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Nicholas Santantonio


I am the new lead of a team of research scientists, staff and students that comprise the small grains breeding program at Virginia Tech. My interests include the quantitative genetics of agronomic traits and the integration of genomic selection and high-throughput phenotyping into a working breeding program. 


  • Plant Breeding and Quantitative Genetics


  • PhD Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University 2018
  • MS Plant and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, 2013
  • BS Genetics, New Mexico State University, 2010

The small grains breeding program aims to produce superior wheat and barley varieties for eastern North America, while doing basic research into the genetics behind important traits.

Our research focuses on integrating the latest genotyping and phenotyping technologies to accelerate genetic improvement for new and changing environments. We employ quantitative genetics theory to optimize breeding procedures and reduce generation times. We are also currently investigating the genetic basis of plant growth and development that lead to improved grain yield and quality, as well as trait stability for broad adaptation. 

We uphold the legacy of Dr. Carl Griffey by continuing to identify, select and pyramid important disease resistance loci for leaf and stripe rust, powdery mildew, and fusarium head blight.

CSES 5304 - Advanced Plant Genetics and Breeding (starting 2021)

Associate Professor | 2020 – present
School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Postdoctoral Associate | 2018 – 2020
Quantitative Genetics, Robbins Lab,
Cornell University

Data curator | 2018
T3: The Triticeae Toolbox.
Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project

  1. Santantonio, N. and K.R. Robbins. 2020. A hybrid optimal contribution approach to drive short-term gains while maintaining long-term sustainability in a modern plant breeding program. In Review. BioRxiv preprint: doi: 10.1101/2020.01.08.899039
  2. Santantonio, N., Atanda, S.A., Beyene, Y., Varshney, R.K., Olsen, M.S., Jones, E., Roorkiwal, M., Zhang, X., Bharadwaj, C., Gaur P.M., Gowda, M., Dreher, K., Hernandez, C.A., Crossa, J., Pérez-Rodríguez, P., Rathore, A., Gao, S.Y., McCouch, S. and K.R. Robbins. 2020. Strategies for Effective Use of Genomic Information in Crop Breeding Programs Serving Africa and South Asia. Frontiers in Plant Science. 11 353. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2020.00353
  3. Morales, N., Kaczmar, N.S., Santantonio, N., Gore, M.A., Mueller, L.A. and K.R. Robbins 2020. ImageBreed: open-access plant breeding web-database for image based phenotyping. The Plant Phenome. 3(1). e20004. doi: 10.1002/ppj2.20004
  4. Santantonio, N., Jannink, J.L. and M.E. Sorrells. 2019. Homeologous epistasis in wheat: the search for an immortal hybrid. Genetics. 211(3) 1105--1122. doi: 10.1534/genetics.118.301851
  5. Santantonio, N., Jannink, J.L. and M.E. Sorrells. 2019. Prediction of subgenome additive and interaction effects in allohexaploid wheat. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics. 9(3) 685--695. doi: 10.1534/g3.118.200613
  6. Santantonio, N., Jannink, J.L. and M.E. Sorrells. 2019. A low resolution epistasis mapping approach to identify chromosome arm interactions in allohexaploid wheat. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics. 9(3) 675--684  doi: 10.1534/g3.118.200646
  7. Kissing Kucek, L., Santantonio, N., Gauch, H., Dawson J., Mallory, E., Darby, H., and M.E. Sorrells. 2018. Genotype by environment interactions and local adaptations in organic wheat. Crop Science. 59(1) 25--32. doi: 10.2135/cropsci2018.02.0147
  8. Veenstra L., Santantonio, N., Jannink, J.L. and M.E. Sorrells. 2018. Influence of Genotype and Environment on Wheat Grain Fructan Content. Crop Science. 59(1) 190--198. doi: 10.2135/cropsci2018.06.0363
  9. Santantonio, N., Pierce, C.A., Steiner, R., Ray, I.M. 2018. Genetic Mapping of Water-Use Efficiency and Carbon and Nitrogen Metabolism in Drought-Stressed Alfalfa. Crop Science. 59(1) 92--106. doi: 10.2135/cropsci2018.05.0307