Andrea Eveland,

PhD

Assistant Member

From Flower Design to Designer Crops

Plants have been a long-time constant in Andrea’s life.

As a high school student, she was fascinated in every moment of her biology class. After school, she was beginning her side gig as a floral designer, which she continued throughout college and beyond. “I always appreciated the variety in shapes, sizes, and colors of the flowers. I wondered why they looked so different.”

Then, as a freshman at SUNY Binghamton, Andrea took a botany class and was hooked. She pursued biology as an undergrad and upon graduation was awarded the John D. Grierson foundation award for excellence in botany. After that, her creative spirit took her to the west coast to continue floral design and interior plant-scaping in San Diego. She certainly ended up there for a reason: Still curious, she applied for a position as a lab assistant at Torrey Mesa Research Institute (TMRI), which was a decision that would change her life forever.

“It was an epicenter for plant molecular biology and it was all so new. Everyone was so excited – you could just feel the energy,” explains Andrea. Molecular biology was new to Andrea, but the excitement was infectious, and she had to learn more. She decided to go to graduate school for a PhD in plant molecular biology. Little did she know the best was yet to come. “And then I learned about developmental biology,” she says. “It was a game changer for me.” Now there was a scientific basis for why those flowers looked different.

The Architecture of a Plant

Andrea’s team now uses developmental biology combined with new approaches in data science and phenotyping to understand the genetic and molecular basis for plant form. The architecture of a plant, such as the position and arrangement of branches, leaves and flowers, has major implications on crop yield.

“A plant’s shape is a key factor in determining its productivity. If we can understand the mechanisms that control plant architecture, we can improve crops to yield more, more sustainably,” explains Andrea. “For example, leaf angle and orientation in a field can be optimized for increased planting density while at the same time maximizing light capture for photosynthesis.” To understand plant architecture, Andrea and her lab study the genes and gene networks that control the development of plant organs from meristems, which are pools of plant stem cells.

Her lab also studies the impact of new environmental challenges on plant shape. “We want to understand how the molecular mechanisms that control plant shape are influenced by extreme environmental stresses, such as water- and nutrient-limiting conditions,” says Andrea. “We can also learn something from plants that are more adapted to these stressful environments.”

Sorghum and Sustainable Bioenergy

One crop that Andrea’s lab studies extensively is sorghum, which has natural resilience to drought and heat stress and can thrive on minimal nutrient inputs. Andrea’s lab explores the gene networks underlying this amazing stress resilience so they can define genetic elements that confer tolerance. To understand the complexities of drought response in the broader context of the whole plant and its environment, Andrea and her lab use advanced approaches in genetics, genomics, phenotyping and gene editing. Eventually, her work with sorghum could help improve the crop to be used as a sustainable bioenergy feedstock for fuel production.

“In the coming years it is inevitable that globally we will need to produce more food and alternate sources of fuel more sustainably. I think we can do that with predictive science and crop improvement through technology,” says Andrea.

The Next Question

Today, Andrea still harnesses the creativity that first drew her to floral design. “People might not realize it, but biology is a creative science. The more creative we can get about integrating data that we collect and how we visualize and share it, the clearer new insights become,” she says. 

Andrea and her lab are always thinking of the next question to ask so they can continue to make a bigger impact. “My group is enthusiastic about the work they are doing. It is an exciting time to be in plant biology,” Similar to her experience at TMRI twenty years earlier when the first plant genomes and microarrays were coming available, advances in phenotyping and genome editing are now enabling a new level of opportunity for crop improvement. “I can clearly see the potential impact and it makes my work exciting and meaningful,” explains Andrea.

And she’s just getting started. “There is still so much that we don’t know. For each insight that you have, ten new questions arise. Often there are many ways to get to a common answer. Biology is extraordinary like that!”

On the plant science community

"I’ve had a lot of great mentors and role models along the way. I collaborate now with colleagues I met as a graduate student!"

Something others might not know about her

"I'm a certified yoga instructor. I've been practicing for over 20 years."

What she does to clear her head

"I enjoy long walks in the park with my dog, Gus."

On the plant science community

"I’ve had a lot of great mentors and role models along the way. I collaborate now with colleagues I met as a graduate student!"

Something others might not know about her

"I'm a certified yoga instructor. I've been practicing for over 20 years."

What she does to clear her head

"I enjoy long walks in the park with my dog, Gus."

Get in touch with Andrea Eveland

Research Team
Research Summary

The Eveland laboratory uses experimental and computational approaches to investigate the regulation of architecture traits and yield potential in cereal crops.

Andrea Eveland

Principal Investigator

Edoardo Bertolini

Postdoctoral Associate

Maxwell Braud

Research Associate I

Adriana Chepote

Laboratory Assistant

Indrajit Kumar

Research Scientist

Zhonghui Wang

Yuguo Xiao

Postdoctoral Associate

Jiani Yang

Postdoctoral Associate

Andrea Eveland

Principal Investigator

Edoardo Bertolini

Postdoctoral Associate

Maxwell Braud

Research Associate I

Adriana Chepote

Laboratory Assistant

Indrajit Kumar

Research Scientist

Zhonghui Wang

Yuguo Xiao

Postdoctoral Associate

Jiani Yang

Postdoctoral Associate

Show AllShow Less

The architecture of a plant, including stature and placement and arrangement of organs (leaves, branches, flowers), can influence yield potential, but also the physiological processes that help the plant adapt to its environment. In the Eveland lab, we study the developmental mechanisms that control plant architecture traits, and how the underlying regulatory networks interface with environmental challenges. Our research is focused around panicoid cereals, including economically important Zea mays (maize), stress resilient Sorghum bicolor (sorghum), and model system Setaria viridis. We use integrative genomics, developmental genetics, and high-resolution phenotyping to link genotype to phenotype and define genetic targets for improved architectures through breeding or genome editing.

A primary focus is inflorescence architecture, which is a key determinant of yield impacting seed number and harvesting ability in cereals. Cereal inflorescences display highly complex branching patterns, which are determined by the fate and determinacy of meristems, populations of self-renewing stem cells. Variation on inflorescence architecture is governed by the combinatorial action of transcriptional regulators and plant hormones. We study these factors including their spatiotemporal regulation, variation across genetic diversity, and how they respond to environmental challenges. We find that certain core regulatory modules controlling inflorescence architecture also work in various developmental contexts and contribute to other plant architecture traits such as leaf angle, tillering and plant height. A key question in the lab is how to decouple the pleiotropic effects of common developmental pathways.

This research addresses important agronomic challenges by identifying key genes and pathways as control points for yield, linking developmental and stress networks, and translating across grass species. Focus areas include:

Regulatory genomics to link genotype to phenotype – developmental networks and abiotic stress response.

A major emphasis in the Eveland lab is on the mechanisms of gene regulation. In particular, how suites of genes underlying developmental programs are regulated and how this varies in different spatiotemporal contexts, across genetic diversity, and in response to environment. To characterize important gene modules that control a certain trait, we make use of morphological transitions during plant development, the molecular phenotypes associated with them, and specific defects that arise from mutations in developmental modulators. Core determinants of gene regulation include cis-regulatory architecture and the combinatorial expression of transcription factors. We generate and integrate genomics datasets that capture these features in a given context, for example through co-expression networks, chromatin accessibility and transcription factor occupancy maps, to make predictions on regulatory factors that modulate specific phenotypes. Predictions are validated using genome editing and other experimental methods. Ultimately our goal is to predict the regulatory changes needed to alter phenotype (either architectural or stress resilience) in a desirable way, and how to engineer those changes with little disruption to the larger network within which they reside.  

Modulation of plant architecture by dynamic interplay of growth hormones, BR and GA.

Two plant growth hormones that underlie various architectural traits are brassinosteroids (BRs) and gibberellic acid (GA). In our mutagenesis screens for altered inflorescence phenotypes in the model C4 grass, Setaria viridis, we identified several mutants with meristem determinacy defects that were altered in BR or GA biosynthesis and signaling. While general pathways for these hormones have been extensively mapped out, little is known about the context-specificity of their action, for example in various aspects of cereal crop development. We are using S. viridis to explore the interactions between these hormones in meristem identity and determinacy during inflorescence development, which directly impacts seed set and grain yield. These discoveries are being translated to maize to study conserved and divergent features of this pathway in evolution and development. BRs and GA also play key roles in plant height and thus have been targets of selection in breeding programs for our most important cereal crops. We are also using S. viridis as a synthetic biology model for engineering inducible systems that target the GA pathway and using plant height as a measurable output response.  

The genetic and molecular basis for water and nitrogen use efficiency in sorghum.

Sorghum is a crop with innate resilience to various abiotic stresses such as drought and low nutrient inputs. On the outside, sorghum looks a lot like maize, which has been bred to thrive in optimal environments with lots of nitrogen fertilizer. Our interest in sorghum as a model for stress resilience is two-fold: i) To define genetic loci that contribute to its resilience for translation to maize and other related cereals, and ii) to improve sorghum for enhanced productivity on marginal lands as a high-yielding bioenergy feedstock. We use systems-level, multi-omics approaches to understand sorghum’s response to drought and low nitrogen stress at the molecular level, and how that varies across sorghum diversity. We also use high-resolution phenotyping in both controlled and field environments to link whole plant response to underlying molecular signatures. As part of a project funded by the US Department of Energy, we are using high-resolution, sensor-based phenotyping of sequence-indexed mutagenized populations of sorghum in controlled watering regimes, so we can link drought-responsive phenotype to gene function.