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Past Lab Members

Past Postdoctoral Researchers

Radin Sadre
Radin joined the DellaPenna lab at MSU in October 2011 to continue research on isoprenoid derived compounds in plants, a structurally and functionally extremely diverse group of natural products. Her research involved the use of molecular biology, enzymology and (bio)chemical analytics in order to identify and characterize enzymes which influence the biosynthesis of these valuable natural products. Radin joined the Hamberger lab  in 2016.

Payam Mehrshahi
Studies in the DellaPenna lab have shown that tocopherols, which are synthesized in plastids, can affect the composition of polyunsaturated fatty acid content of ER lipids. Payam’s goal was to better understand such extraplastidic functions of tocopherols by combining various Arabidopsis tocopherol biosynthesis mutants using molecular, genetic and analytical approaches. Payam tested for interactions between the plastid and ER to see whether there is a direct metabolic exchange between these compartments. Payam is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge.

Sabrina Gonzalez-Jorge
Historically, the enzymes involved in the carotenoid and tocopherol biosynthetic pathway have been identified through biochemistry and genetics. To further understand the genetics of seed carotenoids and tocopherols in plants, employed a multi-disciplinary approach involving genetics, molecular, and computational biology. Through the use of Genome Wide Association (GWA) studies, Sabrina aimed to uncover novel non-biosynthetic genes that regulate the genetic architecture of carotenoids and tocopherols in Arabidopsis seeds. In addition, Sabrina used natural variation in Arabidopsis to dissect genes involved in iron bioavailability and content in plants. Her project was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation with the aim to tackle the most common nutritional deficiency, namely iron, that ails both developed and developing countries. Sabrina is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge.

Ruthie Angelovici
Ruthie’s main objective was to enhance our fundamental knowledge of the polygenic nature of amino acid related traits in plants by performing Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) and candidate gene association analysis for traits in both Arabidopsis and Maize dry seeds. The knowledge obtained has provided a unique opportunity to compare the genetic architecture of a complex trait for primary metabolism in a selfing plant not subject to artificial selection (Arabidopsis) and an out crossing plant that has been extensively selected by humans for food (maize). Ruthie is now an Assistant Professor in the Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri.

Jacobo Arango
Obtained his Ph.D. degree at the University of Freiburg (Germany) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Peter Beyer and joined Dr. DellaPenna's laboratory in July 2010. His doctoral project was aimed at enhancing the provitamin A content of Cassava root by genetic modification. Jacobo's work demonstrated that phytoene synthase activity was the rate-limiting step in the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in Cassava roots and that a naturally occurring point mutation in the gene is responsible for lines with white versus yellow roots (carotenoid containing). A second project focused on cloning genes for the activities of the recently reported recycling pathway for oxidized tocopherols.

Eun-Ha Kim
Eun-Ha Kim received her Ph.D from Australian National University in Australia (2006), where her research focused on structural and functional analysis of thylakoid membranes of higher plants. As a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. DellaPenna's group she has extended her interest in the synthesis and functions of carotenoid to Chlamydomons and Maize. Additionally, she was involved in association mapping approaches in maize seeds to dissect the genetic and molecular basis of carotenoid biosynthesis.

Laurent Mene-Saffrane
Joined the group of Prof. Dean DellaPenna in 2006 to study the role of tocochromanols in plants. Tocochromanols are a group of amphipathic compounds with a polar head and a hydrophobic side chain that are exclusively synthetized by photosynthetic organisms and include tocopherols, tocotrienols and plastochromanol-8. Most of these compounds exhibit vitamin E activity and are therefore essential nutrients. Laurent’s research focused on the physiological and biochemical characterization of the Arabidopsis tocopherol-deficient vte1 and vte2 mutants. Laurent is now a researcher at the University of Fribourg.

Marina Varbanova
Marina was involved in the Medicinal plant project in Dr. DellaPenna's group. She was focused on establishing the pathway that leads to formation of camptothecin, a anticancer drug produced by the Happy Chinese tree Camptotheca acuminata. She contributed to the expression and metabolite databases using RNA seq technology and metabolite profiling, respectively, of different Camptotheca tissues and mined these resources to identify genes/enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of camptothecin.

Laura Ullrich (Gilliland)
Laura Ullrich Gilliland is now the Manager of the Center for Lignocellulose Strucutre and Formation (CLSF), a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center with the Pennsylvania State University as the lead institution. The CLSF aims to dramatically increase our fundamental knowledge of the formation and physical interactions of bio-polymer networks in plant cell walls in to provide a basis for improved methods for converting biomass into fuels. For more information see

Scott Sattler
Scott Sattler is currently a Research Molecular Biologist with the USDA at Lincoln Nebraska and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture at the University of Lincoln, Nebraska. Since leaving the lab Scott's research has focused on understand the biochemical pathways affecting both structural and storage carbohydrate utilization in sorghum for use in bioenergy production systems. His current research focuses on the cloning and characterization of brown midrib mutants in sorghum, whose gene products are involved in cell wall lignification.

Past Graudate Students

Joonyul Kim
Joonyul Kim graduated with his PhD in Biochemistry in 2008. Currently he is a postdoctoral researcher at Auburn University working on platform development for biosensing. More information on Joonyul's work since leaving the lab can be found at:

Hiroshi Maeda
Hiroshi Maeda graduated with his PhD in 2006. H joined the faculty at the Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin - Madison. His lab studies plant aromatic amino acid biosynthesis and its regulation, with the ultimate goals of improving the production of aromatic amino acid-derived compounds (e.g., tocopherols, alkaloids, phenylpropanoids) in plants. More information on Hiroshi's work since leaving the lab can be found at:
Eva Collakova
Eva graduated with her PhD in 2003 and joined the faculty in Plant Pathology, Physiology & Weed Science at Virginia Tech. The main focus of Eva's current research is understanding regulation of seed metabolism during seed filling when storage compounds (proteins, oils, and sugars) are synthesized. The level of the individual storage compounds determines seed composition, which varies among plant species and could be potentially manipulated to our advantage. To understand the interplay of the regulators and biosynthetic genes/enzymes relevant to seed metabolism, she is taking systems biology approaches. These approaches involve integrating transcript, metabolite, and flux profiling data to generate predictive Bayesian gene-interaction models and flux simulations through metabolic flux analysis and genome-scale flux modeling. More information on Eva's work since leaving the lab can be found at:

Wan Song graduated with her PhD in Genetics in 2009. Currently she is a postdoctoral researcher at University of California Irvine studying the effect of histone modifications on pathology of Huntington's Disease using fruit fly as a modelmodel. More information on Wan's work since leaving the lab can be found at:

Li Tian
Li Tian graduated with her PhD in 2003 and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Her research focuses on understanding the synthesis, accumulation and function of terpenoid and phenylpropanoid compounds in plants and their impact on plant and human health. Our long term goal is to improve the phytonutrient profile of crops for better plant growth or enhanced nutritional and medicinal values. More information on Li's work since leaving the lab can be found at

Susan R. Norris
Graduated with her PhD in 1996 and is now Team leader for Yield Physiology at Monsanto Corp.

Past Undergraduate Students

Below are the undergraduates who have worked in the lab and have kept in touch since leaving.

Evan Klug Evan obtained a Bachelor of Science in Packaging at Michigan State University in fall of 2013. He is currently an Associate Packaging Engineer at ConAgra Foods.

Joseph English Joe graduated from the MSU BMB program in Spring of 2015

Yen Nguyen Yen graduated from the MSU BMB program in Spring of 2014

Josh Andalaro Worked for 3 years in DellaPenna lab until Spring 2013. Coauthor on 2013 PNAS paper. Now attending the Marquette University School of Dentistry in Milwaukee.

Jillian Braid Studio Art BS from MSU. Worked in the DellaPenna lab for 5 years as general lab help.

William Passutti Graduate student at UC San Francisco

Betsy Ampofo Graduate Student at Cornell University

Jane Post Medical degree from MSU. Practices Pediatrics & Int Med ? Rockford, MI.

Jennifer Tanya Sheyman Medical degree from MSU. Practices Internal Medicine in Wheeling, WV. Cori Hemming Medical degree from Wayne State Universit. Practices pediatrics at Pediatrics Care of Lansing.

Valeria Musetti is now practicing dentistry in Texas after obtaining her D.D.S. degree from University of Texas, Houston.

Michael VanWert Business Development/Packaging Engineer at Creative Techniques, Inc Greater Detroit Area

Amber Boyd Special Education Teacher at Adams 14 School District Denver Area

Vinayatta Manuballa Medical degree from MSU Works at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oaks, Mi

Rita A. Selke (formerly Brust) Medical degree from MSU. Practices pediatrics at St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Howell Michigan

Brooke Fitch (formerly Denison) BS/MS Microbiology from MSU Currently Biology Instructor at Lansing Community College. Lansing, MI

Elizabeth VanWert Pharmacy Practice Resident at St. Louis University Hospital, Saint Louis, Missouri

Kara Milbrandt Technician at Dow Chemical Saginaw, Michigan

Emily Jones Works at AmeriCorps NCCC Studied Lyman Briggs College at MSU

Emily Biehn Studying Nursing at MSU currently works at MSU National Superconducting Cyclotron