Principal Investigator

Dr. Courtney Leisner

B.Sc. The College of William and Mary (2007)
M.Sc. Washington State University (2009)
Ph.D. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (2014)
NIH NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship, Michigan State (2015-2018)
Assistant Professor, Auburn University (2018)

Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech (2023-present)

I joined the faculty at Auburn University in 2018 in the Department of Biological Sciences. In 2023 I moved the lab to the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech. My research group works to understand plant responses to their environment, with an emphasis on abiotic stress imposed by future climate change and their impacts on plant nutritional quality in diverse cropping systems. The overarching theme of my research program is to investigate how our changing climate and associated annual weather patterns impact our ability to produce a sufficient quantity of nutritious food for a growing world population. When I am not doing science I love spending time with my husband, two beagles, and three young children!

I am also an affiliate faculty in the Translational Plant Science Center ( and the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture (

Ph.D. Students

Guillian Hernandez

B.Sc. University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez

I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez where I majored in Industrial Biotechnology and completed both a minor in Plant biosecurity and a certification in Biochemistry. During my undergrad I was introduced to the world of molecular biology, specifically working with DNA barcoding of the Lotus genus and was then when I started to gain interest in plants as research organisms. I love working with molecular approaches to plants as I believe it to be both an exciting and constantly evolving field. My interests in research are understanding and manipulating plants in a way that help increase their productivity now and in the future. I believe it’s important to understand abiotic stressors for plants as future times will require more resilient plants and understanding what that means for each plant under a specific stressor is important. That’s why my main goal within the Leisner lab is to further study the relation between plants and abiotic stressors and how plants could be developed into resisting them in a future. 

Ishveen Kaur

B.Sc. Punjab Agricultural University (2019)
M.Sc. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (2021)

My primary interest is harnessing the potential of bioactive compounds from plants to develop functional foods.  The overarching objective is to alleviate nutritional insecurity by linking plant science to human health. You will either find me cooking, hanging around with friends or hiking and exploring different places when not doing research.  I also love talking to my parents in my free time as I live away from them.

Ravneet Kaur

B.Sc. Punjab Agricultural University (2019)

I am a PhD student in the lab. I am from India and did my B.S in Agriculture Honors with a major in Plant Breeding Genetics and Biotechnology. My current project focusses on understanding the physiological processes responsible for reduction in nutrient content in soybean as a result of elevated CO2 due to climate change. When not working on research, I love to read, paint, take long walks and bake.

Collin Modelski

B.Sc. Trinity College (2020)

I am interested in abiotic stress response in horticultural crops. I currently study how host—pathogen interactions are affected in response to climate change. Outside of research, I enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and listening to 60s/70s music!

Research Assistants

Dr. Earl Petzold

B.Sc.  Biology Virginia Tech (1990)

M.Sc. Horticulture Virginia Tech (2007)

Ph.D.  Forestry Virginia Tech (2017)

I joined the Staff at Virginia Tech in the Department of Horticulture in 1998 and currently am a staff member of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech.   Along the way, I decided to pursue a Master of Science degree in Horticulture with emphasis in molecular biology and continued my education by pursuing a PhD in the Forestry Department at Virginia Tech.  My primary research interests have been investigating the role transcription factors play during wood development at the genomic and proteomic level.  I have a broad background in plant biotechnology and enjoy helping others with their research.  When not doing research, I enjoy hiking with my dogs, fishing, racquetball, Karate, and ATV riding.  

Previous Lab Members

Abby Guillemette

B.Sc. University of Alabama in Huntsville (2020)
M.Sc. Auburn University (2023)

My research focuses on how predicted elevated temperatures caused by climate change will affect crops. My current project studies how this will affect the development of potatoes using a multifaceted approach of physiology and gene expression across time. Outside of science, I enjoy art, guitar, cats, and all things plants!

Auston Holland

B.Sc. Horticulture Science, Auburn University (2016)
M.Sc. Plant Pathology, Auburn University (2019)

I currently serve as the manager for the Atmospheric Deposition site for the Leisner Lab and additionally have a split appointment with the Potnis Lab in plant pathology. My primary research focuses on plant-microbe interactions, understanding the alterations that occur in the plant microbiome upon infection with foliar bacterial pathogens, how these alterations occur, and how understanding them can be exploited for the development of microbial based remedies. Outside of research I enjoy cooking, traveling, and gardening and am an avid collector of carnivorous plants.

Sarah Jones

B.Eng. Auburn University (2023)

I am majoring in Biosystems Engineering and will graduate in May 2023. My current project is setting up a system to test freeze tolerance in blueberry. Outside the lab I enjoy writing, reading, and hiking with friends on the weekends. Learn more about me here:

Dr. Lovely Mae Lawas

Dr. rer. nat. Molecular Plant Physiology, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology/University of Potsdam (2019)
M.Sc. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, University of the Philippines Los Baños (2015)
B.Sc. Biology, University of the Philippines Los Baños (2009)

My research interests focus on how crops respond to abiotic stresses, in particular heat and drought, and in understanding the molecular and metabolic basis of plant stress tolerance. In the Leisner Lab I am studying the production of the specialized metabolite iridoid in blueberry by functional characterization of genes/enzymes involved in the biosynthetic pathway, as well as how it could potentially be impacted by predicted temperature changes in future climate. When not doing science, I enjoy traveling and unwinding over good food.

Emma Peacock

B.Sc. Auburn University (2022)

I am majoring in Microbial Biology with a concentration in Molecular and Cellular Biology and will graduate in May 2022. I am interested in genetics and gene expression, and my current project is focusing on isolating iridoid biosynthesis pathway genes from multiple blueberry cultivars. Outside of the lab, I enjoy reading and listening to and discovering new music.

Giovani Rossi

B.Sc. Maringa State University (2006)
M.Sc. University of Sao Paulo (2011)

My research interests include the response of crop species to climate change, evaluating the impact of abiotic stressors and elevated [CO2] on plant physiology, and the genetic mechanisms behind these responses, with a focus on the development and abortion of flowers and fruits. In my free time, I like to watch movies and sports on tv, read things besides science and play sports like soccer and racquetball.

Sheridan Spivey

B.Sc. Auburn University 2023

My major is Organismal Biology with a Public Health minor and I will be graduating in 2023. My current project focuses on understanding biotic and abiotic stress interactions in pepper using the AtDep field site.

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