Our Team - USAID, NSF, GCDT, and CRP 3.5 Project 
Scientists, Post Doctoral Fellow and Staff


Atif Web.jpg Rana Muhammad Atif

Visiting scientist in Professor D. R. Cook’s lab (Chickpea Innovation Lab) at the University of California, Davis, USA

Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics / US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Agriculture & Food Security, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Email: dratif@uaf.edu.pk, agrarian1226@gmail.com


Dr. Rana Muhammad Atif serves as assistant professor at Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics / US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Agriculture & Food Security (USPCAS-AFS), University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is currently a visiting scientist in Professor D.R. Cook’s lab at the University of California, Davis, USA, on USPCAS-AFS funded project entitled “Identification of drought responsive genes through transcriptional profiling of drought responses in chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.)”. Majority of the chickpea in Pakistan is grown in rain-fed areas of Thal and adjacent regions, thus facing water shortage which results in significant lower yield. Under these circumstances, this project is employing an RNA-seq approach for dissecting the drought-responsive chickpea transcriptome under varying levels of water stress. The underlying genes can then be used for drought-tolerant chickpea breeding programs.

After graduating from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad majoring in Plant Breeding and Genetics, Dr. Atif completed his M.Phil in Plant Biotechnology from University of Burgundy, Dijon, France in 2009. He received his Ph.D. from the same university in 2012, conducting research under the supervision of Dr. Sergio Ochatt and Dr. Richard Thompson at UMRLEG, INRA, Dijon, France. His doctoral research focused on dissecting the genetic and hormonal factors controlling seed development in the model legume Medicago truncatula.

He is currently involved in several other research activities employing genomics and biotechnology tools to improve biotic (wilt, blight and pod borer) and abiotic (drought, cold and heat) stress tolerance in chickpea. His research program is supported by Higher Education Commission, Pakistan and USAID. In addition, Dr. Atif also supervises graduate and doctoral student thesis. 



Peter.jpgPeter Chang

Post Doctoral Fellow, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: peterc@usc.edu




Dr. Peter Chang is a Computational Biologist at the University of California-Davis in the Plant Pathology department. He is part of a US NSF Plant PGRP project to investigate the impact of domestication on nitrogen fixation in chickpea. As a team member of the concurrent Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea, funded by the US Agency for International Development, Peter manages and analyzes genomic data from collections found around the world. Peter leverages his genomic expertise to analysis in other organisms studied in the Cook lab,  such as Medicago truncatula, Lens culinaris and Mesorhizobia. His current research focuses on characterizing genomic changes that are beneficial for a population's adaptation to stress environments, such nickel tolerance in bacteria and salt, drought, and metal tolerance in plants. Dr. Chang received his doctoral degree from the University of Southern California, characterizing the long term effects of gene duplicates in Arabidopsis polyploids.



Matilde.jpgMatilde de Vasconcelos Manso Ataide Cordeiro

Research Specialist, University of Southern California, USA

Email: matilde.cordeiro@gmail.com




Dr. Matilde Cordeiro has a multidisciplinary background. She got her licentiate degree in Agronomical Engineering with a specialization in horticulture and a final thesis in molecular biology from the Technical University of Lisbon. She continued working in the Plant Cell Biotechnology lab at ITQB, New University of Lisbon, until she was awarded a FCT PhD fellowship to work in legume biology, in the same lab, and in the Cook lab at the University of California in Davis. Her PhD research incorporates molecular biology, ecophysiology, and evolutionary ecology to identify candidate genes and traits, and to test ecological hypotheses of local adaptation to abiotic stresses. Currently, she joined the Nuzhdin lab at the University of Southern California to work in climate resilient chickpea. Generally, her goal is to understand mechanisms of adaptation to abiotic stress using an ecophysiology and genomics approach.



BulloEdited.jpgBullo Mamo

Post Doctoral Fellow, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: bemamo@ucdavis.edu




Dr. Bullo Mamo, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California at Davis. He rejoined Cook’s lab as a Post Doctoral Fellow after receiving his doctorate in genetics of disease resistance in barley from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2013. He is currently involved in development of chickpea population for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea project. He has been in Cook’s lab in 2007-08 as a research scholar conducting molecular genetics research in cowpea. He obtained his master of science degree from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, conducting a thesis research in plant molecular biology. He has served the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research as a research associate from 2003-05 after completing his undergraduate study in Plant Sciences at Haramaya University, Ethiopia. Dr. Mamo’s research interest spans basic plant science to the application of translational research in applied plant breeding to improve agricultural productivity.



ReyazulEdited.jpgReyazul Rouf Mir

Visiting Scientist, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: imrouf2006@gmail.com




Reyazul Rouf Mir, Assistant professor in the Division of Plant Breeding & Genetics at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu (SKUAST-J), India is a Visiting Scientist with us funded by Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. Of India. Reyaz is working on a project entitled “Molecular genetic analysis for genes underlying domestication-related traits in chickpea” with more emphasis on the study of a major-effect QTLs for nodule number and flowering time. In addition, Reyaz is also actively involved in several activities of NSF-PGRP project “Deducing the genomic footprint and functional impact of chickpea domestication on nitrogen fixation” including: (i) Developing genetic resources for fine-mapping of nodule number and flowering time QTLs,  (ii) High-density RAD-GBS genotyping, and (iii) Molecular analysis using different approaches for trait-gene discovery. In USAID-funded project “A reverse-introgression and community genomics strategy to enrich and characterize legume germplasm for climate-resilience traits”, Reyaz is involved in: (i)Developing  introgression population among wild and cultivated chickpea for analysis of climate resilience and (ii) Phenotyping of wild and cultivated chickpea for climate resilience and symbiotic traits including nodule number.



Yadira Reynaldo

Lab Manager, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, USA

Email: yreynald@fiu.edu

Yadira Reynaldo is currently a Laboratory Manager in the Department of Biological Sciences in Florida International University. Her background training includes organic chemistry synthesis and inorganic chemistry focusing on fluorophores and optical sensors. Yadira has worked in Florida International University as a laboratory instructor for various courses in Biology and Chemistry since 2009. She had former employment as a HPLC Chemist in the Pharmaceutical Industry before joining the von Wettberg lab in 2013. Her primary task is related to nutrient analysis of chickpeas.



Kashif Raiz Web.jpgKashif Riaz

Assistant Professor, Plant Pathology/Biotechnology, US-PCAS AFS, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan

Email: dr.kr@uaf.edu.pk; drriaz@ucdavis.edu



Dr. Kashif Riaz is serving as Assistant Professor in Plant Pathology/Biotechnology (US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Agriculture & Food Security, USPCAS-AFS) at University of Agriculture Faisalabad Pakistan. As a visiting scientist at Dr. Cook’s laboratory, he is currently involved in plant-microbiome studies using metagenomics and next generation sequencing (NGS) for biogeodiversity determination of chickpea root nodule associated bacteria from Pakistan, a first attempt of its own kind. This USAID funded project has the downstream goal of developing low cost, ecofriendly bioionocula of native origin for use in zero-input environmentally fragile chickpea production systems in Pakistan. Additionally, he is interested in developing ecofriendly sustainable plant disease management strategies through root-microbiome engineering using biodegradable pathogenicity quenching bioproducts targeting quorum sensing dependent bacterial infections in vegetables (Pectobacterium/potato and Ralstonia/tomota/chilies, project funded by Grand Challenges Canada). 

Dr. Riaz graduated as Plant Pathologist from PMAS-AAUR, Pakistan. He pursued his higher studies in France, and holds DEA degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from IBMP/CNRS-ULP Strasbourg where he worked with Dr. Geraldine Bonnard. Further, he studied rhizosphere ecology under the supervision of Drs. Yves Dessaux and Denis Faure at I2BC/CNRS-Gif sur Yvette and earned a Ph.D. degree, Cum Laude, from University of Paris XI. His PhD work, using metagenomics, reported a potent enzyme QlcA (a quorum quenching lactonase) for controlling Pectobacterium based infections in potatoes. He also enjoyed short stays at LIPM, INRA/CNRS, Toulouse with Dr. Stephane Genin and Dr. Christian Boucher and did postdoctoral research with Dr. Pierre Leblond at the Laboratory of Genome Dynamics and Microbial Adaptation, INRA/Nancy-University of Lorraine, where he studied the mechanisms of gene influx in soil bacteria, Streptomyces.



Lisa.jpgLisa Vance

Specialist, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: lcvance@ucdavis.edu




Lisa Vance is currently a Junior Specialist in Doug Cook’s lab in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Evolution and Ecology from the University of California, Davis in 2011. She worked in the Department of Plant Pathology (Cook Lab) and Department of Environmental Science and Policy (Grosholz Lab) as an undergraduate student. In the summer of 2009, she participated in the university’s Bodega Marine Laboratory program where she conducted a short research project looking at thermal stress in purple sea urchins. In her time with the Cook Lab she has helped with projects focusing on Medicago truncatula and Cicer spp. with some fieldwork in Portugal and India to aid with the harvest and data collection for these projects. Lisa provides a supporting role for the post-docs and researchers in the lab, as well as maintaining greenhouse activities and communication with greenhouse managers for care of project plants. 



Aimee Zhao Web.jpgYang Zhao

Assistant Professor, Department of Life Science of Shandong University, China

Email: aimee.yangzhao@gmail.com




Dr. Yang Zhao is an assistant professor in the Department of Life Science at Shandong University in China. Her research focuses on legume development. One of her interests lies in the relationship between plant architecture and nodulation. The nodules not only change the appearance and structure of roots, but also the development of shoots. In Professor Cook's lab, Dr. Zhao studies how Mesorhizobium affects root and shoot architecture during nodulation.

Dr. Zhao obtained her Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the China Agriculture University, where she studied the ethylene signaling pathway in plant response to biotic stresses. Her postdoctoral research at Shandong University focused on the function of another important phytohormone, jasmonic acid, in wheat tolerance to salt stress.