Our Team - USAID, NSF, GCDT, and CRP 3.5 Project 
Graduate Students


Betsy.jpgBetsy Alford

Ph.D. Student, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: baalford@ucdavis.edu




Ms. Betsy Alford joins the Cook lab after working in industry researching microbial metabolism. During her time at Codexis, she served as a molecular biologist and analytical chemist on a project to produce mid chain fatty alcohols by fermenting cellulosic sugars. At Solazyme, she provided molecular biology support leading to the first microbially derived renewable diesel fuel registered with the EPA. Subsequently, she contributed to successful regulatory filings with both the United States and Brazilian governments.  Betsy passionately believes that energy and food security are paramount to achieving social stability, and has focused her industrial and academic career to support these aims.  She returns to UC Davis for her PhD after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Plant Biotechnology from UC Davis in 2004 followed by a master’s degree in Plant Pathology from University of Maine. She will be studying the interrelationship between native and cultivated chickpeas with their respective microbial communities.




BilalEdited.jpgBilal Aydin

M.S. Student, Department of Field Crops, Faculty of Agriculture, Harran University, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

Email: bilal.ayd@hotmail.com




Mr. Bilal Aydın is a Msc. student in the Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at Harran University in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. He received his Bachelor's degree in the Department of Field Crops from Yüzüncü Yıl University, Van. He is well specalized in collection of wild cicer species. His research interest is focused on characterizing wide hybridization of wild cicer species.



Lijalem.jpgLijalem Balcha

Ph.D. Student, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Email: lijupeace@gmail.com




Mr. Lijalem K. Balcha is a Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Biotechnology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. His Ph.D. thesis entitled “Genetic Improvement of Ethiopian Chickpea Cultivars through Reverse Introgression of High-yielding and Climate-resilient Genes from Wild Accessions” is among the key deliverables of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab. During two internships at the University of California Davis, in Douglas Cook’s laboratory, he led an activity to introgress a representative set of wild genetic diversity into the cultivated species of chickpea. The recipient chickpea genotypes include farmer-preferred varieties from Ethiopia and India, forming part of a large pre-breeding populations representing >10 thousand individual lineages. This unique and invaluable germplasm will be grown for seed increase, phenotyping and breeding in both Ethiopia and India in the 2016 and 2017 field seasons.

Lijalem is a researcher in the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) based at Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center in the crop research division. He received his Bachelor degree in Plant Sciences from Alemaya University, Ethiopia and his Masters from the Universiteit Ghent, Belgium on Molecular Biotechnology. His Masters research focused on Ethiopian germplasm of grass pea (Lathyrus sativus L.), including genetic and biotechnological studies. He has served EIAR as a legume breeder since 2001 in the Legumes Research Program and as the national research coordinator of pulses, oil and fiber crops from 2012-2014.



FatmaEdited.jpgFatma Basdemir

Ph.D. Student, Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey



Ms. Fatma Basdemir is a Ph.D scholar in the Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Her work on chickpea involves phenotyping for climate resilience in wild and cultivated accessions. In the fall of 2014 she interned in the the Cook laboratory at UC Davis, where she learned methods associated with greenhouse hybridization of wild chickpea accessions (donor-Turkey) with elite chickpea cultivars (recipient). She was also involved in genotyping of wild chickpea accessions, and in a project to study strain specificity in chickpea-Mesorhizobium interactions. She has previously studied herbicide tolerance in wheat, on a project supported by the Southeastern Anatolia Project entitled ‘The improvement of Imidazolinone Herbicide Tolerance (Clear Field) in Wheat Cultivars’. She has also studied drought tolerance in wheat on a project funded by TUBITAK entitled ‘Carbon-13 Isotope Dıscrımınatıon and Related Traits to Improve Spring Wheat Yield in Dry and Hot Environments in Mediterranean and Southeastern Anatolia’. She is the recipient of a scholarship from TUBITAK. She received her Bachelor's degree in the Department of Biology from Dicle University, and her Masters degree in Biology with an emphasis in Entomology. During her Master degree she investigated of the use of natural predator insects species in biological control.



BEDADA.jpgGashaw Sefera Bedada

MSc. Student, Hawassa University, Ethiopia

Email: gaafsan@yahoo.com or gashusafe@gmail.com  




Mr. Gashaw Sefera Bedada is a researcher in Oromia Agricultural Research Institute (OARI), Ethiopia, based at Sinana Agricultural Research center in highland pulse and oil crops technology generating team. He received his Bachelor of Science in Crop Science from Jimma University, Ethiopia. He has been serving as highland pulse crops breeder since 2010 and contributed for the official release of one broad bean(vicia fabeae) and one field pea (pisum sativum). Gashaw has also served in the national chickpea and lentil improvement program being member of national team by evaluating the national chickpea and lentil trials. Currently, he's a MSc. Student at Hawassa University in the school of Plant and Horticultural Sciences, specializing in Plant Breeding. He is interested in breeding for biotic resistance especially insects and my current research will focus on “Assessment of Genetic variability in Wild Accessions of Chickpea for their Resistance to Pod Borer (Helicoverpa armigera)”



DagnachewWeb.jpgDagnachew Bekele

PhD. Student, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Email: dgnbkl@yahoo.com, eyualmzdg@gmail.com





Mr. Dagnachew Bekele is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Biotechnology (IOB), Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia with full sponsorship by the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea Project at the University of California, Davis, USA. Dagnachew received his B.S. degree in plant science from Hawassa University, and his M.Sc. degree in Applied Genetics from Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. He also has a European double M.Sc. degree from University Copenhagen, Denmark and University of Catania, Italy. Before he began his studies, he worked as a researcher at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) on chickpea and lentil breeding and genetics based at the Debre Zeit Research Center. Within the USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea project, his current Ph.D. thesis research focuses on genomics-assisted resistance breeding to improve chickpea's (Cicer arietinum L.) tolerance and resistance to Fusarium wilt (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp.ciceris) and Ascochyta blight (Ascochyta rabiei).



AhmetEdited.jpgAhmet Cakmak

M.S. Student, Department of Field Crops, Faculty of Agriculture, Harran University, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

Email: ahmetcakmak33@outlook.com



Mr. Ahmet Cakmak is a Msc. student in the Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at Harran University in Sanlıurfa, Turkey. He received his B.S degree in the Departmant of Field Crops from Harran University. He has experience in collection of Cicer sp. genetic resources, agronomy and hybridization techniques in inter- and intra- species of Cicer. His research currently involves the collection and morphological characterization of wild cicer species with special interest on Cicer reticulatum and Cicer echinospermum. He is interested in applying FIGS (Focus Improved Germplasm Strategy) method in currently available chickpea germplasm to determine usefull alleles for the crop improvement.



Kassaye.jpgKassaye Negash Dinegde

Ph.D. Student, Institute of Biotechnology, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia






Getahun.jpgTsegaye Getahun

PhD Student, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Email:tseggetahun@yahoo.com/ tsegaye.getahun@aau.edu.et




Mr. Tsegaye Getahun is a lecturer and researcher at Institute of Biotechnology, Addis Ababa University. He has graduated his B.Sc and M.Sc in the same University in Biology and Applied Genetics, respectively. He has worked his M.Sc thesis on wheat and tef biotechnological applications entitled on “Regeneration of plants from unpollinated ovary cultures of Ethiopian wheat (Triticum spp) varieties and embryo rescue cultures of F1 hybrids of tef (Eragrostis tef) with its wild relatives”. He has worked as junior researcher in Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research Center (EIAR) and lecturer in University of Gondar before his current position. He is currently working his PhD thesis on “Integrated physiology, genetics and genomics approaches for screening heat tolerant genotypes of Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) and its wild relatives in Ethiopia”. It is one of the critical areas of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab Project sponsored by USAID.



Alex.jpgAlex Greenspan

Ph.D. Student, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: greenspan@ucdavis.edu




Mr. Alex Greenspan is a PhD student in the department of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis. His doctoral research focuses on the genomic  and phenotypic diversity of chickpea’s nitrogen-fixing bacterial symbionts of the genus Mesorhizobium. This research incorporates bioinformatics and microbial genomics with experimental methods in plant science and microbiology with the goal of understanding the factors that affect nodulation in chickpea, how the symbiosis varies geographically, and how it can be managed agriculturally.

Alex cut his scientific teeth at the University of Colorado where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and conducted research in culture-independent microbial ecology in the lab of Norm Pace. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea offered Alex the perfect opportunity to match his background in microbiology with his inordinate fondness for hummus.



Edward Marques2.jpgEdward Marques

Ph.D. Student, Florida International University, Miami, Florida, USA

Email: emarq002@fiu.edu





Mr. Edward Marques is a Ph.D. student in the department of Biology at Florida International University. His doctoral research incorporates bioinformatics, genomics, and ecology to understand the genomic and environmental factors that influence seed hardness. He initially received his B.S. in biology at Florida State University where he conducted a greenhouse common garden experiment to determine the effect of soil type on Pityopsis growth patterns. Edward then went on to earn his M.S. in biology from the University of North Florida where he conducted a manipulated field study focused on the beneficial effects of the invasive red imported fire ant, Solenopsis Invicta, on the threatened hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor.



Susan.jpgSusan Moenga

Ph.D. Student, University of California, Davis, USA

Email: smmoenga@ucdavis.edu




Ms. Susan Moenga is a Ph.D. student in the Plant Biology Program at the University of California-Davis. Her research is supported jointly by a fellowship from the Legume Innovation Lab at Michigan State University and by the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Within the Chickpea Innovation Lab her research aims to understand the physiological and molecular mechanisms of drought tolerance in wild chickpea.

Her research involves subjecting plants to low soil moisture and then assessing their performance relative to modern elite cultivars. Early results from her work suggest that wild species are more conservative for water use than are cultivated varieties, an observation that has potentially important implications for chickpea crop improvement. Among her objectives are to identify the genomic basis of drought resilience traits and to use this information to guide gene introgression into high-yielding cultivars.

Susan joined UC Davis in 2014 as an MSc student intern from Wageningen University. During her internship at UC Davis, she studied phenotypic diversity and patterns of local adaptation in wild Cicer populations.

While in Wageningen, Susan studied with Professor Ton Bisselling in the Department of Molecular Biology, where she investigated the genetic basis of nitrogen fixation traits in Parasponia. She received her undergraduate degree from Kenyatta University in Kenya. Prior to obtaining her MSc in the Netherlands, Susan worked on the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, developing drought tolerant corn varieties.



Zehara.jpgZehara Mohammed

Ph.D. Student, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia




Ms. Zehara Mohammed is a PhD student in the School of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Life Sciences, Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Forestry from Wondo Genet College of Forestry, Debub University, and her Master’s degree in Dryland Agronomy from Mekelle University. She has worked at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research as a researcher on Weed Science since April 2011. Her PhD research is funded by USAID's Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Chickpea. Her studies focus on the genomic and functional diversity of Ethiopia’s endemic Mesorhizobium species that nodulate chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.). Towards that end, Mesorhizobium strains and DNA were collected systematically from the major chickpea growing areas of Ethiopia. Analysis of these strains is expected to provide the basis for improving nitrogen fixation and enhancing productivity in Ethiopia’s chickpea production systems. Moreover, the outcomes of these efforts are expected to complement the project’s breeding efforts on climate resilience in chickpea, including climate resilient nitrogen-fixation. Optimizing chickpea's ability to partner with efficient nitrogen fixing bacteria in the genus Mesorhizobium is expected to be a key strategy to enhance chickpea's role in Ethiopian agriculture.



Gull2.jpgSyed Gul Abbas Shah Sani

Ph.D. Student, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan





Mr. Syed Gul Abbas Shah Sani is a Ph.D Scholar in the Plant Sciences Department, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad Pakistan. He received his Bachelor degree in Agricultural Sciences from  Agriculture University Faisalabad,and his Masters from Gomal University D.I Khan Pakistan.During his master degree he particularly conducted pathogenic diversity in Ascochyta Raiei isolates collected from Pakistan. He recently join Cook’s Lab to conduct his Ph.D research. His role in Cook’s lab at UC Davis is to work on hybridization of wild chickpea accessions (donor) with elite Pakistani chickpea cultivars (recipient) and genotyping of F-generations of chickpea populations.



Sevgi.jpgSevgi Saylak

M.S. Student, Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey

Email: svgsaylak@gmail.com



Ms. Sevgi Saylak is a Masters student in the Department of Field Crops in the Faculty of Agriculture at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey. She is studying the functional significance of standing variation in wild populations of Cicer reticulatum and its co-occurring bacterial symbiont Mesorhizobium spp. using a combination of ecology, genomics and phenotyping. She interned in Doug Cook’s Lab at the University of California-Davis to learn methods associated with greenhouse and hybridization work, genotyping and microbiology. Her work at Dicle University involves the isolation and characterization of rhizobial strains on the basis of morphology, cultural and biochemical characteristics, and capacity for nitrogen fixation in distinct wild chickpea accessions. She received her Bachelor's degree in Departmant of Field Crops from Dicle University.



Min-Gyoung Shin

Ph.D. Student, University of Southern California

Email:  mingyous@usc.edu

Ms. Min-Gyoung Shin studied mathematics and computer science in the undergraduate school, Ewha Woman’s University. She received her master’s degree in bioinformatics in KAIST. After working in the Korean Bioinformatics Center for two years, she became a graduate student at the University of Southern California majoring in Computational Biology. She focused on gene regulatory networks and disease networks before starting her graduate study. Now, her main focus is in genome-wide association study. She is interested and involved in plant GWAS studies and her research focuses are imputation of genomic variants and causal relationships between variants and traits of plants.



Wendy Vu

Ph.D. Molecular and Computational Biology, Student, University of Southern California, USA

Email: wvu@usc.edu

Ms. Wendy Vu was trained in molecular and biochemistry fields during her undergraduate career but has transitioned into evolutionary genetics when she started her graduate program. These somewhat different paths have led her to pursue questions that incorporate evolutionary thinking to molecular biology. In particular, Wendy is interested in the variation of molecular mechanisms that evolve to mediate adaption to local and changing environments. Her research program integrates field ecology and genetics to understand patterns of local adaptation of wild plant populations to extreme environmental conditions. Furthermore, she has developed statistical and bioinformatics skills to analyze large-scale genomic sequencing data to identify natural genetic variation associated with adaptive plant traits. In the future, Wendy hopes to apply my knowledge of evolutionary genetics and analytical skills to develop more practical genetic applications for improving agriculture.



Emily Warschefsky

PhD Student, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA

​Email: ewars001@fiu.edu

Ms. Emily Warschefsky is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at Florida International University. Her doctoral research focuses on evolution and population genetics of domesticated species, and she is particularly interested in the role of interspecific hybridization and introgression in the processes of evolution and speciation. Emily received her B.A. in Biology from Reed College in 2009, and worked as an intern at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden before beginning her graduate studies.



umran akgunEdited.jpgUmran Akgun Yildirim

Ph.D. Student, Harran University, Şanlıurfa, Turkey

Email: umran__akgun@hotmail.com




Ms. Umran Akgun Yildirim is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Plant Pathology at Harran University. She received her B.S. and MSc. degree in Field Crops from Harran University. Her master study focused on molecular characterization of lentil species and cultivars. She is currently working on screening for ascochyta blight tolerance in wild cicer populations including determination of the markers associated with ascochyta blight resistance and relationships between morphological structure and tolerance to ascochyta blight. She is presently working as a researcher in GAP Agriculture Research Institute (GAPTAEM) in the department of Plant Pathology, Sanliurfa, Turkey.




Sultan Web.jpgMr. Sultan Mohammed Yimer

Ph.D. Student, Haromaya University, Haromaya, Ethiopia

Email: sultanmd37@gmail.com




Mr. Sultan Mohammed Yimer is a doctoral student affiliated with the Chickpea Innovation Lab, jointly sponsored by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the U.S. Agency for International Development and the 2Blades Foundation. His research focuses on developing genetic resources to combat the Fusarium wilt pathogen of chickpea.

Before joining the project, Sultan had surveyed a significant portion of chickpea’s cultivated area in Ethiopia, collecting pathogen isolates for analysis. His role in the Chickpea Innovation Lab is to characterize the diversity of this pathogen collection and to use that knowledge to screen germplasm for broad disease resistance traits and ultimately to breed for durable resistance.

Sultan received his Bachelor degree in Biology and his MSC in Botanical Science from Bahir Dar University, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and from 2011 he served as a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Biology at Woldia University, Ethiopia. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Plant Pathology in the Department of Plant Science at Haromaya University in Ethiopia. As part of his doctoral training he is conducting a research internship at the University of California Davis, gaining familiarity with fungal genomics, bioinformatics and disease resistance phenotyping.