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Beverly and ASPB Conviron Scholars program 2017-2018

Beverly and ASPB Conviron Scholars program 2017-2018

Open to exceptional undergraduate and graduate students studying plant biology, the ASPB Conviron Scholars program delivers an experience intended to serve as a foundation for a career in plant science. Applications welcome from any country.  Students who apply to the program must be in good academic standing (verified by their Pl or department head) and must demonstrate a commitment to plant science. For the 2017-2018 program, a total of 21 students were chosen to participate in the ASPB Conviron Scholars program. For more information, please follow the link:

I was born in Queens, New York, United States of America and grew up at Holbrook, Long Island, New York. For my bachelor’s degree, I went to State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse. I am currently a 4th year candidate pursuing a Ph.D. in Plant, Insect and Microbial Sciences with a focus of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, U.S.A. As a graduate research assistant in the Legume-Microbe Interactions Laboratory lead by Dr. Gary Stacey, my research interest is on the symbiotic interaction of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in legumes/non-legumes. I am working on a collaborative research project with other colleagues from George Washington University, Washington, DC and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Richland, WA U.S.A. Our project focuses on identifying unique, metabolic biomarkers associated with nitrogen fixation using Laser Ablation – Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry (LAESI-MS) coupled with the 21 Telsa Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance (21 T FTICR). This is a very new application technology that can measure metabolites in fresh, living tissues. The ultimate goal of my project is to use this technology to sample the metabolic content of single, plant cells. This LAESI-MS and 21 T FTICR method holds tremendous potential for use in further studies of plant-microbe interactions, as well as other plant processes.

Beverly Agtuca is a Ph.D. student at the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri. Her research involves detecting the metabolic content of single plant cells associated with nitrogen fixation using Laser Ablation – Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry (LAESI-MS).

Her mentor was Dr. Aaron Wyman, an associate professor at the Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor MI.

“We concluded that I would like to apply for a job at a small industry for a few years and then focus on teaching at small colleges with a high emphasis on education and low on research. I got so much support from Dr. Wyman […].”

She interviewed Dr. Cintia Riberio from Monsanto who is in the Emerging Leaders Program, discussing the different roles to work in the industry/company side. She has written an abstract and recorded her presentation on her fascinating research. For her project, she developed an inquiry-based classroom activity called “Garden in a Glove”.

“I see happiness and excitement on children’s faces of all ages when I do scientific demonstrations as a volunteer in the past. However, for this independent project, I wanted to emphasize a demonstration of ‘plant growth and development’, for the children to understand and have fun with plant biology.”

Ami, congratulations on your new position.

It is always nice to hear good news about former lab members. Recently, Ami A. Patel, a former Ph.D. student in our lab, received a great promotion to become the new supervisor of the Core Sequencing group at the State of Maryland Department of Health – Laboratories. Alumni, let us know when good things happen and we will post them here on our lab site.

Stacey Lab and Missouri Life Sciences Week 2018.

Stacey Lab and Missouri Life Sciences Week 2018.

Joining in the energetic Missouri Life Sciences week 2018, Stacey Lab members had a wonderful time participating and exchanging ideas.

Ph.D. student, Beverly J. Agtuca shared her research on applying new mass-spectrometry methods to understand the rhizobial-soybean symbiosis.  Beverly was one of only 6 students in the physiology category who were recognized at the awards ceremony for her work.

One of our youngest scientists, undergraduate Sterling Evans presented a very nice poster focused on improving methods for CRISPR/CAS9 editing of soybean using virus-based vectors. Missing is a similar picture of the poster by undergraduate Miki Hodel, who conducted related research focused on using different promoters to increase CRISPR/CAS9 editing efficiency.


A visiting Ph.D. student from Brazil, Marina Cotta, discusses her poster with Ph.D. student Cuong Nguyen. Marina is another example of our very productive and continuing collaboration with the University of Parana in Brazil focused on understanding the mechanisms by which plant growth promoting bacteria interact with plants.

Cuong Nguyen and the rest of our laboratory congratulation Beverly Agtuca on her award for the outstanding poster.

Thank you to all who came to enjoy visiting our posters and to support Missouri Life Sciences Week. See you next year!

Dr. Gary Stacey elected as a Fellow of the St. Louis Academy of Science

Dr. Gary Stacey elected as a Fellow of the St. Louis Academy of Science

“Since its inception, the Academy has promoted the recognition of the impressive scientists of St. Louis. This tradition continues with the 24th Annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientists Awards. Each award-winner represents an extraordinary caliber of expertise”.

“The Fellows Award recognizes a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in science”.

Gary Stacey, Ph.D.
Curators’ Distinguished Professor
University of Missouri, Columbia

Dr. Stacey is a Curators’ Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has consistently been among the world leaders in the study of biological nitrogen fixation, which is of global agricultural importance. He has been instrumental in the development of genomic resources for the study of soybean. He has 13 patents, two of which support the Novozymes product OptimizeTM. He was elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and Fellow of the American Society for Plant Biology. Stacey’s main research interest lies in the mutually beneficial interaction between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and legumes, particularly soybeans. Soybean with its high protein content and nutritious oils is a crop of paramount importance to Missouri, the US and the world. Soybean plants are able to harbor bacteria in their roots that take gaseous nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrogen-containing compounds the host plants can utilize. This natural fertilization translates into lower fertilizer requirements, with direct economical and ecological benefits in agriculture. In addition, Stacey’s research program creatively combines research with soybean and the model plant Arabidopsis, which is not able to accommodate bacterial nitrogen fixation, to tease apart the perception of microbes as friends or foes. This combination and the vast array of genetic, molecular, and biochemical approaches and their current -omics versions that Dr. Stacey employs to investigate fundamental questions in plant biology creates an outstanding research environment for young and ambitious scientists.

For more information:

Congratulation Dr. Gary Stacey !!!

An Unexpected Path – Plant sciences student strives to obtain an education for the greater good

An Unexpected Path – Plant sciences student strives to obtain an education for the greater good

Written by Jacob Shipley · October 13, 2017

Link to original story with photos


When Adama Tukuli, doctoral student in the Division of Plant Sciences, was growing up in Metahara, Ethiopia, attending school was not commonplace.

“They love their kids and do everything they can for us, but they just don’t understand education is something we need,” Tukuli said.

He was still young when he met a man who had attended school and became an engineer. Tukuli viewed him as a role model and grew determined to make education a priority.

In a primarily agricultural economy, children are usually required to stay home and assist with the farm. This meant that Tukuli had to convince his family to let him leave the cattle so he could attend school during the day. It did not help that school was 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

Tukuli’s parents allowed him to attend, but the work on the farm did not disappear. He would run to school early in the morning, attend class, run home and then work late nights back at home.

Years and many unexpected events later, an education is still a top priority for Tukuli.

Lighting a spark


It was in ninth grade civics class when Tukuli first heard of impending agricultural problems associated with the global population growth. Growing up on a farm, he was surprised to learn that it may soon be a struggle to feed everyone on the planet. Tukuli said this was the event that lit his lasting passion for plant sciences.

He began his college career at Jimma University in Jimma, Ethiopia, and quickly became involved in the student association working with the community, raising awareness for HIV and more. As a senior, he became president of the organization.

During the summer following Tukuli’s junior year, he received a horticulture internship in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. While working with local rose growers, he discovered that their main cost was paying for coco peat, a medium to germinate the roses. This piqued his interest and resulted in further research during his senior year. Tukuli noticed that fermented coffee pulp looked very similar to the coco peat and thought it was worth trying. The results were promising.

“That byproduct (coffee pulp) that no one was using, a pile the size of this building, now became usable,” Tukuli said.

His invention germinated the roses even better than the coco peat. Tukuli and the student association freely shared this newfound information with the farmers, resulting in a quick friendship.

“They loved me and I loved them,” Tukuli said.

After graduating top-three in his class, Tukuli temporarily stayed at the university as an employee, but soon applied for a scholarship, and ultimately left to pursue a master’s degree, at Leibniz University of Hanover in Germany.

During summer break after his first year at the university, he reconnected with an old friend, Fatuma Hullo. Tukuli and Hullo had known each other since high school, but now sensed something more than a friendship. The two married prior to Tukuli heading back to school.

Unquenchable flame

During the second year of his studies, news broke out from Ethiopia. The student organization that Tukuli had been a part of was under attack from the government. The farmers that they had been working with were protesting against the government and the student association was under suspicion of colluding with them.

Tukuli said the organization had simply been helping the farmers grow roses and teaching them about the importance of education.

“To the best of my knowledge, we didn’t do anything bad,” Tukuli said. “All of my friends, the student association members, they got jailed – some of them killed.”

Knowing he was unable to return to Ethiopia, Tukuli recalls telling one of his professors, “I’m not even able to continue my education. I just want to get a stable life first.”

Tukuli fled to the United States in search of asylum and stayed with a friend living in St. Louis, Missouri. He was granted asylum in November of 2011. Tukuli’s wife was able to leave Ethiopia and join him in the United States as part of the “family reunion” program for asylum recipients.

Once approved to work, he found a job as a cashier and soon after as a lab technician at Monsanto in Chesterfield, Missouri, where he worked for the next two years.

In 2015, Tukuli had resided in the United States for five years without a criminal record, making him eligible to apply for citizenship. Through studying for the required test, he learned about the country’s history and became intrigued.

“When I was applying for my citizenship I came to learn a lot,” Tukuli said. “This country saved my life so I decided to serve.”

Tukuli enlisted with the Army Reserve and was stationed with a unit in St. Louis. He will remain enlisted until 2023.

Fanning the fire

Despite the detour, education was never far from Tukuli’s mind.

“That was a transition time for me to establish myself,” he said. “My plan was still to become a student.”

Tukuli took a leap of faith and left the attractive pay at Monsanto to come to Columbia with dreams of getting a doctorate. Henry Nguyen, Curators’ Professor of Plant Sciences, found him a spot as a lab technician working in his molecular genetics and soybean genomics laboratory. Tukuli used the employee tuition assistance program to work on graduate classes, taking one class per semester to avoid student loans.

James Schoelz, professor in the Division of Plant Sciences, taught one of Tukuli’s classes and the two kept in touch. They eventually found a way to get Tukuli back in school full-time. With Schoelz’s help, Tukuli applied for a position working as a lab technician in the Stacey Lab and for a fellowship to fund his education. In August, he began his first semester as a full-time Ph.D. student. Because of previous coursework, Tukuli is able to focus the majority of his time and effort on research.

“It’s a good program – I like it,” Tukuli said. “Most of the professors are really helpful. They are nice and have good advice. The professors work as a team to produce tomorrow’s leaders in science. I recommend this program to anybody who wants to study plant science.”

Minviluz (Bing) Stacey, assistant research professor in the Division of Plant Sciences, recalls getting the call asking to find Tukuli a spot in her lab as a technician.

“I really didn’t have that much money, but I said ‘I can talk to him,’” Stacey said. “He really wanted a Ph.D. and I wanted to give him the chance.”

Stacey was impressed with his dedication to taking classes and pursing an education amidst his difficulties. Ultimately, she was able to find him a spot.

“He is very positive and very kind,” Stacey said. “He’s always willing to help.”

In addition to cooking up Ethiopian cuisine for the lab parties, Tukuli joined other students and visited Stacey’s home while she was ill. He said he is thankful for the role that both Gary and Bing Stacey have played in helping him in the transition to become a full time Ph.D. student.

Since ninth grade civics class, much has changed for Tukuli. In addition to playing the role of lab technician and student, he has the title “dad” to Bilisummaa (4) and Nimoona (2). Despite his growing family in the United States, he is unable to visit his family back home so long as the current government is in power.

While not running to and from school anymore, he still finds time to train for his health and for the Army. After returning from basic training, he overheard about a Columbia staple, the Turkey Trax, a Thanksgiving Day race. He entered and won his age division. Tukuli is also a member of the graduate professional council for the Department of Plant Sciences Graduate Student Association.

The root of Tukuli’s drive remains steadfast.

“When I say I study plant sciences, it’s personal to me. I’ve been through a lot in Africa and I know people are suffering from shortage of food. Now, I am living in the developed world with my family where people want quality food, so food quantity and quality is personal to me.” Tukuli said. “I just want to work on plants and cure the quantity and quality problem. I think it’s the right thing to do and I believe in that and I want to do that.”

Sterling Evans #IAmScience

Sterling Evans #IAmScience

By Allison Scott | Bond LSC – See the Original Story Here

“#IAmScience because I want to focus my research on problems that exist in agriculture in undeveloped and third world countries.”

Sterling Evans’mind wasn’t focused on research when he started college, but that would soon change.

The sophomore plant sciences major uncovered his interest thanks to Freshman Research in Plant Sciences (FRIPS) — a program dedicated to introducing research to freshman students from plant-related degree programs.

“I was interested in plant sciences-related fields when I started here, but I had no intention of getting involved in undergraduate research,” Evans said. “Being selected for FRIPS was instrumental in getting me involved with research.”

Along with a handful of students selected for FRIPS each year, Evans got to interact with various professors and mentors around campus on a weekly basis. Because of that exposure, Evans found a place in the lab of Bond Life Sciences Center’s Gary Stacey.

After a year working in Stacey’s lab, Evans just joined a new project that aims to improve the nutritional value of soybeans.

“They’re used as a main source of protein for a lot of countries, so improving their nutritional content would have a huge impact,” Evans said.

The team is applies CRISPR, a gene-editing tool, to model plants called Arabidopsis as a first step.

“We are working on Arabidopsis right now as a proof of concept, because it can be done in a relatively short period of time, before investing as much as a two additional years in soybeans,” Evans said.

While he only spends 15 hours in the lab each week, Evans noticed the lab’s impact on his approach to academics in other ways.

“Research gives me more motivation to think about how to apply information I’ve learned in class to work in the lab,” Evans said. “It has made me more analytical in classes because I have more of a desire to understand things.”

Evans plans to earn a Ph.D. in a plant sciences field and wants to continue research in his career. He’s most interested in helping ensure small communities throughout the world have enough to eat, and he hopes to contribute by studying orphan crops.

“I think they’re cool because they’re really important to small people groups. No one studies them because they aren’t a big deal in the United States or other countries,” Evans said. “If we work on them we won’t have a huge impact on hundreds of millions of people, but we will have a huge impact on small communities.”

That impact all started in a lab. Had he not stepped out of his comfort zone he might never have discovered this path, and he highly encourages other students to give research a chance.

“There are labs for almost everything and there’s an area for everyone,” Evans said. “I didn’t know I wanted to do research until I did it.”