germany


  • Dukowic-Schulze, S., Liu, C., Chen, C. (2018). Not just gene expression - 3D implications of chromatin modifications during plant sexual reproduction. in “Epigenetic regulation of plant development and stress responses”. Plant Cell Reports 27: 11-16
  • He, Y*., M. Wang*, S. Dukowic-Schulze*, A. Zhou, C-L Tiang, S. Shilo, G. Sidhu, S. Eichten, P. Bradbury, N.M Springer, E.S. Buckler, A.A Levy, Q. Sun, J. Pillardy, P.M.A. Kianian, C. Chen and W.P. Pawlowski. (2017). Genomic features shaping the landscape of meiotic double-strand break hotspots in maize. PNAS *equal contributors
  • Hussain Shah, S., A. Noureen, F. Deeba, T. Sultana, S. Dukowic-Schulze, C. Chen and S. M. Saqlan Naqvi. (2017). Transgenic analysis reveals 5´abbreviated OsRGLP2 promoter(s) as responsive to abiotic stress. Mol Biotechnol, 59: 459-468
  • Sundararajan, A., S. Dukowic-Schulze, M. Kwicklis, K. Engstrom, N. Garcia, O. J. Oviedo, T. Ramaraj, M. D. Gonzales, Y. He, M. Wang, Q. Sun, J. Pillardy, S. F. Kianian, W.P. Pawlowski, C. Chen and J. Mudge. (2016). Gene evolutionary trajectories and GC patterns driven by recombination in Zea mays. Front Plant Sci, 7:1433.
  • Dukowic-Schulze, S., A. Sundararajan, T. Ramaraj, S. Kianian, W.P. Pawlowski, J. Mudge and C. Chen. (2016). Novel meiotic miRNAs and indications for a role of phasiRNAs in meiosis. Front Plant Sci 7:762.

Images are selected from the method paper of meiotic protein immunolocalization (Methods Mol Biol, 2015, in Press).

DAPI-ZIP-H3K4me3 (green)  
DAPI-ZIP-H3K4me3 (green)  

Penny Kianian

Penny Kianian, PhD

Researcher 6 



  • Characterize homologous recombination hotspots and coldspots in maize
  • Phenotypic and genotypic screening of meiotic Arabidopsis mutants
  • Analysis of pathways and processes affected by meiotic mutations
  • Characterize barley sterile mutants

About me

My research interest focuses on using plant genetics to solve food and fiber issues for our society.  The tools I currently use include cytogenetic, molecular biology, bioinformatic, and classical genetics.  I am fortunate to teach undergraduate and graduate students in the application and understanding of these tools.  This opportunity has led to research related to student learning in the classroom and laboratory concerning the nature of science, visual literacy, and group problem solving skills.  Feel free to checkout my personal website .

Education & Occupation

  • 2013- current Researcher 6, University of Minnesota
  • 2013 Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota
  • 2009-2012 Assistant Professor of Practice, North Dakota State University
  • 2008 Adjunct Assistant Professor, Minnesota State University at Moorhead
  • 2002-2007 Graduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota
  • 1998-2002 Research Technician, North Dakota State University
  • 1995-1998 Graduate Research Assistant, Purdue University
  • 1991-1995 Undergraduate Researcher and Student, University of Minnesota

Nelson Garcia, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Associate


Phone: 612-626-4840

Research Interests

Maize as a model system to study genetics, genomics, developmental biology, meiosis, recombination, plant breeding, transposable elements

About Me

In my spare time, I listen to music and play musical instruments

Education & Career

  • Ph.D. Plant Biology (2017) - Rutgers University
  • M.S. Plant Biological Sciences (2008) - University of Minnesota
  • B.S. Biology (2003) - University of the Philippines


  • Garcia N and Messing J. 2017. TTT and PIKK Complex Genes Reverted to Single Copy Following Polyploidization and Retain Function Despite Massive Retrotransposition in Maize. Frontiers in Plant Science.
  • Garcia N, Li Y, Dooner HK, and Messing J. 2017. Maize defective kernel mutant generated by insertion of a Ds element in a gene encoding a highly conserved TTI2 cochaperone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 114(20):5165-5170.
  • Zhang W, Garcia N, Feng Y, Zhao H, and Messing J. 2015. Genome-wide histone acetylation correlates with active transcription in maize. Genomics. 106:214-220.
  • Garcia N, Zhang W, Wu Y, and Messing J. 2015. Evolution of gene expression after gene amplification. Genome Biology and Evolution 7(5): 1303–1312.


Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy, MPS

Researcher 5


Phone: 612-599-4815             


My current focus is on breeding novel tomato varieties for the northern climates and unique cultural interest. This engages me in developing optimal growing systems for both greenhouse and field plots. I currently use traditional breeding methods to discover new tomato varieties that will be beneficial to Minnesota commercial farmers as well home gardeners.

About me

I also assist researchers on the St. Paul campus screening surviving elms for resistance to Dutch elm disease. If I am not growing plants, I am usually performing, practicing, or recording music.


  • 2015 - Junior Scientist, Department of Horticultural Science, University of Minnesota
  • 2014 - Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture, University of Minnesota
  • 2010 - Bachelor of Arts, University of Minnesota
Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy, presenting the Minnesota Ground Jewel tomatoes, in Green Barn Farm and Garden Center, Isanti, Minnesota. 

Radio interview with Ryan Murphy about ginko in Minnesota

Claire Milsted

Claire Milsted

PhD Candidate - Plant Biology Sciences



Research Interests

DNA repair in maize, genetics, plant reproduction, meiosis, plant immunity

About Me

My work explores the function of the conserved strand exchange protein RAD51, which repairs double strand breaks in all eukaryotes, in maize. Specifically, I am investigating its role in somatic DNA repair, meiosis, and plant defense against pathogens. I am also in charge of training and scheduling for the Department of Horticultural Science's Scanning Electron Microscope.


I studied biology at Carleton College, earning a BA in 2014. My interest in plant biology was cemented by a series of summer internships at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as a position as Biological Assistant at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in the summer of 2014. During the year after my BA, I worked as a lab assistant in the Bergelson Lab at the University of Chicago, implementing CRISPR in Arabidopsis.

Photo of Vincenzo Averello (2016)

Vincenzo Averello

PhD Student - Applied Plant Sciences


Research Interests

I am working on using molecular techniques like gene editing and genomic technologies to improve vegetable crop breeding, developing new varieties for northern climates.

About Me

When not at work, I enjoy baking, playing board games, and exploring local parks.

Education and Career

  • M.S. in Plant Biology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 2017.
  • B.A. in Genetics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 2012


  • Honig, J. A., Averello, V., Bonos, S. A., & Meyer, W. A. (2012). Classification of Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) cultivars and accessions based on microsatellite (simple sequence repeat) markers. HortScience, 47(9), 1356-1366.

  • Honig, J.A., Kubik, C., Averello, V., Vaiciunas, J., Meyer, W.A., Bonos, S.A. (2016). Classification of bentgrass (Agrositis) cultivars and accessions based on microsatellite (SSR) markers. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 63(7), 1139-1160.

  • Honig, J.A., Zelzion, E., Wagner, N.E., Kubik, C., Averello V., Vaicuinas, J., Bhattacharya, D., Bonos, S.A., Meyer, W.A. (2017). Microsatellite (SSR) Identification in Perennial Ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) using Next Generation Sequencing. Crop Science 57(1), 1-10.


Former Lab Members:

  • Clemon Dabney III
    • Graduate Student (MS program of Applied Plant Sciences)
  • Marisa Miller, PhD
    • Researcher 4
  • Aparna Aparna
    • Graduate Assistant (Volunteer)
  • Junhua Li, PhD
    • Postdoc
  • Aizhan Jusupova, PhD
    • Visiting professor
  • Anthony Harris
    • Undergraduate lab assistant
  • Huimei Wang, PhD
    • Visiting Scholar
  • Shahzad Hussain Shah, PhD
    • Visiting researcher scholar
  • Bob Dai
    • High school and undergraduate assistant
  • Ross Peterson
    • Undergraduate Student
  • Duane McDowell
    • Undergraduate student
  • Tao Li
    • Undergraduate student
  • Elizabeth Schulz
    • Undergraduate student
  • Noah Reime
    • Undergraduate student
  • Bridget Kelly
    • Undergraduate student
  • Korbin Paul
    • Undergraduate
  • Kenneth Jombwe
    • Undergraduate student
  • Kerobel Moges
    • Undergraduate student
  • Eric Berry
    • Undergraduate student
  • Aidan Shaughnessy
    • Undergraduate student
  • John Romens
    • Undergraduate student
  • Marshall Thomas
    • Undergraduate student
  • Jordan Jensen
    • Undergraduate student