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Meet Our Team

Rajagopalbabu Srinivasan

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Habibu Mugerwa

I am a native of Uganda. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. I attained my Master of Science degree at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. As for my Doctor of Philosophy degree, I attained this at the University of Greenwich, Chatham, United Kingdom. My current work focuses on understanding whitefly-virus interactions associated with important vegetable crops in Georgia. Specifically, I evaluate transcriptomic responses in whiteflies following virus infection.

Saurabh Gautam

I received my BS in Horticulture from the College of Agriculture in Pune, India, and MS and Ph.D. degrees in Entomology from Cornell University and the University of Georgia, respectively. At Cornell, I worked with Dr. Anthony Shelton on the risk assessment of transgenic crops to beneficial non-target insects and at UGA I worked with Dr. Rajagopalbabu Srinivasan on plant virus-vector and hosts interactions, particularly with whitefly transmitted criniviruses and begomoviruses. During my Ph.D., I investigated how the same virus in different hosts can differentially modulate the interactions between vectors and host plants. Post Ph.D., I continued working with Dr. Srinivasan, exploring different areas related to vector-virus interactions from the molecular to the landscape level. Currently, we are developing the transcriptome profile of vector and non-vector whitefly species upon virus acquisition. By doing so we can test the effects of different viruses on vectors at molecular levels and determine the candidate genes that can be potentially used as RNAi targets to disrupt the virus transmission by whiteflies.  

Saioa Legarrea

I am trained as a biologist and obtained my PhD at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (Spain) looking at UV-absorbing greenhouse covers that alter insect behaviour and affect virus dynamics in crops. Following a training period on molecular techniques, I joined Babu’s lab for one year to study the role of plant reservoirs, resistant genotypes and temporal effects in the TYLCV pathosystem. More recently, at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) I investigated trophic interactions by exploring the impact of tomato direct defences (i.e. trichomes) on predatory mites as biological control agents of common tomato pests.

My aim in research is to contribute to successful pest management in crops through the study of plant-virus-vector interactions and the implementation of various pest management tactics (e.g. plant resistance, biological control, UV-absorbing covers, bioinsecticides). As working systems, I am particularly interested in hemipterans and predatory mites, which often coexist in vegetable crops. I am delighted to be back in Babu’s lab in the UGA Entomology Department, where I will focus on: a) how virus infection alters feeding patterns and behavior of insect vectors, and b) biological control as a management option to control the spread of plant viruses.

Graduate Students

Michael Catto

I am originally from Philadelphia, PA but have moved around the East coast a lot since then. As for my educational background, I studied at the University of Maryland for my BSc in Biology, with a minor in astronomy. There I was fortunate to have worked in a stink bug management lab, under the guidance of Dr. Dively. Following graduation, I went to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo to work in the Amazonia exhibit, where I cared for crickets, Collembola, and fruit flies. After my time at the Zoo, I then took a position at EAG in Easton, MD in which I worked on toxicological and genetic studies in the aquatics department. I worked mainly with midges, but also cultured and ran acute and chronic studies on medaka, bluegill, and fathead minnows. At the same time, I studied at Johns Hopkins University and received my MS in Bioinformatics under the direction of Dr. Lessick. I also volunteered at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in which I helped in outreach events. I then took a position at Princeton University, where I worked as a lab manager for Dr. Andolfatto, handling various fruit fly species and sequencing large sets of fruit fly populations and genetic editing of individual flies. Currently, I am an Entomology PhD student working under the direction of Dr. Srinivasan and Dr. Hunt. Here my work is entirely computational, as I work with large genomic datasets for tobacco thrips and have also been able to work on the transcriptomes of the red palm weevil and peanut cultivars.

Yi-Ju Chen

Yi-Ju is my name, and Taiwan is the nationality on my passport. I grew up in a multicultural society. Because of this, I believe that each human matters, and I’ve become a diverse cuisine addict! I came to UGA to learn and explore thrips vector biology after several years of working in research. My whole life, I’ve had zero talent in music and English, but I survive here with lots of help from others. At present, I work on tritrophic interactions between thrips, viruses, and peanut crops: where thrips and/or virus come from, how to detect them, and wild peanuts that show resistance traits.

Sudeep Pandey

I graduated with B.S in Agricultural Sciences from Tribhuvan University, Nepal in 2015 and a MS degree in Plant Pathology from University of Agricultural Sciences- Bengaluru, India in 2018. My previous work involved plant-virus-vector interactions in legume cropping systems. I am working with aphid-mediated cotton leafroll dwarf virus in Georgia. My research focuses on greenhouse, lab and field experiments in understanding aphid-virus-host plant interactions.

Gurjit Singh

My undergrad is in Agricultural Sciences from the Punjab Agricultural University in India. Later, I decided to continue my studies as a Masters student in the Turfgrass and Ornamentals IPM lab of Dr. Shimat Joseph at the UGA Griffin campus, where I researched improvements to the IPM strategies against the Fall armyworm insect pest in bermudagrass systems. The multitrophic interactions among the host plants, plant-microbes, and insect vectors got my attention, and after graduating in Summer 2020, I joined Dr. Babu’s lab as a PhD student. Here, I am employing molecular techniques to investigate the interactions between host plants, plant viruses, and whiteflies in Cucurbits, with the ultimate goal of improving the IPM strategies against the whitefly vectors of plant viral diseases. Most of my research includes transmission bio-assays in the greenhouse and lab work, but also comprises of some field sampling during summers.

Lab Personnel

Gabrielle LaTora

I am a research professional and lab manager in the Srinivasan Lab, performing basic and applied research on crop viruses in the Southeast and their insect vectors. I hold a B.S. in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University (2013) and a M.S. in entomology and nematology from University of Florida (2019). At UF, I worked with Oscar Liburd in the Small Fruit and Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Lab and researched innovative management strategies for spotted-wing drosophila, an invasive insect pest of berry crops. I’ve also worked in restaurants and on small farms, where I discovered an interest in diversified farming systems and permaculture.

I am also a birder, home chef, and enjoyer of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. I’m passionate about urban agriculture and increasing access to fresh food in Atlanta communities. 

Past Lab Members

Dr. Pin-Chu Lai (PhD), graduate student, 2013-2021

Ainnee Quratulain, exchange student, 2019-2020

Sasha Kay, research professional, 2017-2019

Dr. Saurabh Gautam (PhD), graduate student, 2015-2019

Dr. Kiran Gadhave (PhD), post-doctoral associate, 2015-2017

Dr. Wendy Marchant (PhD), graduate student, 2013-2017

Dr. Saioa Legarrea (PhD), post-doctoral associate, 2013-2014

Dr. Apurba Barman (PhD), post-doctoral associate, 2012-2013

Kathleen Marasigan (MS), graduate student, 2011-2014

Qaisar Abbas, exchange scientist, 2011

Dr. Suganthy Sundaraeswaran, visiting scientist, 2011

Sheran Thompson, research professional, 2009-2017

Dr. Anita Shrestha (PhD), graduate student, 2009-2016

Dr. Sivamani Sundaraj, post-doctoral associate, 2009-2011

Stan Diffie, research professional, 2008-2016