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Plant Health and Improvement

Faculty, staff, and students in the Plant Health and Improvement community collaborate on research, teaching and Extension to strengthen plant health and improve crop quality, promoting sustainable and resilient plant production. Our interests range from basic plant and microbial sciences (molecular biology, biotechnology, genetics, metagenomics, genomics, ecology and evolution) to applied plant pathology, physiology, breeding, and weed science. Our community is a transdisciplinary network of research and Extension programs that reach well beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. We closely collaborate with computational scientists, engineers, human health, and social scientists at Virginia Tech and across the globe to address the most intriguing and pressing research questions facing Virginia and global agriculture.

Plant Health and Improvement Community Members


Supporting Research Faculty, Postdoctoral Associates and Staff

Ruslan Biyashev,, Research Manager,
Ruslan coordinates experimental aspects of our soybean root rot disease and seed composition projects with lab and field personnel. Coordination of experimental material transfer and data processing of the root rot disease project with various collaborators on-campus and at Iowa and Ohio State Universities. Ruslan participates in the design of field experiments and in planting and harvesting and supervise DNA extraction/genotyping in the lab and DNA preparation for genotyping at the USDA/ARS Beltsville laboratory.

Amanda assists in the lab, greenhouse, and fieldwork.

Wynse Brooks,, Senior Research Associate
Wynse is in the Small Grains Breeding and Genetics program, with a primary responsibility to develop and improve useful traits, such as disease resistance, superior quality and high yield in hulled and hulless winter barley varieties for various end-use (Malt, Feed, and Food) markets. Wynse’s role is vital to the agricultural industry as there are constant challenges to meet market requirements and consumer demands.

Robert works on database and web development.

Elizabeth Clevinger,, Research Associate
Elizabeth coordinates activities in the field for planting, maintenance of soybean plants and harvest and coordinate greenhouse research when necessary for projects.  Elizabeth also performs various molecular research activities in the lab located in Latham Hall     

Cindy Denbow,, Laboratory and Research Manager
Cindy is a lab manager shared with Pilot Guillaume.

Joshua Fitzgerald,, Research Associate
Joshua aids in the development of new and improved, high yielding, small grain varieties with enhanced resistance to FHB and lower DON accumulation that are adapted to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern U.S. 

Morgan Gannon, 
Morgan is an OMAL student, working on leaf wetness model development.

Mikako is an intern from the Ministry of Taxation in Japan, studying vineyard and lab operations.

Hope, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Hope’s work specializes in growing plants in controlled research environments, as well as supporting field campaigns in environmental conditions. Hope’s current projects involve plant disease dispersal studies, plant tissue culture, pollen dispersal, and algal bloom sampling.

Regina Hanlon,, Research Associate
Regina studies ice-nucleating microbes in the atmosphere and track the movement of hazardous agents in the water.  Regina participates in training and mentoring students in research experiences for undergraduates (REU).

Jungkwan Lee
Jungkwan is an associate professor from Dong-A University in South Korea on sabbatical, working on a spore detection project.

Haijie Liu,, Labratory Specialist Senior
Haijie contributes to several research projects in Dr. Vinatzer's and Dr. Wang's labs in environmental and plant microbiology and genomics and plant virology using her wide range of skills in molecular biology, genetics, and bioinformatics.

Limei Liu,, Research Associate
Limei does research of hard wheat or bread wheat variety development.

Akiko assists with the lab, greenhouse, and fieldwork.

Diana supervises several labs and assists with our molecular-based research topics.

Niki McMaster,, Research Associate
Niki manages the mycotoxin testing in the Schmale Lab at Virginia Tech in cooperation with the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.  Conducting the high throughput testing of samples from numerous research groups from across the country. The primary focus of the analysis is the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol and uses GC/MS quantitative methods.        

Abdullah is a GRA, MS student, working on biological control of grapevine crown gall.

Akiko assists with the lab, greenhouse, and fieldwork.

So Yon Park,, Senior Research Associate
So Yon conducts experiments on the characterization of parasitic plant interactions with their hosts. So Yon works on understanding host defense response to parasitism and discovering how parasitic plants manipulate their hosts.

Earl Petzold,, Laboratory Specialist Senior
Earl is the lab manager and safety officer. Earl also helps with student supervision, molecular biology, and cell biology.

Diana is an OMAL student, working on leaf wetness model development.

John Seago,, Research Specialist
John works in the  small grains program. John’s primary responsibility is to help gather and analyze data to help the breeders select which lines to advance.   

Mark Vaughn,, Research Specialist
Mark reads mildew, leaf rust, and blotch on most years and have read stripe rust, septoria, tan spot, scab, and scald when plots have been infected with the disease.  On barley, Mark makes selections from all our tests based on the data that’s taken and also from several observations made by walking through and observing plots.