Growing up in small-town, rural Northwest Missouri, I was surrounded by agriculture and developed an early interest in pursuing a some sort of career in biology.
I attended college at Missouri State University to major in Biology and
in 2013, I was selected to participate in a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates at Iowa State University, where I developed a research project with Dr. Jonathan Wendel, who's lab studied a crop system I previously knew nothing about - cotton.
Iowa is, admittedly, a weird place to study cotton -- it isn't grown on any farm in the state, and the natural range of its wild relatives barely even touches the Southern border of the US. Some wild cotton populations can be found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and even more distant relative in the Southwest US in Arizona. But in Iowa? Not a cotton plant in sight.
That is, except in the greenhouse on the roof of Bessey Hall. It turns out, the lab I was joining wasn't directly interested in the agricultural impacts of cotton at all - they were interested in understanding the consequences of a single event that occurred in cotton genomes ~1-2 million years ago -- two species hybridized and the resulting genome was entirely doubled. This new lineage of cottons had twice as many chromosomes and twice as many genes as its closest relatives, but also produced longer, stronger fibers than any of its relatives. This process of chromosome doubling (known as polyploidy) is widespread throughout plants and is particularly common in the histories of many of the agricultural crops we use today - corn, soybeans, quinoa, and peanuts, just to name a few.
It was during this summer that I first discovered the value that crops can provide in better understanding how genomes change over time, and was my first introduction to the field of evolutionary genomics. After this summer experience, I enrolled in every class at Missouri State University that was remotely related to evolution or evolutionary genomics (admittedly not very many), and began a research project in a lab that was as closely related to plant evolution as I could find - a lab that studied fungal resistance in grapes.
After graduating from Missouri State University in 2015, I returned to Dr. Wendel's lab at Iowa State to pursue my PhD in Genetics in Genomics. I recently graduated in December 2021, after writing my dissertation entitled "Molecular Evolution Following Allopolyploidization in Gossypium" which built on the same fundamental questions I first discovered in that REU experience in the summer of 2013.
During graduate school, I was fortunate to develop collaborative projects with scientists around the country (and even a few with international collaborators). In particular, I still maintain strong collaborations with Dr. Dan Sloan at Colorado State University and Dr. Joel Sharbrough at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, both of whom are interested in evolutionary process involving interactions between the mitochondria, plastids, and nucleus.
Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher, jointly supervised by Dr. Jonathan Wendel at Iowa State University and Dr. Daniel Peterson at Mississippi State University, where I still work on various aspects of evolutionary genomics in cotton and other polyploid crop systems. In March 2023, I will begin my NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology (PRFB) award at the University of Arizona, where I will work with Drs. Michael Barker and Ryan Gutenkunst on understanding the role that ancient and recent polyploidy events have on the distribution of fitness effects.