Lab Members

Dr. Marco Todesco

Marco is an Assistant Professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories, the Department of Botany and the Department of Biology (UBC Okanagan). He received a M.Sc. in Plant Biotechnology at the University of Padua in Italy, and a PhD at the Eberhard Karls Universität and Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany, working on natural variation and micro RNAs in Arabidopsis. He then moved to UBC as a HFSP postdoctoral fellow to study adaptation in wild sunflowers. He is broadly interested in understanding the how and why of plant diversity.

Chris Grassa

Chris has a keen interest in the coevolution of plant genomes and human culture (domestication). What are the legal and economic incentives for breeders to alter crop phenotypes, and which genes are under artificial selection? Where on Earth and when did this take place? Where did our crops originate? By which routes were seeds traded, expanding a crop’s cultivated range, before and after globalization? We address these questions by sequencing the DNA of time-stamped and geo-referenced museum specimens, comparing historic genomes in context of experimentally-determined genetic maps of recombination and mutation.

Kenneth Askelson

Kenny, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Todesco lab, earned his PhD investigating cryptic speciation in birds through genome sequencing. He has extensive experience in conservation genomics, particularly with Northern Goshawks and Western Screech owls in British Columbia. Now, in the Todesco lab, he aims to understand the genetic mechanisms behind seed camouflage in the western sunflower (Helianthus anomalus) using a comprehensive approach integrating sequencing data and field experiments. His overarching interest lies in using genomics to understand speciation and adaptation processes.

Dylan Moxley

Dylan is a PhD student co-supervised with Loren Rieseberg. He received a Bachelor of Science in Applied Biology with a focus in Applied Plant and Soil Science from the University of British Columbia. He works on new approaches for sunflower transformation, analyses of recombination patterns, and single cell-genomics, mostly in sunflower and cannabis.
His interests are broadly in plant breeding (QTL mapping, tissue culture, genetic transformation, altering recombination landscapes, improving genome quality, rapid cycle breeding, the break down and utilization of self-incompatibility in wild crop pre-breeding).

Other interests include:
-Plants in textiles: cellulose fibre quality, natural pigments as dyes, naturally coloured fibre production
-Improving & screening of orphan crops for food/fibre production.
-Controlled environment agriculture: varietal screening of leafy green/oilseed/fibre plants for production in vertical agriculture, and integrated CEA systems of plants and mushrooms for improved carbon utilization.

Raisa Ramdeen

I’m a tropical transplant from Trinidad and Tobago, a recent addition to the Botany program at UBC, co-supervised by Marco Todesco and Loren Rieseberg. My PhD research will use genomic approaches to understand how seagrasses will adapt to the climate crisis. 

Zhiqin Long

Zhiqin is a PhD student co-supervised with Loren Rieseberg. She grew up in China and obtained a master degree from Sichuan University and a bachelor from China Agricultural University. She is interested in understanding the species evolutionary process and the interplay among them. In addition, she is interested in prediction of species fate in the context of climate change and providing conservation strategies.

Vincent Fetterley

Vincent completed a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences at Université de Montréal and a Master`s of Science in Plant Science at UBC, where he investigated wheat relatives for novel sources of stripe rust genetic resistance. His desire to understand and harness plant natural genetic diversity to improve crop production and sustainability pushed him join the Todesco lab as a PhD student, where his project will focus on characterizing the genetic diversity found in hemp-type cannabis. He is motivated to identify agriculturally important alleles that can be used to improve hemp`s fiber production and adapt the crop to the Canadian climate. His research interests extend to plant transformation, molecular biology, and plant breeding.

Jonathan Beutler

Before grad studies, Jonathan spent 10 years working in rural economic development, agricultural education, and commercial farming on variety of projects from the American Midwest to Maui, Hawaii. From 2013-2018 he managed a diversified fruit, vegetable, and poultry operation on the North Shore of Maui, and in 2015 he founded Maui Olena Company, a production farm specializing fresh-root turmeric. He returned to grad school when a soilborne Ralstonia solanacearum (bacterial wilt) infestation forced him to dissolve the business. He completed an M.Sc. at UC Davis, with a thesis project quantifying the host-range of the unique R. solanacearum (IIB-4) clade from the tropical and subtropical Americas. He began his Ph.D. in Plant Science with Dr. Gurcharn Brar in 2021 and transferred to the Todesco Lab in 2023 when Dr. Brar accepted a wheat breeding position at UAlberta. Jonathan’s research seeks to apply Nanopore sequencing technology to improve surveillance and characterization of Pyrenophora fungal pathogens in Canadian cereal grains, and to accelerate resistance breeding. He is confident that there has never been a better time to be a plant biologist and can’t wait to see where new genomic tools can take the field of crop improvement.

Ara Jamaldin

Ara is currently pursuing a MSc degree in the Department of Botany. She earned a BSc in Biology with a minor in Classics from the University of Alberta, where she researched pine tree responses to pathogen attack and cryptic species of Albertan lichens. At the Todesco lab, her primary research focus revolves around investigating how chromosomal inversions contribute to local adaptation in sunflowers; achieved through transcriptomic analyses. Beyond this, Ara’s interests include comparative genomics, phylogenomics, and understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying adaptation and evolution.

Edward Sun

Edward is a first-year MSc student in the Department of Botany, supervised by Sean Graham. He’s always keen to talk about plant biodiversity and is excited to be joining the Todesco Lab this spring – to develop his benchwork skills and to help generate data for a Canadian plant genome sequencing initiative. His favourite plants are orchids, especially those that appear to parasitize fungi (mycoheterotrophs).

Stephanie Xie

Stephanie is a fourth year student in Biochemistry combined with Chemistry, and grew up in Guangzhou, China. She is interested in genetics and enjoys working in the lab. She joined the lab as a Work-Learn student, and is working on introducing some of the massive adaptive inversions we identified in wild sunflower species into cultivated sunflower, to better understand their role in adaptation and their potential for sunflower improvement.

Iyra Cristofoli-Couling 

Iyra is a fourth year student in biochemistry at UBC. Growing up in BC, he enjoys hiking, backcountry skiing and mountain biking. He hopes to pursue an MSc in plant genetics and is currently helping with projects to identify and characterize genes responsible for economically relevant traits in cannabis. 

Alexandra Mykitiuk 

Alexandra is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Biology. She is a recipient of the Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) award. Through a combination of greenhouse and lab work, Alex is currently helping identify and characterize genes responsible for economically relevant traits in cannabis. Outside of the lab Alex enjoys running, crochet, embroidery, and other craft projects.

Kaede Hirabayashi

Kaede is a research assistant and a lab technician/manager. She completed a BSc (Hon.) in Biochemistry at UBC Okanagan. Her honours research investigated the climate change resilience of wild North American berries. She received an MSc in Biology, studying genome diversity and evolution of lingonberry at University of Victoria. Although she has a particular affection towards bog berries (Vaccinium species, specifically), she hopes to contribute to the sustainable agriculture as a whole through her work.

Past Lab Members

Ishana Sookoor (co-op student)