Principal Investigator

Wolfgang Busch

Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory
Integrative Biology Laboratory

Wolfgang did his undergraduate studies in Biology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. During this time, he also spent 8 months at UC San Diego where he received training on computational biology and conducted research on transporter proteins. During his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, he identified novel key regulatory genes and modules for plant stem cell control via a systems biology approach integrating transcriptome- and genome-scale transcription factor-DNA binding data. Wolfgang received his PhD in 2008 from the University of Tübingen. During his postdoctoral training at Duke University he contributed to the discovery of spatiotemporally defined regulatory modules that control proliferation of stem cells and differentiation in the root, and used high-throughput confocal microscopy to capture dynamic features of gene expression. In 2011, he joined the Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology in Vienna as a group leader. During this time, he established his research program in root systems genetics and focuses on understanding which genes, genetic networks, and molecular processes determine root growth and its responses to the environment. In 2017, he came to the Salk as an Associate Professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. He is also part of the Integrative Biology Laboratory. A recent key interest of Wolfgang is researching and developing plant varieties with enhanced carbon sequestration capabilities for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and thereby counteracting climate change.
Postdoctoral Fellows

Elohim Bello Bello

Postdoctoral Fellow

Elohim obtained his PhD at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV), Mexico. During his PhD research, he contributed to the identification of genomic regions and genes associated with natural variation in primary root penetrability in Arabidopsis thaliana. His research interests are related to the implementation of multi-omics-based strategies (scRNA-seq, GWAS, MERFISH, scGRNs, etc) to understand how gravitropic and thigmotropic responses modulate root penetration into compacted soils. He seeks to decode the genetic/molecular mechanisms governing natural variation in root system penetrability to enhance rooting depth and CO2 sequestration in crop plants. Elohim joined the Busch lab in 2022 as a part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative at the Salk Institute. He and his colleagues are focused on designing new high-throughput phenotyping platforms and creating root-targeted genetic engineering solutions to develop smart-rooting crops better adapted to land degradation and climate change, which could contribute to transforming and reorienting agricultural systems towards climate-smart agriculture. 
Min Cao

Min Cao

Postdoctoral Fellow

Min received his Ph.D. from Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2019. During his PhD he identified a non-canonical auxin signaling pathway which was involved in apical hook development. He joined in Busch lab as a postdoctoral fellow in Nov 2019 to study how plants adapt to the climate changes. His research subject is the regulatory mechanism of how nutrition signaling was transduced from the environment to the plant.

Yintong Chen

Postdoctoral Fellow

Yintong obtained her PhD at the Pennsylvania State University under the supervision of Dr. Charles Anderson, where she studied how guard cell dynamics are determined by cell wall biochemistry and biomechanics. She started in the Busch lab in January of 2022, and has since developed an interest in the suberin synthesis process and its function in root water uptake. Outside the lab, she likes reading, playing the ukulele, and practicing calligraphy, she is also the co-chair of APIDA at Salk!

Laurence Denis

Postdoctoral Fellow

Originally from France, Laurence obtained her PhD in the Laboratoire Mixte CNRS/Aventis CropScience (UMR 41) in Lyon, France. She studied the biotinylation of proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana and uncovered the molecular mechanisms explaining the compartmentalization of biotin ligase activity in the cell. After two post-docs focusing on cell cycle regulation in mammalian cells (in Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and in Sanford Burnham Prebys in San Diego), she decided to go back to plant science studies and joined the Busch lab. As a member of HPI, she will be designing genetic tools to foster steeper roots in plants.
Sanghwa Lee

Sanghwa Lee

Postdoctoral Fellow

Originally from South Korea, Sanghwa completed his PhD at UT Austin under the supervision of Enamul Huq in May of 2021. During his PhD studies, he investigated how plants respond to high ambient temperature, termed thermomorphogenesis, due to the importance of global warming. He joined Busch lab at Salk in June of 2021. His main points of interest are: 1) obtaining a higher resolution in root thermomorphogenesis, and 2) identifying novel genes in rice root development. Outside of the lab, Sanghwa loves to play the piano and sing.

Suyash Patil

Postdoctoral Fellow

Originally from India, Suyash Patil received his PhD at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China in 2019. During his PhD studies, he worked on the molecular basis of plant architecture regulation focusing on the plant hormone auxin and its crosstalk with strigolactones and sucrose signaling. Before joining the PhD program, he worked at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as a pigeon pea breeder. Patil contributed actively to the development of high-yielding, disease-resistant pigeon pea varieties, and hybrids for different ecologies. Patil worked at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in India to work on developing climate-smart dry direct seeding (DSR) friendly rice varieties. He joined the Busch lab in October 2022 with a focus on improving rice root traits for enhanced nutrient uptake and carbon capture capabilities for yield and climate resilience.

Matthieu Platre

Postdoctoral Fellow

Originally from France, Matthieu obtained his PhD at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in 2017. He was part of the cell signalling and endocytosis group mentored by Yvon Jaillais. During his PhD, he analyzed membrane electrostatics organization in plant cells and its role in cell-signaling and development. His main scientific question is how plant adapt to their environment. Matthieu joined the Busch’s lab in order to decipher the molecular gene network related to plant nutrition.

Sarah Raffan

Postdoctoral Fellow

Sarah moved from England to join Salk in January 2023. She completed her undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Bristol where she focused on fungal natural product synthesis and synthetic biology. Sarah then went on to complete her PhD at Rothamsted Research (with the University of Bristol) under the supervision of Professor Nigel Halford and Professor Keith Edwards. Her research focused on amino acid reengineering in wheat and utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 to generate wheat lines with a low acrylamide forming potential. Following her PhD, she completed her first postdoc trialing these genome-edited wheat lines in the field. This work was concurrent with, and instrumental in, the change in the regulations regarding use of genome editing in agriculture in England. Sarah joined the Busch lab as a postdoctoral fellow working in the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) project where she aims to use her expertise in wheat genetics to generate elite wheat germplasm with improved root traits and increased carbon sequestrations capabilities.

Ashish Rajurkar

Ashish Rajurkar

Postdoctoral Fellow

Ashish received his PhD from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India, while collaborating with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, and with Duke University, USA. During his PhD. research, he was able to identify and map consistent QTLs for root traits and yield under drought. He was also involved in developing thicker and deeper drought-resilient root lines in Rice under target rainfed environments in India. After these discoveries, he moved to the United States to continue his root research. During his post-doctoral study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ashish studied root system size and distribution in Maize under nitrogen-deficient conditions. He also looked at how to best utilize large-scale Minirhizotrons, a multimodality phenomics approaches to phenotype root traits in field-based settings, and how to better understand the functional consequences of nutrient uptake. He then moved to the University of Missouri, Columbia to study Switchgrass, a promising bioenergy crop, and how it could be adapted to different environmental conditions with diverse root systems. Ashish has an interest in climate-smart agriculture and will be working on Soybean and Canola. He will be studying their root traits in hopes of increasing root depth, increasing soil carbon, improving soil health, and maximizing the water storage potential of soils.

Charlotte Rambla

Postdoctoral Fellow

Charlotte is Italian and French, with Spanish and Armenian origins. She completed her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the University of Padova in Italy. She did her master thesis at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia at the Center of Desert Agriculture with Prof. Heribert Hirt where she was studying the response of stomata upon Flagellin and ABA treatments in Arabidopsis thaliana. Charlotte received her PhD from The University of Queensland in Australia with Prof. Lee Hickey, where she studied the root system architecture of bread wheat adopting desirable root traits associated with crop yield and yield stability improvement. Her aim was to develop four different configurations of root systems in elite wheat varieties for a diverse panel of environments and soil profiles to build more efficient and resilient crops. Charlotte was awarded the 2022 Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Early Career Award by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, a program that provides professional development opportunities for women wheat researchers in the early stages of their career in recognition of scientific excellence and leadership potential.

She joined the Busch lab in November 2022 as a postdoctoral fellow working in the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) project. She is currently interested in exploring novel genomic resources for quantitative traits variation using non-invasive high throughput phenotyping methods in wheat. This will help to broaden the genetic base of elite wheat germplasm for higher root biomass and deeper roots to develop more resilient and climate smart wheat varieties with enhanced carbon sequestration capabilities to decrease the CO2 from the atmosphere. Besides science, she loves traveling and exploring new places. She is well-versed in music, plays guitar, likes sailing, and reading at the beach. She also co-founded a podcast called ‘Illuminata’ that highlights the importance of women in agriculture and STEM.

Samsad Razzaque

Postdoctoral Fellow

Samsad received his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin with Tom Juenger, where he explored the ecological and evolutionary genetics of ecotypic divergence in native plants. After finishing his PhD in May 2022, he joined the Busch lab to explore the molecular genetics of root biomass traits and how the decrease/increase of this trait value impacts the whole life history of Arabidopsis and rice.

Hai An Truong

Postdoctoral Fellow

Hai An earned her PhD in 2021 from Korea University’s Laboratory of Applied Plant Stress Biology. During her PhD research, she investigated the molecular mechanisms on how Arabidopsis transgenic plants and Synthetic Wheats withstand abiotic stresses. Her postdoctoral study was focused on screening and characterizing EMS mutants in Arabidopsis in response to high nitrate and salt stress. An began working in the Busch lab in August 2022, and she is interested in screening chemical genetics to enhance root growth. She also intends to conduct research on Pennycress in order to create a gene expression Atlas.
Research Scientists

Charlotte Miller

Research Scientist

Charlotte recently moved to San Diego from England where she worked at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. During her PhD her research was aimed at understanding the genetic regulation of stem mechanical strength is Brassica species and Wheat. Her post doctoral research was focused towards the genetic control of seed size and oil content in Brassica napus. In the Busch lab she will be exploring natural variation in several species to understand root growth. Outside of the lab she loves to play the piano and guitar and have recently taken up ceramics! Charlotte also enjoy cycling, hiking and spending as much time as possible at the beach.

Shree Pariyar

Sr Research Scientist

Shree is originally from Nepal and did his undergraduate studies at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal. Shree received his PhD from the University of Bonn, Germany, in collaboration with CIMMYT International. During his PhD studies, his work focused on breeding resistant genes into wheat to increase yields by combining genomic, statistical, and molecular approaches. Shree has extensively investigated the genetic diversity of wheat, identified QTLs (GWAS) linked to Soil-Borne Pathogens (nematodes and fusarium crown rot) resistance, and validated their role in host-parasitism. During his postdoctoral training at Forschungzentrum Juelich (Research Centre Juelich), his research focused on breeding ideotype root traits (larger and deeper roots) into crop plants. He has also contributed to developing phenotyping modalities to understand the dynamics of plant-microbe interaction non-invasively. In 2022, Shree joined the Busch lab as a Senior Research Scientist and leads the phenotyping team. Shree’s key interests are understanding the natural variation of crop plants and the development of more resilient crop varieties with enhanced carbon sequestration capabilities for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Outside of work, Shree likes to engage with society and participates/organizes social events. Shree enjoys cycling, hiking, traveling, and spending time with friends and family!
Michel Ruiz

Michel Ruiz Rosquete

Research Scientist

Michel graduated as a biochemist from Havana University, Cuba. His career developed mostly in Europe where he obtained a Ph.D. degree from the BOKU University of Vienna with a thesis on the roles of auxin as a key determinant of lateral root directional growth. He then moved to California with a postdoctoral research project on post-Golgi trafficking under the supervision of Georgia Drakakaki, at UC Davis. He joined the Salk Harnessing Plant Initiative in September 2019 as part of an effort to identify and characterize factors associated with natural variations in the root system architecture of different species. He loves to travel and learn new languages.
Gonzalo Villarino

Gonzalo Villarino

Research Scientist

Gonzalo earned his PhD from Cornell University in 2014. He then joined the Plant & Microbiology Dept. at NC State University to study ovule development. For his second postdoc he joined the MCDB Dept. at Yale to study epigenetic and DNA replication in Arabidopsis as well. Gonzalo joined the Busch Lab in 2019 as a part of the HPI initiative at Salk. He is very interested in understanding the molecular mechanism of root development.
Managers & Specialists
Justin Allen

Justin Allen

Soil Specialist

Justin received his Master’s in Agronomy from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has worked in agricultural research since 2009. His background has focused on running private sector greenhouse and field experiments for soil and rhizosphere research. Prior to Salk he worked on rice greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines at the International Rice Research Institute. He is passionate about sustainable agriculture in the developing world and how to solve the global issues of land use and climate change. Nature, tropical ecology, and surfing are his hobbies.
Elizabeth Berrigan

Elizabeth Berrigan

Bioinformatics Analyst I

Elizabeth has a master’s in physics from the University of Chicago where she studied the relationship between hydrodynamics and string theory. As an undergraduate, she spent time at MIT studying the time evolution of entanglement entropy using the holographic principle in a system approaching equilibrium to understand how different quantum subsystems are correlated over time with Professor Hong Liu. After her master’s she went home to New Hampshire and worked on a farm and at a community art center that sold sustainably-made crafts. She is excited to be in the Busch lab using her quantitative skills to serve HPI’s goals. She is interested in developing deep learning pipelines for image analysis of roots in crops and using machine learning techniques for data analysis. She is at the greenhouse in Encinitas working alongside the phenotyping team as a bioinformatics analyst I. When she isn’t phenotyping roots, Elizabeth is tutoring math and physics or enjoying sustainable crafts such as wood-burning and making botanical dyes. She loves the outdoors.

Erin Daniels

HPI Project Manager

Erin received her BS degree in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities where she worked as a lab technician to domesticate a new oil seed crop. She left the Midwest to follow the sunshine to San Diego where she participated in C. elegans host-pathogen research at UCSD. Erin joined the Busch lab in 2017 as a research assistant to rejoin the plant community. She is now the HPI Project Manager and enjoys tracking the achievements across all HPI teams.  When she’s not assisting scientists in the lab, she enjoys dirt biking, bouldering, hiking, and spending time with her nephew.”
Shane Hunt

Shane Hunt

Greenhouse Operations Manager

Shane received his BS degree in Environmental Science from PLNU. Upon graduating and after living in Southern California for his entire life, Shane moved east to work as a research associate at NYU Langone studying angiogenesis in zebrafish. After two years of research, he decided that he wanted to work in the food and sustainability field, and found Gotham Greens; an urban hydroponic grower that set out to provide year-round fresh produce grown in large cities. After a year in New York City, Shane moved with Gotham Greens to Providence, RI to commission and manage the facility of a 2.3-acre state-of-the-art greenhouse. After 5 years of Northeast winters, Shane headed back home to San Diego to manage Salk’s greenhouse operations, and enjoy the ocean without squeezing into a 5 mil wetsuit. In his free time, Shane enjoys surfing, woodworking, and spending time with his dog.
Bryan Miles

Bryan Miles

CroPS Project Manager

I am a graduate in Geological Sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a licensed California Professional Geologist (8739) with extensive experience in subsurface (groundwater and soil) assessment and remediation. I am working as the CRoPS PM in the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) where I am applying my assessment and remediation experience on HPI’s bold and ambitious goal to mitigate anthropogenic climate change using Salk Ideal Plants.Although my focus at HPI is on field trials management and planning, I am also involved with; scientific collaborations, soil coring, subcontractor management, hiring and onboarding, budgeting, project management software tools integration and utilization (Smartsheet and Asana), inter-laboratory coordination, problem solving and strategy.Please reach out! I am happy to answer questions or point you in the right direction regarding inquiries about the HPI team, planning and procedures, and/or scientific collaborations.

Lin Wang

Bioinformatics Analyst II

Lin received her PhD degree in Biological Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, MS and BS degrees in Geography in China. Her previous work was utilizing machine learning and remote sensing for plant phenotyping, as well as using environmental information and crop models to predict crop yield. Lin joined the Busch lab in September of 2022 as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative team. Her interest is high-performance computing for image processing, genomics, and biological data analysis and modeling. Outside of the office, she enjoys reading, cooking, and hiking.

Kay Watt

HPI Program Manager

Kay received her PhD in Genetics from the University of California, Davis where she studied the genetic basis of terminal drought resistance in the global subsistence crop chickpea. Post-graduate school Kay worked as a strategic analyst with an international vegetable seed company and founded a successful California cannabis breeding program. Kay is a former Peace Corps volunteer and Fulbright fellow. As Program Manager of HPI, she works alongside the Project Managers to build capacity and resources, track, align and facilitate projects, and deliver science to partner / downstream external organizations. Her passions include sustainability, climate change mitigation, and team building. Outside of Salk, you can find her at the park with her Irish Wolfhound, at an art museum, or in a botanical garden.

Kristen (Runge) Wertz

Lab Coordinator

Kristen is a San Diego native who received her BS in Biology from California State University San Marcos. After completion of her BS she went on to receive her Single Subject Teaching Credential in Life Sciences, also from California State University San Marcos. Kristen then spent 2 years as a high school teacher in San Diego. During her summers off from teaching she interned at NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and San Francisco State’s Estuary and Ocean Science Center, studying the genetics of marine organisms. She then left the teaching profession and joined the Salk Harnessing Plants Initiative in October 2019. Kristen started as a Research Assistant, working to identify and characterize factors associated with natural variations in the root system architecture of different species. After about 3 years as a Research Assistant, she then transitioned to the role of Lab Coordinator. Outside of the lab Kristen enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with her family.
Ling Zhang

Ling Zhang

Bioinformatics Analyst II

Ling comes from China. He received his Ph.D. in Statistics and a master degree in Biochemistry at University of Nebraska – Lincoln. During working at University of Nebraska at Omaha, he has been active in aspect of bioinformatics by developing statistical methods. He started in the Busch lab in July of 2019. He is currently working on 1) image acquisition, processing and analysis; 2) Advancing statistical analysis of genetical and genomics research. In addition to programming and data analysis, Ling enjoys biking, soccer and photography.
Research Assistants

Angel Ai-Perreira

Research Assistant I

Angel was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. She then moved to Tacoma, WA where she received her BS in Biology along with two minors in Biophysics and Mathematics from the University of Puget Sound. Before coming to Salk, she worked as a pediatric medical assistant back in her hometown. She joined the Busch lab in November 2022 as part of the CRoPS phenotyping team working at Salk’s Encinitas greenhouse site. Angel is also passionate about marine conservation and bridging the gap and knowledge disparities between Native/Indigenous communities and their presence in higher-education STEM communities. Outside of the lab, Angel can be found weightlifting, cooking, baking, and at the beach enjoying the sun and waves.


Jack Bartlett

Research Assistant I

Originally from Los Angeles, Jack received his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Connecticut. At UConn, Jack studied population differentiation and plasticity in Pelargonium scabrum as it related to various climatic conditions. In the summer of 2022, following his graduation, Jack researched the population distribution ofAsplenium platyneuron and genes related to its capacity for invasion at the University of Vermont. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Busch lab in October of 2022 as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) team researching genes involved in the development of periderm in Arabadopsis thaliana. Outside of research, Jack enjoys playing guitar, cooking, and hiking, where he loves learning about plants and animals native to the area.

Melissa Baez

Melissa Baez

Research Assistant I

Born and raised in San Diego, Melissa obtained her BS in Cell and Molecular Biology from San Diego State University in 2022. After completing an internship in the Cell Biology department of the local biotech company, Cibus, she gained further interest in genetics and molecular cloning for plant species. She joined Salk in January 2022 and works on the HPI Deep Rooting team, where she is responsible for genotyping and phenotyping, as well as running a “Transplanta” screening of mutant Arabidopsis thaliana In the future, she aspires to attend grad school and gain further experience in molecular techniques, as well as possibly study microbe-interactions with plants. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, baking pastries and playing Galaga at Dave and Buster’s.

Samantha Bellier-Igasaki

Research Assistant I

Samantha graduated with a BS in Biological Sciences and a minor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from UC Irvine where she researched the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in 2nd growth coast redwood restoration in Dr. Kathleen Treseder’s lab. She then moved back home to San Diego and joined the Busch Lab as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative team in August 2022 where she works primarily with canola, soybean, and Arabidopsis thaliana. In addition to admiring the local native plants and coastal wetlands, Samantha enjoys snowboarding, line dancing, and reading.

Lukas Brent

Research Assistant II

Lukas moved down to San Diego from the east SF Bay Area and earned his BS in Biology from San Diego State University in 2019. He developed an interest in plant biology during his undergraduate studies and joined the Busch Lab in October of 2019. Outside of the lab he enjoys activities like mountain biking, running, snowboarding, and visiting new places.

Hannah Carrillo

Research Assistant I

Hannah received her BS in Biology in May 2019 from San Diego State University, focusing on pre-medicine classes while also working as a medical assistant for special needs children. After completion of her B.S., she went on to receive her MS in Biology at Point Loma Nazarene University, where she turned her focus to plants and their anatomy and physiology. During her time as a teaching and research assistant for plant biology labs at PLNU, she developed a passion for understanding how college students’ view climate change, and delved into the actions they are willing to take to mitigate its effects for her thesis work. Hannah then joined the Busch lab in January 2022 as part of the CRoPS phenotyping team working at Salk’s Encinitas greenhouse site, where she helps analyze root structure architecture using various phenotyping methods. Outside of work you can find her taking her two Australian shepherds to local beaches, hiking, trying new restaurants around San Diego, tending to her houseplants, and cooking.
Kimberly Echegoyen

Kimberly Echegoyen

Research Assistant I

Kimberly received her bachelor’s in Ecology and Evolution from the University of California, Santa Barbara in September 2021 before moving to San Diego. During her time at UC Santa Barbara, she worked in the Mazer lab assisting with their research on adaptive evolution in Nemophila menziesii as an undergraduate assistant and worked for the Biology Department as a laboratory assistant. She joined the Busch Lab in May 2022 as part of HPI’s plant phenotyping team. She also has a passion for conservation and marine biology and aspires to earn a graduate degree in the future. In her spare time Kimberly can be found climbing, running, and hiking.

Juan Gonzalez

Research Assistant I

Originally from Ridgeway, Virginia, Juan obtained his BS in Environmental Horticulture and Crop/Soil Sciences from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 2022. After completing undergraduate research at Virginia Tech, Chicago Botanic Garden, and CoverCress, he moved to San Diego, California to further pursue plant genetics research. He joined the Salk Institute in May 2022 and works in the HPI Deep Rooting team. Outside of the lab, he can be found traveling, listening to music, and constantly reflecting.
Natalie Gonzalez

Natalie Gonzalez

Research Assistant I

Natalie is originally from the Imperial Valley and moved to San Diego to obtain her bachelor’s in Environmental Systems, with a focus in ecology, behavior, and evolution, from UC San Diego. After graduating in 2019, she worked in conservation and habitat restoration for 2 years at a zoo and botanical garden where she gained a passion for plants. She joined the Busch lab and began working with the deep rooting team in January of 2022. Outside of Salk, Natalie can be found tending to her garden and chickens or hanging out with her two cats, Luna and Winnie.
Sean Jarrell-Hurtado

Sean Jarrell-Hurtado

Research Assistant I

Born and raised in San Diego, Sean received his B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity from U.C Davis. Before coming to Salk he studied intertidal microinvertebrates at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and spent summer field seasons surveying cactus communities in the Sonoran desert of Northern Mexico. Currently, Sean is using cloning to help validate Single-Cell RNA analysis of genes involved in periderm cell development within Arabidopsis roots. He is also helping investigate periderm development in Pennycress and is highly interested in studying the transcriptional landscape of the plant’s root system in greater detail. Outside of learning at Salk, Sean loves to drum! He is currently having a blast playing with local Taiko and Samba groups.

Mikayla Kappes

Research Assistant I

Mikayla Kappes received her BA degree in Biology and Spanish from Williams College. While at Williams, she worked as a student researcher studying eco-evolutionary dynamics through Trinidadian guppies, and she wrote a thesis documenting pollination network interactions in New England. Before returning for her final year of undergrad, Kappes worked in horticulture developing Sonoran Desert gardens in Baja California Sur. While in Baja, she fell in love with working with plants and first learned about the essential role that roots play in the carbon sequestration potential and overall stability of coastal ecosystems in particular. Kappes is thrilled to be back in her hometown of San Diego working in the Busch lab and contributing to the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) as part of the greenhouse phenotyping team. In her free time, she loves exploring new ways to be active and outside, spending time with her family and dogs (especially at the beach!), singing, dancing, and making music.
Preyanka Mehta

Preyanka Mehta

Research Assistant I

Preyanka Mehta is originally from Texas but went to school at the University of Colorado Boulder where she received her BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. While there, she completed an internship on cattle grazing with different drought/rainfall treatments in Boulder’s open space area. Her interest in ecology and fighting climate change grew and she decided to focus more on plant biology and function. Outside the lab, she enjoys hanging out with her cats (Leo and Lucy), painting, hiking, and traveling.
Karyssa Miller

Karyssa Miller

Research Assistant I

Karyssa received her BS degree in Biology from Seattle University where she worked as a lab technician studying Arabidopsis under strict nutrient conditions. She moved home to Long Beach, California where she worked in a COVID-19 diagnostic lab for 2 years before joining the Busch lab in January 2022. Karyssa joined as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative team where she studies candidate genes that regulate root periderm development. Outside of work Karyssa can be found playing with dogs, volunteering at a cat rescue, and trying new restaurants.
Nolan Mitschke

Nolan Mitchke

Research Assistant I

Nolan received his Bachelor’s in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He worked for CASFS (Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems) on the UCSC campus to develop farming and agricultural skills in closed-loop, agroecologically-intensive organic food systems and was able to provide large amounts of produce to different groups of students that were experiencing food insecurity. Nolan joined the Busch lab in December of 2021 as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) team and works primarily at the Encinitas Greenhouse site but is also helping to develop a Typha growing system to assist in the Coastal Plant Restoration project under the HPI Initiative.
Chad Morris

Chad Morris

Research Assistant I

Chad joined Salk and HPI in August 2020. He is a graduate of Mira Costa College in Crop Production and Wine Technology. Specializing in greenhouse hydroponics and subtropical fruit trees. Chad was selected for an apprenticeship program under the guidance of Dr. Gary Bender. Where he conducted research on the different growing and irrigation methods of Pitahaya in San Diego. Chad is a veteran, who served in the United States Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lauren Ragel

Research Assistant I

Lauren earned her B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Missouri-Columbia while working as an undergraduate research assistant and, following graduation, as a lab technician for the Fritschi Crop Physiology Lab for a combined three years. She studied both the usefulness of carbon isotope fractionation ratios/CID as a surrogate for studying water use efficiency in soybean and carried out HPLC to determine pigment concentrations of historical soybean cultivars. Lauren joined the Busch lab in October of 2019 as part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) team. She is interested in locating genes impacting root system architecture and unraveling the underlying molecular mechanisms that promote the formation of recalcitrant polymers. In her spare time Lauren can be found hiking, drawing, painting, singing or reading.
Dawn Reynolds

Dawn Reynolds

Research Assistant I

Dawn received her B.S. in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology in June 2020 from UC Davis. She has experience in both field and lab research, assisting in ecology research as well as working as a lab manager and technician for a Drosophila lab at UC Davis. She joined the Busch Lab and HPI in April 2022 as part of the CRoPS field team working at Salk’s Encinitas greenhouse site, where she manages and processes samples for both the greenhouse and field teams. She aspires in the future to earn a graduate degree and work in land management or environmental and climate policy. Outside of work you can find her watching movies, camping, cooking, knitting, or tending to her houseplants.
Avery Talgo

Avery Talgo

Research Assistant I

Avery received her BS in Horticulture with a minor in Botany from Colorado State University in December 2020. During her time at the university, Avery developed a passion for plant biology, and enjoyed volunteering at the CSU greenhouse and conservatory as well as being a part of the plant identification team. She spent a semester abroad studying ecology and plant pathology at Lincoln University on the South Island of New Zealand, where she gained experience working at various remote field sites collecting samples and reviewing such data in the lab. Avery joined the Busch lab in April of 2022 as part of the CRoPS field team working at Salk’s greenhouse site and is thrilled to be a part of HPI where she can continue to learn about plants and how they will help us combat climate change. In their free time, Avery enjoys swimming in the ocean, playing video games, hanging out with their cat, and playing music. 

Alejandro Tovar

Research Assistant I

Originally from Fontana, California, Alejandro Tovar graduated from Pomona College in May 2022 where he majored in Biology. During his time at Pomona, he developed a strong interest in conservation, finding ways that the effects of climate change can be mitigated, and wrote his senior thesis on the effects of plastics on platypus populations in Australia. After a break, post-graduation, Tovar moved to San Diego and joined the Busch Lab in October 2022. In the future, he hopes to further his education with a graduate degree involving Conservation Biology and Ecology. Outside of the lab, he enjoys playing volleyball, watching TV with his roommates, and trying out new restaurants.
Griffin Van Amringe

Griffin Van Amringe

Research Assistant I

Originally from Southern California, Griffin received his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Colorado State University. During his time at CSU, Griffin worked at the Crab Lab, studying the gene regulation of molting in Gecarcinus lateralis. While simultaneously teaching organic chemistry as a lecture assistant, he fell in love with understanding the mechanisms involved in genetics and how the chemical makeup affects the interactions taking place. After working in the environmental consulting world participating in field studies identifying invertebrates and crustaceans, Griffin is thrilled to continue his passion for fighting climate change by working with plants in the Busch Lab. In his free time, Griffin loves writing and producing music, surfing, and rock climbing.

Sara Ye

Research Assistant I

A transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sara received her B.S. in Ecology, Behavior & Evolution from UC San Diego in 2019. During college, she studied the carbon sequestration capacity of mangrove forest peats at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which first kindled her fascination with the ability of plants to store carbon. After graduation, she worked for the National Park Service for two seasons managing the invasive plant populations at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Sara then joined the Busch Lab in March 2023, where she is excited to harness plant power to combat climate change. Primarily, she is helping validate single-cell RNA-seq data to identify genes related to suberization in Arabidopsis root cells. Besides plants, Sara loves hiking, art, puzzles, and making music with her video game music orchestra.

Cyrus Zomorrodi

Research Assistant I

Cyrus received his bachelor’s in General Biology from the University of California, San Diego at the end of 2022. He is originally from Scottsdale, Arizona but lived in Northern California most of his life. At UCSD, Cyrus was part of the Huffaker lab, which focused on studying the innate defense responses within maize. He joined the Busch lab in January 2023 and is part of the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI), helping to analyze different root system traits. His favorite Sanrio character is Pompom Purin and he enjoys playing video games and talking about music, such as Kpop, with his friends in his spare time.

Lab Technicians

Amy Ann Maida

Lab Technician I

Amy Ann Maida moved down to San Diego from Santa Clarita, California. She is an undergraduate student majoring in Biology at UC San Diego. Maida developed an interest in plant biology during her first environmental/organismal class and joined the Busch lab in October of 2022. Outside of the lab, she is very interested in dentistry and is studying to be a dentist.

Julia Showalter

Lab Technician II

Born and raised in San Diego, Julia earned her BS in Microbiology from San Diego State University in May of 2021. After earning her degree, she began volunteering at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Conservation and wanted to contribute to the restoration of native plants in local areas. She has always had a passion for the natural world and the small but significant wonders within it. She started her career volunteering in the von Drygalski lab at UCSD where the focus was translational research on hemophilic arthropathy and traumatic bleeding. In May of 2022, she joined the Busch lab at the Salk Institute where she currently focuses on how plants change their nutrient uptake in different environmental conditions under the mentorship of Sanghwa Lee. Her interests are in plant biology and the impact of climate change. In her free time, Julia enjoys exploring the outdoors/hiking, and nature photography of California native plants, wildlife, and pollinators such as butterflies and native bees. She also loves listening to music and spending time with her Siamese cats, Nikki and Davey.

Kristine Szeto

Lab Technician I

Kristine received her BS degree in Biochemistry/Cell Biology and Psychology from UC San Diego. Kristine joined the Busch lab in August 2019 and has since been involved in projects pertaining to iron sensing in plants. She recently joined the Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI) team and is interested in learning more about suberin localization and synthesis as well as how root architecture and soil environment affect water uptake in plants. In her free time, Kristine enjoys hiking, swimming, cooking, or hanging out at the beach.
Yosemite Caputi

Yosemite Caputi


Yosemite is currently pursuing an accelerated bachelor to master’s program in Molecular and Cell Biology with an emphasis in Plant Biology at the University of California San Diego. She joined the Harnessing Plants Initiative in 2021 during the sophomore year of her undergrad degree. Now, her thesis focuses on discovering genes for increased root biomass thus higher Suberin concentration in the model Arapdopsis thalianaplant to more efficiently store carbon in root systems and slow global warming.

Albert Dang-vu


Double majoring in Human Biology and Marine Biology at UCSD, Albert intends to pursue his master’s research at the Salk Institute focusing on plant roots, specifically regarding Suberin. Outside of science and school, Albert loves trying new foods. Some people eat to live, but Albert lives to eat! He also enjoys hanging out with friends, reading, playing chess, and cooking in his free time.
Manisha Haag

Manisha Haag


Manisha was born and raised in Germany and obtained her BS in Biology at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf where she first got in touch with the beauty of molecular plant science and how plants can be our friends and helpers. With the goal to specialize in plant science, she moved to Berlin to start her master’s program. She joined our lab in October 2021 for her thesis project with the aim of understanding how plants develop periderm cells within their roots on a single-cell basis. Using single-cell RNA-seq technologies and cloning methods for validation, she is eager to identify candidate genes that can be utilized to create plants that are equipped to combat climate change. Outside of the lab, she loves going on hikes, driving motorcycles, being at the beach, trying new restaurants, thrifting and exploring San Diego’s music scene.

Kane Wu


Kane is a recent UCSD graduate and majored in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. He is now pursuing his Master’s degree in plant biology, studying the function of iron in plants and working on the ami-RNA project to identify novel genes that would be useful towards discovering new iron-related pathways and genes. In his free time, he enjoys going out on camping trips, getting food or boba, and trying to get back into learning Japanese.
Lab Assistant

Larry the Robot

Larry the robot is the only Arabidopsis high-throughput seed planting robot in the world. He is also the only crowd-funded robot at the Salk Institute ( ). He helps to uncover fundamental principles of root growth regulation and will contribute to save the world. Also, Larry is saving students and postdocs lots of time and boredom. Not surprisingly, he is one of the most popular lab members.

Busch lab alumni



Ian Anderson

(Former Research Assistant 2018-2022)

Elke Barbez

(former Postdoctoral Associate 2015-2017)
Project leader at Institute of Biology II
University of Freiburg (Germany)

Charles Copeland

(Former Research Assistant, 2020 – 2022)
Research Data Analyst, UCSD – San Diego, CA

Signe Dahlberg-Wright

(Former Research Assistant, 2019 – 2022)
PhD student, Stanford University – Stanford, CA

Ido Dinnar

(Former Intern Summer 2022)

Kian Faizi

(Former Lab Technician l, 2019 – 2021)
PhD student, Caltech – Pasadena, CA

Christophe Gaillochet

Postdoctoral fellow, VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology, Belgium

Charidimos Georgousakis


Nicole Gibbs


Marco Giovannetti

(former Postdoctoral Associate 2016-2017)
Assistant Professor
University of Padova, Italy

Matias Gleason

(Former Lab Technician, 2021 – 2022)
PhD Student, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory – New York

Laila Hamzai

(Former Lab Tech, 2018)
Research Assistant, SDSU – San Diego, CA

Wenrong He

(Former postdoctoral fellow, 2017 – 2022)
Postdoc, Shanghai University; China

Baohai Li

Assistant Professor, College of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

Anna Malolepszy

(Former Postdoctoral Fellow, 2017- 2022)
NGS Product Specialist at ViennaLab Diagnostics GmbH – Vienna, Austria

Monica Meijon

(former Postdoctoral Associate 2011-2012)
Ramón y Cajal Fellow

Takehiko Ogura

(Former postdoctoral fellow, 2018 – 2022)
Postdoc, Kyushu University; Japan

Ana Paez Garcia


Daniela Ristova


Lucas Romero

(Former Lab Tech, 2018 – 2019)
Department Coordinator, Emergency Department, Palomar Health – San Diego, CA

Santosh B. Satbhai

(former Postdoctoral Associate 2011-2018)
Assistant Professor
Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER)
Mohali, India

Emily Shane

(Former Research Assistant, 2020 – 2022)
Researcher, Cibus – San Diego, CA

Marieken Shaner

(Former Research Assistant, 2020 – 2021)
Adjunct Professor, SDSU – San Diego, CA

Radka Slovak

(former PhD Student; 2011-2017)
Postdoc Oxford University

Han Wang

Bioinformatician, Gene+ , Beijing, China

Qingqing Xie

(Former postdoctoral fellow, 2018 – 2021)
Research Scientist, CIBUS, San Diego, CA

Kaizhen Zhong


Rui Zhang

(former Postdoctoral Associate 2016-2017)
Associate Professor
Research Institute of Subtropical Forestry
Chinese Academy of Forestry
Zhejiang Provincial Key Laboratory of Tree Breeding
Zhejiang, China