Alessandra York

Graduate student

Contact Information

Genetics Department
University of Wisconsin
425-G Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706 USA






 (So far) I have two parts to my thesis work:

1)    One of the main goals of the lab is to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) that are responsible for domestication traits. A previous grad student in the lab have mapped a QTL that appears to be a major player in kernel row number found on chromosome 5 of maize, and efforts to find that QTL have not been yet successful. My project is to use a different population (BC6S6 rather than the BC2S3 population that we were using) to attempt to find the gene(s) that are contributing to the trait. The new population has a much cleaner background than our previous one and has a narrower window of interest we can look at.
2)    The other part of my thesis project is tied to the work we are doing down in Florida. My goal is to collect phenotypic data from our teosinte half-sib populations and use that in two ways: (1) create a model to estimate additive variance and narrow-sense heritability, and (2) perform a genome-wide association study (GWAS) in hopes of identifying causal genes for some of the traits we collect. The two traits I hope to focus my work on are kernel weight (a highly heritable trait) and number of branches on a plant (a trait with a high amount of environmental contribution).

Why I Became a Scientist:
 I’ve always liked science, but for the majority of my life I thought I was going to pursue architecture due to my love of drawing and painting. However during my senior year of high school, I decided to take AP biology as an elective. Early in the semester I learned I enjoyed reading the textbook and became very attached to the subject. I quickly found that I had a knack for biology and physics was not for me, so I decided when I went to college I wanted to pursue a degree in biology.


I went to University of Missouri-Columbia where I got involved in research my first day as an undergrad. I spent my freshman year as a lab tech, and thanks to some connections, I got my first taste at a project by working as a summer student at Washington University in St. Louis in Dr. Barak Cohen’s lab studying QTL in yeast. I enjoyed my experience so much that I ended up seeking a research project back at University of Missouri. This led me to join my advisor Jim Birchler’s lab. Here I spent the next three years working on a project that focused on generating minichromosomes in maize. Minichromosomes are an engineered chromosome that functions independently from the genome and can potentially be used as a way to insert desired genes into a plant’s genome without adversely affecting the plant. The goal was that this would allow us to add desired genes to crops in hopes of providing a larger or more nutritional food supply for the world.


As I continued my education, I became more interested in evolutionary and quantitative genetics. This brought me to John Doebley’s lab here at the University of Wisconsin, where I could combine my previous lab experiences with my newfound interests.


Panzea was funded by the National Science Foundation, Plant Genome Research Project, award #1238014: “The Biology of Rare Alleles in Maize and Its Wild Relatives”; the research groups on this project were also supported by the USDA-ARS, their home institutions, and/or various other sources of funding.