People

Phil Westra, PhD: Principal Investigator

Research interests:

  • Biology, ecology, and control of jointed goatgrass in winter wheat
  • Research on herbicide resistant weeds
  • Precision agriculture weed research
  • Herbicide/soil interactions
  • Gene flow in winter wheat
  • Weed shifts in diverse weed management systems
  • Perennial and noxious weed control

    Scott Nissen, PhD: Principal Investigator

My responsibilities include research (applied and basic), outreach (Cooperative Extension) and some teaching. When I first came to CSU in 1995 my focus was integrated weed management in row crops. I concentrated on crops like onion, sugar beet, dry bean and potato. This applied research has been supported by the various commodity groups; however, agriculture along the Colorado’s Front Range is being displaced by an increasing population. Many communities are trying to preserve the quality of life in Colorado by purchasing farmland to establish open space and natural areas. These areas are highly disturbed and susceptible to invasion by numerous weed species; therefore, over the past three years I have been involved in more research dealing with invasive species management and adaptive strategies to establish desirable plant communities. The goal of this research is to establish sustainable plant communities that can resist re-invasion. Herbicides are an important management tool, so we also focus on herbicide fate in the environment and non-target impacts.

Todd Gaines, PhD: Principal Investigator

My research goal is to support sustainable weed management that helps contribute to sustainable cropping systems.  To that end, I am interested in research to identify the molecular and genetic basis of complex herbicide resistance mechanisms; utilizing next-generation sequencing to study complex traits in weeds; and developing molecular markers for rapid resistance diagnostics.  Research projects in my lab study changes in evolutionary trajectories of weedy species due to human management (specifically herbicides and herbicide resistance evolution), and develop genomics and bioinformatics resources to study herbicide resistance traits in weedy species and crops.

Franck E. Dayan, PhD: Principal Investigator

I joined the faculty of BSPM in January 2016 after a 20-year career as a research plant physiologist for the USDA-ARS. I am interested in functional weed genomics and my research program encompasses applied projects on herbicide mode of action and evolution of resistance in weeds to more basic projects aiming to use genomic approaches to decipher traits imparting weediness (competition, cold and heat stress tolerance etc…). My expertise in plant biochemistry and physiology as well as chemical ecology complements the efforts already in place in other groups at Colorado State University.

Marcelo Rodrigues Alves de Figueiredo: Graduate Student, Todd Gaines

I received my B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from the University of São Paulo at the “Luiz de Queiroz” College of Agriculture, Brazil in 2012. As an undergraduate, I worked on applied field research in weed science. In 2015 I completed a M.S. in Crop Science at the same College, focusing on herbicide chemistry, physiology and biochemistry in weeds and model plant species. My current Ph.D. research is focused on weed genetics and molecular biology. Specifically, I am studying the complex issue of weed resistance to auxinic herbicides. My main objective is to integrate related genetic, biochemical, physiological and agronomic knowledge of these resistant species in order to provide effective weed management plans for agricultural production systems.

Neeta Soni: Graduate Student, Todd Gaines

I am originally from Costa Rica. I received my B.S. in Agronomy in 2009 from EARTH University, Costa Rica.  I worked as a research assistant in the same institution. Later on I worked for ECOM agroindustrial group in Costa Rica doing extension work with coffee farmers to improve their agriculture practices.  In 2014, I received my M.S. in Agronomy with a minor in Soil and Water Sciences from the University of Florida. My research was looking for the effects of vinasse and biochar (byproducts of bioenergy production) on weed germination, growth and control. In summer 2015, I joined the Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management department for my Ph.D. program in Weed Science under the advisory of Dr. Todd Gaines.  I am interested in and weed biology and molecular genetics to address herbicide resistance issues. Currently my research is focused on herbicide resistance traits in sunflower. In addition, I am working on a seed retention study of winter annual grass weeds at wheat harvest on Eastern Colorado. At the same time I am collecting samples of annual grass weed species for an herbicide resistance survey.

Shannon Clark: Graduate Student, Scott Nissen

I completed my Master’s of Ag in Integrated Resource Management at CSU in 2011. While completing my Master’s I worked as a Landowner Weed Specialist for Weld County. After graduating I went to work for a non-profit ranch in Estes Park, CO overseeing the conservation and weed management of their properties. I also served on the Board of the Estes Land Stewardship Association working with landowners in the Estes Valley to manage invasive species. In 2016, I joined the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management as a PhD student studying under Dr. Scott Nissen. My research is focused on invasive winter annual grass control in rangeland and natural areas. One area of my research is looking at the impact of the residue layer and rainfall in allowing soil applied herbicides to reach the soil. Another main research focus is evaluating native species tolerance to herbicide applications in areas with diverse native plant communities. My last main research area is assessing options for native species revegetation through drill seeding on highly degraded sites.

Raven Bough: Graduate Student, Franck Dayan

Despite being raised with minimal plant interactions, I fell in love with plants and chose to pursue a BS in horticulture at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR. After spending my childhood and college years in the same hometown, it was time for a change of scenery. I relocated to Colorado in 2013 to carry out an MS in CSU’s renowned potato breeding program (located down south in the San Luis Valley). The opportunity to work with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry for potato flavor profiling shifted my interest in plant breeding to applied plant chemistry and metabolism. During fall of 2016, I began a corresponding PhD program with Franck Dayan. My research includes investigating quizalofop-p-ethyl tolerance in spring wheat and exploring sorghum allelopathy for kochia weed control. I spend time beyond graduate school responsibilities reading/watching scifi, playing board games, meddling in the yard, and taking my dogs on outdoor adventures.

Abby Barker: Graduate Student, Franck Dayan

I graduated with my B.S. in biochemistry, with math and chemistry minors, from Colorado State University in 2016. My undergraduate research under Todd Gaines led me to an interest in agricultural sciences and more specifically herbicide resistance in weeds. Last fall I began my PhD under Franck Dayan. My project focuses on elucidating the mechanism of PPO-inhibiting herbicides as well as precise mechanisms of resistance in multiple species, including Amaranthus tuberculatus. I am interested in the biochemistry of herbicide resistance, as well as the fate of herbicides in resistant plants and crops. When not in the lab I train for triathlons as well as mountain biking and hiking.

Olivia Todd: Graduate Student, Todd Gaines

Originally from Loveland, CO I came along way to CSU. In 2016, I graduated from Colorado State University and the University honor program with a B.S. in Soil and Crop Science with a specialization in plant biotechnology, genetics and breeding. After completing my senior honor thesis with Todd, I have decided to focus my energy on herbicide resistance and developing herbicide tolerance traits in crops. I am currently a Master’s student under Todd Gaines, working to use mutagenesis to develop herbicide tolerance traits in the cereal grain, sorghum. I am also currently working on characterizing resistance to the herbicide fluroxypyr in the invasive species, kochia scoparia. When I’m not in the lab, you can find me climbing with the CSU climbing team, painting inside, enjoying a beer, or out in the mountains on the weekends.

Hudson Takano: Graduate Student, Phil Westra
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I grew up working on the farm with my dad and received my BS and MS degree in Agronomy from the State University of Maringá in 2015 and 2017, respectively. I am really passionate about plants because I find weed science as a very interesting way to study them and, at the same time, help farmers to develop a more sustainable agriculture. In my MS dissertation, we investigated the mechanism of glyphosate resistance in Eleusine indica, as well as the population genetic structure of Digitaria insularis. Now as a PhD student at CSU, I am still studying some glyphosate resistance species from South and North America, but my main project goal is to improve the efficacy of glufosinate. This is important because even though glufosinate is a key herbicide for managing herbicide resistance, it is not very consistent under non-optimal conditions such as low temperature and humidity. We are approaching this project by increasing glufosinate translocation and phytotoxicity by manipulating its mode of action. During my spare time, I really enjoy doing outdoor activities and explore the beautiful views in Colorado, especially hiking and mountain biking.

Mirella Farinelli Ortiz: Graduate student, Scott Nissen

Originally from Brazil, I received my B.S. in Agronomy from University of São Paulo in 2015. During my undergraduate I worked with weed resistance and management in Brazil and spend my last year as an undergrad working in the lab of Dr. Scott Nissen.

I am currently a Master’s student under Scott, working with aquatic weeds and their management. My focus is to fully understand how endothall works in the plant and its fate. I’m also working with the ester formulation of 2,4-D and its behavior in aquatic weeds. Outside the lab I enjoy hanging out with friends and most of the outdoors activities.

Rachel Seedorf: Graduate student, Scott Nissen

As a Colorado native, I grew up in eastern Colorado in the small town of Yuma. Growing up on a corn and wheat farm, my interest for agriculture started at a young age. My B.S. degree was completed here at CSU in Soil and Crop Sciences with a minor in Ag Business. After taking a weed management class under Dr. Nissen, I decided to turn my focus on weed management in natural systems and am currently completing my Master’s Degree in Weed Science under Dr. Scott Nissen. My project is focused on working with the environment sustainability department at the Denver International Airport to help develop a weed management plan for the many acres they own. The goal of this project is to create a long-term, sustainable plan the land managers can use to successfully maintain and restore desirable plant species. In addition, I am working on a few projects looking at cheatgrass control using indaziflam in burned vs. non-burned areas across the Front Range using indaziflam.

Crystal Sparks: Undergraduate Researcher

Majoring in Soil and Crop Science, with a concentration in plant genetics, breeding, and biotechnology, spring 2016 is my first semester as a student at Colorado State University. I am transferring in as a junior after recently completing an associate of science degree at AIMS Community College. A few months prior I joined the Gaines lab, where I have begun to learn molecular techniques and skills that will support my research interest and career goals. While assisting with several of the lab’s current projects I have been exposed to concepts such as gene copy number variation, molecular cloning, herbicide resistance mechanisms, plant metabolism and physiology, and more. I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to gain this knowledge and experience.
Some of my future research interests and topics of concern include: Investigating issues faced by growers, at a molecular and genetic level. Utilizing traditional plant breeding alongside biotechnology to develop useful and economical cultivars of crop or medicinal plants. Seeking solutions to malnutrition amid a growing population and disputed climates. Minimizing impacts of crop production on surrounding ecosystems and public health.

Past Students

Eric Patterson: Graduated Spring 2018

I received a double B.S. in Zoology/Biology in 2009, a M.S. in Botany in 2013, and Ph.D. in Bioagricultural Science with a specialization in Weed Science in 2018 from Colorado State University. I wrote my dissertation on the genetics and genomics of herbicide resistant Kochia scoparia, specifically focusing on the genetic underpinnings of copy number variation and gene duplication as it relates to glyphosate resistance. My general research interests are weed genomics and understanding genome plasticity in the face of abiotic stress and herbicides. After receiving my Ph.D. I was awarded research fellowship to study the genome of Blackgrass in a three-way collaboration with Bayer International, Rothamsted Research and Clemson University as a post-doctoral researcher.

Anita Küpper, PhD Graduated Spring 2018

Anita grew up in Germany, where she received her BS in Environmental Impact Assessment and went on to earn her MS in Environmental Chemistry and Health from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She wrote her master thesis in aquatic toxicology at the University of California – Riverside. In June of 2014 Anita joined the Weed Science group at the Colorado State University under the guidance of Dr. Todd Gaines. Her various projects focused on the mechanism of metabolic resistance to tembotrione and the origin of glyphosate resistance in Palmer amaranth as well as 2,4-D resistance in Indian hedge mustard.  She now works with Dr. Roland Beffa at the Weed Resistance Competence Center of Bayer CropScience in Frankfurt, Germany.

Derek Sebastian: Graduated Spring 2017

Derek Sebastian completed his MS at CSU in 2014 and was co-advised by Drs. Phil Westra and Scott Nissen.  He continued on to finish his PhD in 2017 under the guidance of Dr. Scott Nissen and is now a member of the Bayer VM Stewardship and Development Team where he continues to develop indaziflam in the western US.

Christopher Van Horn, PhD: Graduated Summer 2016

After graduating with his PhD under the advisement of Dr. Phil Westra, Christopher took a post-doc position with the USDA-ARS under Dr. Jianchi Chen doing genomic sequence analysis of Xyllella fastidiosa bacterial strains causing Pierce’s disease in grapevine. He now lives with his wife and two children in the San Joaquin Valley, CA.

Dean Pettinga: Graduated Fall 2016

I’m a graduate of Calvin College in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I received my degree in biology with a minor in biochemistry.Food security is one of the greatest problems facing the world in this century.  This problem does not have any individual solution.  I see problems and opportunities for improvement in everything from personal eating habits to natural resource management and technology.  Due to my interests in basic biology, I hope to approach this problem from a scientific perspective.  The opportunity to work in a lab with these facilities and interests, solving problems directly relevant to farmers drew me to the Gaines Lab.
When I’m not in the lab, I like to spend my time on a hike, run, bike ride, a day skiing in the mountains, or anything else that gets me outdoors.

Curtis Hildebrandt: Graduate Student, Todd Gaines

I grew up in Eastern Colorado on a small irrigated farm where we grew corn and wheat.  Additionally, my father is also an aerial sprayer who deals with many insect and weed crop pests. This is where my interest in agriculture and pest control got its start.  I got my B.S. at Colorado State University in Soil and Crop Science, with a concentration in Soil Science, and an additional minor in Chemistry.  I am currently pursuing a M.S. degree in the department of Weed Science under the direction of Dr. Phil Westra, looking into the effect of aminocyclopyrachlor on desirable tree species, and will be pursuing a Ph.D. under the direction of Dr. Todd Gaines, where we will try to develop herbicide resistant wheat varieties through induced mutagenesis.

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