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Courtney Leisner

Assistant Professor
Courtney Leisner
204 Latham Hall
Blacksburg, VA


I have a two-way appointment in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences that entails 75% research, 25% teaching. The focus of my research program is to use genomics-enabled plant physiology to understand climate change impacts on plant production and nutritional quality. I currently teach courses within the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences covering topics such as genomics of crop breeding for abiotic stress, plant physiology and fundamentals of plant biology.


  • Abiotic Stress
  • Plant Physiology
  • Plant Molecular Biology
  • Plant Genomics and Bioinformatics
  • Plant Specialized Metabolism


  • Ph.D., Plant Biology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2014
  • M.Sc., Botany, Washington State University, 2009
  • B.Sc., Biology and Environmental Science, The College of William and Mary, 2007

How will we maintain an adequate and nutritious food supply under portending future climate change?

This is the central question driving my research program in plant-environment interactions. To begin answering this question it is essential to link complex physiological phenotypes associated with crop yield and nutritional losses with their underlying biochemical and genetic mechanisms. To this end, I use a systems biology approach combining fundamental crop plant physiology with genomics and molecular biology at the whole-plant level to assess how plants develop innate resilience mechanisms that can be tapped for production of sustainable future food. By employing computational and molecular approaches with knowledge of plant physiology, my research program works to understand how changes in plant development, gene expression and biochemistry lead to nutritional losses in plants due to climate change climate. By employing an interdisciplinary approach my research program can solve problems related to how climate change impacts on crop physiology and development ultimately lead to nutritional and yield losses. Outcomes from this approach have the potential to transform agriculture in the face of a changing climate.

  • To be determined

Assistant Professor | 2023-Present
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Assistant Professor | 2018-2023
Department of Biological Sciences
Auburn University

NIH Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow | 2015-2018
Department of Plant Biology
Michigan State University

Postdoctoral Researcher | 2014-2015
Department of Plant Biology
Michigan State University

  • NIH Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award, 2015

1. Leisner CP, Cousins A, Offermann S, Okita TW, Edwards GE (2010) The effects of salinity on photosynthesis and growth of the single-cell C4 species Bienertia sinuspersici (Chenopodiaceae). Photosynthesis Research 106: 201-214.

2. Leisner CP & Ainsworth EA (2012) Quantifying the effects of ozone on plant reproductive growth and development. Global Change Biology. 18: 606-616. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02535.x

3. Betzelberger AM, Yendrek CR, Sun J, Leisner CP, Nelson RL, Ort DR, Ainsworth EA (2012) Ozone exposure-response for U.S. soybean cultivars: linear reductions in photosynthetic potential, biomass and yield. Plant Physiology. 160: 1827-1839. (Cover article).

4. Yendrek CR, Leisner CP, Ainsworth EA (2013) Chronic ozone exacerbates the reduction in photosynthesis and acceleration of senescence caused by limited N availability in Nicotiana sylvestrisGlobal Change Biology, 19: 3155-3166.

5. Leisner CP, Ming R, Ainsworth EA (2014) Distinct transcriptional profiles of ozone stress in soybean (Glycine max) flowers and pods. BMC Plant Biology 14: 335.

6. Hardigan MA, Crisovan E, Hamilton JP, Kim J, Laimbeer P, Leisner CP, Manrique-Carpintero NC, Newton L, Pham GM, Vaillancourt B, Yang X, Zeng Z, Douches DS, Jiang J, Veilleux RE, Buell CR (2015) Genome reduction uncovers a large dispensable genome and adaptive role for copy number variation in asexually propogated Solanum tuberosumThe Plant Cell 28: 388-405.

7. Leisner CP, Kamileen MO, Conway ME, O’Connor SE, Buell CR (2017) Differential iridoid and antioxidant profiles across a diversity panel of 84 cultivated and wild blueberry species. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0179417.

8. Marand AP, Jansky SH, Zhao H, Leisner CP, Zhu X, Zeng Z, Crisovan E, Newton L, Hamernik AJ, Veilleux RE, Buell CR, Jiang J (2017) Meiotic crossovers are associated with open chromatin and enriched with Stowaway transposons in potato. Genome Biology 18: 203.

9. Leisner CP, Wood JC, Vaillancourt B, Tang Y, Douches DS, Buell CR, Winkler JA (2017) Influence of choice of future climate change projection on interpretation of growth chamber experiments on agricultural impacts: A preliminary study in potato. International Journal of Biometeorology 62: 669-679.

10. Leisner CP, Yendrek CR, Ainsworth EA (2017) Physiological and transcriptomic responses in the seed coat of field-grown soybean (Glycine max Merr.) to abiotic stress. BMC Plant Biology 17: 242.

11. Leisner CP, Hamilton JP, Crisovan E, Marand AP, Manrique-Carpintero NC, Newton L, Pham GM, Jiang J, Douches DS, Jansky SH, Buell CR (2018) Genome sequence of M6, a diploid inbred clone of the high glycoalkaloid-producing tuber-bearing potato species Solanum chacoense, reveals high residual heterozygosity. The Plant Journal 94: 562-570.

12. Winkler JA, Soldo L, Tang, Y, Forbush T, Douches DS, Long CM, Leisner CP, Buell CR (2018) Potential impacts of climate change on storage conditions for commercial agriculture: an example for potato production Michigan. Climate Change 151: 275-287.

13. Wu S, Zhang B, Keyhaninejad N, Rodriguez GR, Kim HJ, Chakrabarti M, Illa-Berenguer E, Taitano NK, Gonzalo MJ, Diaz A, Pan Y, Leisner CP, Halterman D, Buell CR, Weng Y, Jansky S, Monforte AJ, Meulia T, van der Knaap E (2018) A novel mechanism underlies morphological diversification in plants. Nature Communications, 9, 4374-4386.

14. Colle M, Leisner CP, Wai CM, Ou S, Bird KA, Wang J, Wisecaver JH, Yocca AE, Callow P, Ben-Zvi G, Brodt A, Baruch K, Swale T, Shiue L, Song G-q, Childs KL, Shilmiller A, Vorsa N, Buell CR, VanBuren R, Jiang N, Edger PP (2019) Subgenome dominance and evolution of phytonutrient pathways in allopolyploid blueberry. Gigascience 8, 1-15.

15. Leisner CP (2020) Climate change impacts on food security – focus on perennial cropping systems and nutritional value. Plant Science 293: 110412.

16. Lesinger K, Leisner CP, Sanz-Saez A, Tian D (2020) Impact of climate change on storage conditions for major agricultural commodities across the contiguous United States. Climate Change 162: 1287-1305.

17. Keshishian E, Cliver B, McLaughlin, W, Hallmark, H, Plackova, L, Novak O, Goertzen L, Cobine P, Leisner CP, Rashotte A (2022) Cytokinin response factor 2 is involved in modulating salt stress response. The Plant Journal 9: 1097-1110. doi: 10.1111/tpj.15726

18. Edger PP, Iorizzo M, Bassil NV, Benevenuto J, Ferrao F, Giongo L, Hummer K, Leisner CP, Lawas LMF, Li C, Munoz P, et al., (2022) There and back again; historical perspective and future directions for Vaccinium breeding and research studies. Horticulture Research 9: uhac083

19. Rossi G, Woods FM, Leisner CP (2022) Determination of total phenolic, flavonoid and anthocyanin content in a diversity panel of blueberry. HortScience.

20. Leisner CP, Potnis N, Sanz-Saez A (2023) Crosstalk and trade-offs: Plant responses to climate change-associated abiotic and biotic stress. Invited Review. Plant Cell & Environment: 1-18.

21. Bhandari R, Sanz-Saez A, Leisner CP, Potnis N (2023) Xanthomonas infection and ozone stress distinctly influence the microbial community structure and interactions in the pepper phyllosphere ISME Communications 3, 24.

22. Lawas LMF, Kamileen MO, Buell CR, O’Connor SE, Leisner CP (2023) Transcriptome-based identification of genes involved in monotropein biosynthesis and functional characterization of iridoid synthase in blueberry. Plant Direct 7: e.512. DOI: 10.1002/pld3.512

23. Interdisciplinary Plant Science Consortium (2023) Inclusive collaboration across plant physiology and genomics: Now is the Time! Plant Direct 7: e493.