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Current lab members

Maggie R. Wagner | Principal Investigator

I’m a plant biologist who is interested in the genetics and evolution of complex traits, plant-microbiome interactions, and phenotypic plasticity. When I’m not doing science I love hiking, gardening, and playing + watching hockey.


Graduate Students

Kayla Clouse | Ph.D. Candidate

I am a Ph.D. Candidate interested in the interactions between microorganisms, plants, and soil, specifically how plant and microbial genetic variation contribute to their fitness across environments. I am originally from Michigan and outside of the lab I enjoy listening to music, crafting, and gardening.


Ceyda Kural | Ph.D. Candidate

I am a Ph.D. Candidate interested in plant microbe interactions, as well as phenotypic changes across environmental gradients. I’m originally from Houston Texas, and outside of the lab I enjoy thrifting and antique shopping, as well as reading and fostering orphaned kittens.

Yufan Zhou picture

Yufan Zhou | Ph.D. Candidate

I’m a Ph.D. aspirant student interested in plant and microbe interactions and especially the ecological mechanisms underpinning it. Within Dr. Wagner’s lab, my research will focus on how hosts’ residence and developmental time affect their microbiome differently. And I’m also doing a plant-soil-feedback experiment. I’m from China and was an undergraduate student at China Agricultural University and Purdue University prior to joining the lab. Outside of school, I’m into gardening, cooking & baking, making tea drinks, outdoor activities, and sometimes writing.

Martel Ellis | Ph.D. aspirant

I’m a Ph.D. aspirant interested in the possible correlations between plant traits and microbiome assembly, as well as if variation within root and shoot traits determine the composition of the plant’s rhizosphere. I am originally from Michigan and when not doing research I enjoys video
games, sports, and exercising.

Technicians and Undergraduates

Natalie Ford | Lab Technician

I joined the Wagner Lab as an undergraduate in the Winter of 2021, and after earning my Bachelor’s in Microbiology in 2022, I stayed on as a technician. I’m interested in understanding mechanisms of heterosis (especially the role of root exudates in this process), and I’ve investigated the microbial effects on heterosis across maize development in the lab. When not in the lab, I enjoy reading and playing the cello.

Lucas Bengfort | Undergraduate Researcher

I am an undergraduate research assistant pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. I am interested in how the microbiome plays a role in different multicellular organisms such as plants, animals, and humans. I want to pursue future studies looking at how we can improve the interactions of different microbes in the microbiome to keep multicellular organisms healthy and disease free. Outside of the lab, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, playing video games, and going camping.

Rachel Hostetler | Undergraduate Researcher

I am a freshman microbiology student here at the University of Kansas. I am excited to be a part of the Wagner lab, and hope to be involved in research throughout my undergrad. In my free time, I enjoy reading, visiting coffee shops, and running.

Shahzaib Asif | Undergraduate Researcher

I am an undergraduate student working towards a degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. Currently, I am assisting with a project focused on the mechanisms of flood tolerance in maize and Tripsacum dactyloides. In the near future, I plan on investigating possible phenotypic variation among T. dactyloides originating from different geographic locations. When not in the lab, I enjoy playing video games, working out, and listening to music.

Kara Hooser | Undergraduate Researcher

I am an undergrad majoring in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology and minoring in Environmental Studies. I’m interested in how native plants interact with microbes in response to changing climate conditions. After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in conservation. In my free time I enjoy cooking, hiking, and spending time with my pets.

Braxton Grindstaff | Undergraduate Researcher

I am an undergraduate student working towards a degree in biochemistry. Currently, I am working with Natalie Ford to get a grasp on laboratory techniques and assist in various projects including DNA extractions and microbial assays. When not in the lab I like to play hockey as well as video games, and hang out with my cat.

Brynn Cruce | Undergraduate Researcher

I am a biochemistry undergraduate minoring in environmental studies. Prairie ecology and medicinal plants are my favorite things to study, with emphasis on symbioses and plant secondary compounds. I am currently working with Kayla Clouse on a host adaptation experiment involving Azospirillum brasilense. Outside the classroom, I enjoy working out, listening to music, rollerblading, reading and drawing.

Shannel Swiader | Undergraduate Researcher

Bio coming soon!

Postdoctoral and Adjunct Researchers

Joel F. Swift Ph.D. | Adjunct Researcher

I joined the lab in Summer 2022, working on a project investigating the ability of host-associated microorganisms and microbiomes to alleviate drought stress in maize. I am currently funded on an NSF Plant Genome Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to explore the genomic and metagenomic mechanisms of flood tolerance in maize and Tripsacum dactyloides. My research interests broadly seek to explore how plants and their microbiomes cope with abiotic stressors and how we can apply this knowledge to safeguard crop production in the future. While not in the lab, I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading, and exploring Kansas with my dogs.


Nichole Ginnan PhD. | Adjunct Researcher

As a previous Wagner lab postdoc (2020-2022), I continue to collaborate in the study of microbial adaptations and plant-microbiome interactions in the context of drought. My adjunct research synergizes with my current role as the Research Project Manager for the Microbiome Center at Penn State University. Here, I oversee center-wide research, education, and outreach programs aimed at bolstering microbiome research and training at PSU and beyond. My passion for microbiome research first developed while earning my Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at the University of California, Riverside. Outside of work I like hiking and wine tasting! For more information visit


Lab Mascots

A very cute sleeping Akita mix whose tongue is poking out of her mouth


Position: Lab security
Research interests: Allometry of canine
tongue size and mouth capacity

A very goofy lab-pit bull mix running joyfully toward the camera in a grassy field


Position: Lab lab (mix)
Research interests: Cuddles

A beautiful tortoiseshell cat with her paws on a laptop


Position: Lab typist
Research interests: X-chromosome inactivation; Patterns of attention-seeking behavior in adult tortoiseshell cats

Wagner lab alums

  • Tokee Tareq (Master’s Graduate)
  • Danielle Williams (Undergraduate Researcher 2022-2023) Current position: Undergraduate at University of Kansas.
  • Desi Thimesch (Summer REU student 2023), Current position: Undergraduate student at Washburn University, KS.
  • Carmen Rodriguez (Undergraduate Researcher and Summer REU 2021-2023), Current position: Graduate student at Ohio State University
  • Alex Martin (Lab Tech Fall/Winter 2022)
  • Felicity Tso (Lab Tech 2020-2022), Current position: Graduate student in Microbiology and Immunology Master’s program at Drexel University.
  • Maggie Wilson (Summer REU student 2022), Current position: Undergraduate at North Carolina State University.
  • Hannah Reid (Summer REU student 2021)
  • Matt Kolp (postdoc, 2019-2020), Current position: Assistant Professor, Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN.
  • Amanda Carmichael (Lab Tech 2020), Current position: Conservation Laboratories Supervisor, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, GA.
  • Laura Phillips (Undergraduate Researcher 2020-2021)
  • Erin Arnold (Undergraduate Researcher 2019-2021)