People

Principal Investigator

Angela D. Kent

Professor, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

B.A., Biology, Grinnell College, 1992

M.S., Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996

Ph.D., Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000

Research Interests:
I have been interested in many areas of science since I was young, but I managed to narrow down my broad interests to microbiology and genetics as an undergraduate. My training in microbial genetics as a graduate student prepared me for studying microbes in many different settings. I have always been interested in working on projects that can be applied somehow – to improve environmental management, animal health, or plant productivity – as a result, my research explores microbes in a number of different ecological settings. I am fascinated by the number of ways that microbes influence the world around us, and seek to share my enthusiasm through my teaching and research activities.

Microbial populations are a key component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and are responsible for mediating a number of important processes, including nutrient cycling and biogeochemical transformations. Molecular biology tools allow us to describe the diversity and structure of microbial communities in natural systems, and relate these to environmental drivers and ecosystem function. I am interested in studying the ecology of the microbial communities in order to ultimately improve our ability to predict the impact of anthropogenic influences on processes mediated by microbial communities. I am also interested in applying our understanding of microbial ecology to improve the health and sustainability of natural and managed ecosystems.

Links: akent@illinois.edu
Publications
Profile
CV

Ph.D. Students

Sierra Raglin

Ph.D Student (Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation), June 2017 – present

B.S., Animal Sciences, Rutgers University at New Brunswick-Piscataway, 2016

Project(s): Consequences of Plant Breeding on the Maize Microbiome
Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
I’m a third-year Graduate Research Assistant within the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. I’m particularly interested in Microbial Ecology, Applied Microbiology, and host-microbiome research. My graduate research focuses on plant-microbial interactions and how the root metabolome interacts with nitrogen cycling microorganisms. Broadly, the purpose is to understand how plant-microbial interactions impact the sustainability of agroecosystems.

Links: sraglin2@illinois.edu

Isaac Klimasmith

Ph.D. Student (Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences), April 2020-present

B.A. in Biology with a certificate in Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, 2020

Research Interests:
As an incoming graduate student, I hope to study the role of bacteria in nutrient cycling for key biofuel and crop plants. I am especially interested in researching microbial inoculates as a potential alternative to the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers currently overwhelming lakes, rivers, and drinking water systems.

Links: isaacmk2@illinois.edu

Master’s Students

Danyang Duan

Master’s Student (Center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation), January 2020 – present

B.S. in Environmental Engineering, Southeast University, 2019

Project(s): Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
I am a first-year graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science. I’m interested in how plant-microbe interactions affect the nutrient cycling process. My research will be focused on soil microorganisms, especially rhizosphere microbes and how they are related to the nitrogen cycling process.

Links: danyang5@illinois.edu

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Niuniu Ji

Post-Doctoral Researcher (Center of Advanced Biofuel and Bioproducts Innovation/Institute of Genomic Biology), August 2019 – present

B.S. in Bioengineering, College of Life Science, Lu Dong University, 2011

Ph.D. in Microbiology, Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2019

Project(s): Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
Broadly, I am interested in the plant-soil-microbe interactions found throughout terrestrial ecosystems. My current focus is untangling these relationships in common crops such as Sorghum and Maize. More specifically, I focus on how variation in plant nitrogen and carbon allocation impacts rhizosphere biogeochemical processes. Prior to joining the Kent lab, my research focused on understanding the functional genes within soil microbial communities in Chinese forest ecosystems.

Links: niuniuji@illinois.edu

Di Liang

Post-Doctoral Researcher (Center of Advanced Biofuel and Bioproducts Innovation/Institute of Genomic Biology), December 2019 – present

B.S. in Agricultural Resources and Environment, Huazhong Agricultural University, 2009

M.S. in Landscape Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2012

Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences and Ecology, Michigan State University, 2019

Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, Michigan State University, 2019

Project(s): Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
I am broadly interested in soil N cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. My current research focuses on rhizosphere and endophytic N fixation associated with Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) in Midwest agroecosystems. Prior to joining Kent lab, I did research on nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and soil nitrification in agricultural ecosystems at Michigan State University.

Links: diliang2@illinois.edu

Alonso Favela

Post-Doctoral Researcher (United States Department of Agriculture) May 2021 – present

B.S., Biology, University of Arizona, 2015

Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2021

Project(s): Consequences of Plant Breeding on the Maize Microbiome

Research Interests:
I study how genetic selection and alterations in the Zea genus influence plant recruitment of the rhizosphere microbiome. Specifically, I have been working on characterizing how modern breeding practices have transformed Zea interactions with nitrogen cycling microorganisms to find ancestral genetic features to rewild our modern maize microbiome interaction.

Links: favela3@illinois.edu

Lab Technicians

Rachel Waltermire

Lab Technician (Center of Advanced Biofuel and Bioenergy Innovation), July 2019 – present

B.S., Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (concentration in Resource Conservation and Restoration Ecology), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2019

Project(s): Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
As a U of I graduate, I have been greatly enjoying spending this time working in the Kent Lab and having the opportunity to learn about research within academia, microbial ecology, lab management skills, advanced molecular techniques, data analysis, and experimental design in field and greenhouse settings. I organize undergraduate research activities in the lab, teach common laboratory protocols to new graduate students, coordinate materials and schedules for field research, and maintain organized laboratory practices. In my spare time, I am the Secretary of UIUC’s club “Red Bison”, a student group that participates in activities to restore local Illinois landscapes through practices such as invasive species management, prescribed burns, and planting of natives.

Links: rmw2@illinois.edu
LinkedIn

Current Undergraduate Researchers

Smruti Warekar

Undergraduate Research Associate, May 2021-present

Major: Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Concentration: Environmental Science and Management
Minor: Chemistry

Past Lab Members

Sada Egenriether

Graduated in 2021 with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Kent/Yang Lab)

Graduated in 2021 with a M.S. in Statistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Kent/Yang Lab)

B.S. in Biological & Ecological Engineering, Oregon State University, 2014

Project(s): Nature vs. Nurture: Biological and Environmental Controls on Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium in Illinois Agricultural Soils

Research Interests:
My dissertation research explored the ways in which agricultural management strategies shape the metagenomics and physiologies of the microbial communities responsible for key nitrogen transformations in agricultural soils.

Links: egenrie2@illinois.edu
http://sada-egenriether.com/

Sandy Simon

Past Lab Technician (Center of Advanced Biofuel and Bioenergy Innovation), August 2019 – July 2021

Ph.D. in Biology, West Virginia University, August 2014-April 2020

B.S. in Biology, West Virginia University, 2014

Project(s): Plant-Soil-Microbe Interactions in Bioenergy Cropping Systems

Research Interests:
My research interests are focused on how plants are genetically able to structure entire communities of organisms, leading to predictable and heritable ecosystem organization. In the past, I have explored these relationships using tree genetic models in the Salicaceae family and their fungal pathogens, insect herbivores, and pollinators. Currently, I am working to finish my Ph.D. thesis at West Virginia University, while also helping to develop and execute sequencing methods to improve our ability to ask ecological questions in the genomics era with a new microbial focus in the Kent lab. In my spare time, I enjoy photographing, collecting, and identifying insects.

Links: sjsimon@illinois.edu
https://sandrajsimon.weebly.com/

Maddy Liberman

Past Undergraduate Research Associate, May 2019 – May 2021

B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Environmental Science and Management, and a minor in Chemistry.

Links:
Research Gate Profile

Monique Hazemi

Graduated in 2020 with a M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champsign (Kent Lab)

B.S. in Integrative Biology, University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, 2016

Project(s): Using Microbiology to Protect the Western Pond Turtle

Research Interests:
I studied microbial ecology in the Kent Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the John G. Shedd Aquarium Microbiome Laboratory. My overall research interests include aquatic ecology, conservation, and animal health. My research focuses on examining the microbiome’s role in the health of Washington-state endangered Western Pond Turtles.

Links: mshazemi@gmail.com
https://issuu.com/illinois4h/docs/fall-issue_2018/10
https://www.sheddaquarium.org/care-and-conservation/shedd-research/shedd-aquarium-microbiome-project