13 Aug 2023

We’re so proud to announce the first PhD graduate from the lab, Dr. Yanni Chen!

Yanni started in the lab in 2018, returning to Texas Tech several years after completing an MS degree in TTU’s Department of Natural Resource Management. Yanni’s research focus is on the evolution of smoke-induced seed germination. Once thought to be confined to highly fire-prone ecosystems, Yanni demonstrated that germination can be enhanced with smoke even in short-grass prairies.

Yanni’s first dissertation chapter (now published at Frontiers in Restoration Ecology) assessed whether phylogenetic signal could explain some of the relationship between seed traits and the smoke germination response in shortgrass prairie species. Yanni found that, in contrast with a similar paper on tallgrass prairies, phylogenetic relationships were not a significant contribution.

Yanni’s two other projects are in prep - one focuses on the macroevolution of the smoke response trait, reconstructing its evolution using data from over 1500 species. Yanni also worked on the functional genomics of smoke response in a native grass species, Bouteloa gracilis. Using RNA sequencing, Yanni demonstrated KAI2 - a gene commonly differentially expressed in response to smoke in model organisms - was not differentially expressed in B. gracils.

Yanni worked hard to help other students, including founding a student organization - the West Texas Association for Botany (a student chapter of the Botanical Society of America). WTAB is a combined undergraduate/graduate organization and works to raise plant awareness and provide professional development workshops. Yanni also worked two years as a research assistant in the TTU High Performance Computing Center, providing training for researchers working with nextflow and Singularity containers.

Yanni had several opportunities for post-docs, but ultimately chose to move to Notre Dame University, where she is currently working with Dr. Nathan Swenson.

Congratulations Dr. Chen, and good luck on the next part of your adventure!