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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 who is interested in the relationship between plants and microorganisms, specifically how microorganisms can be utilized to grow stronger and more resilient crops. Outside of the lab I enjoy listening to music, DIYing, and vegetable 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.

Tokee Tareq | Ph.D. Candidate

I am a Ph.D. candidate interested in plant microbiomes and plant microbe interactions, with a focus on how the host plant affects microbial composition and their functional attributes in drought stress and maize heterosis. I’m from Bangladesh, and outside of the lab I enjoy reading, cooking and playing soccer

Yufan Zhou picture

Yufan Zhou | Ph.D. aspirant

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.

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.

Martel Ellis | Lab Technician and incoming PhD student

I am a research assistant and lab technician at the University of Kansas. In the Fall of 2023, I will begin a PhD program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. I joined Dr. Maggie Wagner’s lab in 2021 and have been investigating the mechanisms responsible for heterosis in maize. In general, I am interested in the interactions between plant genotypes and their environments/microbiomes.

Carmen Rodriguez | Undergraduate Researcher

I am currently a senior undergraduate who joined the lab in October 2021. I am working towards earning my bachelor’s of science in microbiology. In the lab, I am interested in exploring host-microbe interactions through screening closely related bacterial strains for abiotic stress tolerance. The long-term goal of this project is to understand what bacterial genes contribute to drought tolerant phenotypes in plants. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, gaming, and playing with my kitten Pichael!

Danielle Williams | Undergraduate Researcher

I am currently a sophomore undergrad at the University of Kansas. I am proceeding with a Bachelors in Microbiology, a minor in environmental science, and a goal to go to graduate school for a Phd. I started in Dr. Wagner’s lab in Fall of 2022. I currently carry out research with grad students, Kayla and Martel. My favorite thing to do is to explore and learn more things everyday, as well as binge watching MasterChef from time to time and eating my favorite cereal, Lucky Charms.

Postdoctoral and Adjunct Researchers

Joel F. Swift Ph.D. | Postdoctoral Researcher

I earned my Ph.D. in Biology from the Saint Louis University in May 2022. My research focused on the microbiomes of grafted grapevines. I joined the Wagner lab in Summer 2022 and am investigating the ability of host-associated microorganisms and microbiomes to alleviate drought stress in maize. My research interests more 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

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