Our Team - Scientists, Post Doctoral Fellows and Staff


Atif Web.jpg Rana Muhammad Atif

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. 



Emily Bergmann Web Photo.jpgEmily Bergmann

Specialist, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: embergmann@ucdavis.edu




Ms. Emily Bergmann received her undergraduate degrees in Biological Anthropology and Geology from the University of California, Davis, USA and has since done graduate work with the UC Davis Graduate Group in Ecology where she studied Trifolium and their interaction within plant and soil microbial communities. She has worked on large plant based experiments in both natural and agricultural contexts growing and organizing experiment in natural environments, agricultural fields, and greenhouses. Emily focuses on greenhouse, field and laboratory work on plant production and phenotyping for the USAID projects as well as acting as greenhouse and field support for other researchers in the lab. She is also working on a masters degree in Library and Information Science through the University of Wisconsin Madison with the intent of working as a biology specialist in academic research libraries.



Noelia.jpgNoelia Carrasquilla-Garcia

Associate Specialist, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: noecarras@ucdavis.edu




Ms. Noelia Carrasquilla-Garcia conducts research on legume genomics and molecular biology to help identify genome regions and/or genes associated with several plant phenotypes. A current thrust activity is reduced representation sequencing via Restriction site Associated DNA (RAD) and high-throughput sequencing in several ongoing projects in chickpea and lentil. Additional research activities include preparation of whole genome (NGS) libraries for (re)sequencing, and functional analysis via quantitative gene expression (q-PCR) assays.

In addition to this research activity, Noelia maintains and provides training for equipment in the lab (3730xl DNA analyzer, Bioanalyzer and SPE confocal system) and guides lab members in genomics protocols and methods. Noelia is also responsible for coordinating all laboratory safety requirements and training of laboratory personnel. She received her B.S. in Biology at the University of Alicante in Spain and her Advanced Studies Diploma (current day equivalent to M.S.) in Biotechnology & Molecular Biology at the University Polytechnic of Valencia in Spain.



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.



Alicia Gardiol

Retired Professor, Universidad de la República de Uruguay

Email: alicia.gardiol@gmail.com


Dr. Gardiol is a visiting professor (retired) from Uruguay.  She is working with Ramya Immareddy on bacterial molecular genetics, as well as with Laura M. Perilla-Henao on nitrogen fixation.



Hengbin He Web.jpgHengbin He 

Associate Professor, Beijing Forestry University, China

Email: 754059644@qq.com 




Dr. He is a visiting faculty member from Beijing Forestry University. Hengbin is working on molecular genetics and cell biology of symbiotic nitrogen fixation in Medicago. Funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China, Dr. He recently did a discovery of MtCKL14 which is a cyclin dependent kinase and responds to both Nod factor and ethylene signaling. He would continue to pursue his interest in nodulation signaling in Medicago truncatula, following-up on his discovery of MtCKL14 and its relationship to Nod factor signaling.



Sri Web.jpgSridharan Jagadeesan

Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: sridhara.jagadeesan@mail.huji.ac.il




Mr. Sridhar is a postdoctoral scholar who will be volunteering in the lab pending resolution of his work authorization. He will work on heat tolerance in chickpea. He obtained his Ph.D. form Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. His work at Volcani Center, Israel focuses on “Involvement of hormones in tomato pollen thermotolerance mechanisms”. He is also a recipient of Marie Curie fellowship as part of SPOT-ITN (Solanaceae pollen thermotolerance mechanism – Initial training network) consortium to pursue his doctoral degree. 



Karivaradharajan Web Photo.jpgSwarnalakshmi Karivaradharajan

Visiting Scientist, University of California, Davis, USA
Principal Scientist, Division of Microbiology, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, INDIA.

Email: swarna_micro@iari.res.in, swarna_bga@yahoo.com



Dr. Swarnalakshmi Karivaradharajan is a Microbiologist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) - Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi. At present, she is a visiting scientist in Professor Douglas Cook’s lab at the University of California, Davis, USA under Indo-US Fulbright - Nehru grant. During her Fulbright-Nehru fellowship, Dr. Swarnalakshmi is investigating plant-microbe interactions in chickpea. In particular she is exploring the interaction between the nitrogen-fixing Mesorhizobium symbiont of chickpea and non-Mesorhizobium members of the chickpea root and nodule microbiome. Her work will combine phenotyping of microbe-mediated plant performance, including the use of fluorescent marked Mesorhizobium strains, with genomics, to better understand the range of plant growth-promoting rhizosphere interactions

She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore and her Ph.D. from IARI, New Delhi. She started her career as an ARS (Agricultural Research Service) – Scientist at ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur in 2003. After serving at IIPR, Kanpur for six years, she moved to ICAR-IARI, New Delhi as a Senior Scientist (Microbiology). She also gained international research experience on molecular identification of plant associated bacteria in Prof. Angela Sessitsch’s laboratory at Austrian Institute of Technology, Vienna under ICAR-NAIP HRD fellowship. She received several national and international grants on plant-microbe interaction including grants from the Department of Biotechnology, ICAR-Extramural Research, the All India Network Project on Soil Biodiversity and Biofertilizers, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (GGIAR). At IARI, she was involved in the studies related to the interaction of chickpea genotypes with Mesorhizobium. Her current research is on the plant associated endophytic bacteria for improving symbiosis and growth of chickpea under low moisture conditions.



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

Assistant professor in the Division of Plant Breeding & Genetics at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu (SKUAST-J), India

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 was 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.



Munis Web2.jpgMuhammad Farooq Hussain Munis

Associate Professor, Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan

Email: munis@qau.edu.pk 




Dr. Munis was a visiting faculty member on a one-year Fulbright Scholar Program from Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. He is working on nested association mapping (NAM) panel to develop molecular markers for breeding Fusarium oxysporum (FOC) resistance in chickpea. He completed his Ph.D. from College of Plant Science and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China. During his Ph.D., he produced different transgenic crops to create resistance against Fusarium oxysporum and Verticillium dahliae



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.



Anand Web Photo.jpgAnandkumar Surendrarao (Anand K.S. Rao)

Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: aksrao@ucdavis.edu




Anand received his undergraduate degrees in Biological Sciences and Chemical Engineering from BITS, Pilani, India. He then earned his M.S. in Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Maryland, College Park, studying transcriptional control of floral organ pattering in Arabidopsis thaliana. After a post-grad stint in the Sundar lab at the University of California, Davis, he joined the Cook lab for his Ph.D. His doctoral research involved identifying and understanding the mechanisms that underlie the phenomenon of genomic drift of large gene families in plant species. Now, in his role as a post-doctoral researcher, Anand is excited to contribute towards the re-domestication of chickpea.



Vasantika Web Photo.jpgVasantika Suryawanshi

Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Southern California, USA

Email: vasantis@usc.edu




Dr. Vasantika Suryawanshi is a Bioinformatician working in the Molecular and Computational Biology department at University of Southern California. Her interests lie broadly in genome evolution, function and structure with specific interest in speciation. As a member of the Nuzhdin Lab working towards Climate Resilient Chickpea, she is responsible for assembling high quality drafts of the cultivated and wild chickpea genomes and their comparative analyses. She did her B.Sc. in Plant biology at the University of Delhi, India and Master's in Bioinformatics before working towards her doctoral degree in Bioinformatics at University of Heidelberg, Germany. In her doctoral thesis, she developed strategies to normalize and analyze microarray and NGS datasets across closely related species. Her work aided in delineating the factors and mechanisms behind the complex trait of metal hyperaccumulation in plants.



Lisa.jpgLisa Vance

Staff Research Associate I, 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.