Faculty Spotlights

Faculty Spotlights


Dr. Rubén Rellán-Álvarez (New Faculty in Spring 2019)

PhD, Aula Dei Experimental Station (Spain)
M.S., Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain)
B.S. in Environmental Sciences, Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain)

Lab: www.rrlab.org/

Other NC State graduate program affiliation(s): Biochemistry

Dr. Rellán-Álvarez describes his lab and research as focusing “on deciphering the genetic and physiological mechanisms underlying metabolism reorganization in plants during adaptation to abiotic stresses including suboptimal temperatures and nutrient concentrations. We use a combination of quantitative and population genetics together with high precision metabolic phenotyping to identify loci that have been under selection during adaptation to particular environments and that are involved in the determination of metabolic traits. We then use reverse genetics, heterologous expression to functionally characterize the allelic effects of candidate genes. In particular we are using maize glycerolipid remodelling during the process of maize adaptation to different highland environments across the Americas as our study system. Using the approaches above together with maize landrace mapping populations grown in highland and lowland common garden fields in México, we have identified loci that explain distinct glycerolipid patterns in highland maize. We are currently functionally characterizing these loci with the goal of understanding their contribution to maize adaptation to highland conditions and transferring beneficial alleles to modern maize varieties.”

Dr. Rellán-Álvarez will be joining NC State’s distinguished faculty in the Spring 2019 semester. The well-established Genetics Program and diverse range of research attracted him to NC State, particularly the quantitative and evolutionary genetics work conducted across the university. Dr. Rellán-Álvarez is looking forward to contributing to this tradition of excellence with his own research in the coming years as well as collaborating with other labs in order to produce comprehensive graduate training in all areas of genetics.

As a new faculty member, Dr. Rellán-Álvarez is planning to recruit students to his lab who are inquisitive and eager to learn different methods of research. Specifically, he wants to employ students who are interested in “understanding how natural genetic variation shapes local adaptation and are willing to investigate this process using a variety of tools” from a wide range of genetics fields, such as quantitative, evolution, and reverse genetics. The invaluable addition of his mentorship, research, and participation as a faculty member at NC State will strengthen the synergetic atmosphere and continued success within the Genetics Program for all graduate students and faculty members alike.

Dr. Rellán-Álvarez has received several recognitions for his work prior to coming to NC State. He was awarded the Marschner Young Scientist Award in 2013 from the International Plant Nutrition Colloquium in Istanbul, Turkey (an organization which acknowledges researchers across the world who uniquely contribute to the field of plant nutrition). Dr. Rellán-Álvarez has also received various grants, which can be seen below along with his publications:

– $25,000 from the UC-Mexus Program. PI. Co-PI Oliver Fiehn, UC-Davis. The role of phospholipids in maize adaptation to Mexican highlands. 2016-2018.
– $100,000 from the Conacyt Basic Science Young Investigator. PI Natural Variation of lipid reorganization of plants under phosphorus deficiency. 2015-2018.
– $100,000 from the Conacyt National Problems Program Young Investigator. PI. Identification of loci involved in maize lipid metabolism for adaptation to future climate change. 2017-2019.

– Rellán-Álvarez R, Lobet G, Hildner H, Pradier PL, Sebastian J, Yee MC, Yu G, La Rue T, Trontin C, Schrager A, Haney C, Nieu R, Maloof J, Vogel J, Dinneny JR (2015) GLO-Roots: an imaging platform enabling multidimensional characterization of soil-grown roots systems eLife 4:e07597.


Dr. Anna Stepanova

PhD, University of Pennsylvania
M.S., Nizhni Novgorod State University (Russia)
B.S., University of Nevada Reno

Lab: https://alonsostepanova.wordpress.ncsu.edu/

Research areas: Plant molecular genetics, phytohomormones, synthetic biology

The overarching goal of Dr. Stepanova’s research is to understand how plants perceive a wide array of environmental signals, integrate this information with their developmental programs, and produce adequate responses that enable the plants to adapt to specific environmental conditions. She has been using various molecular, genetic, genomic, biochemical, synthetic and cell biology approaches in Arabidopsis and other plant species to explore the role of plant hormones in mediating plant phenotypic plasticity, to decipher the molecular mechanisms of auxin biosynthesis and ethylene signaling, to uncover the interaction nodes between the hormonal pathways, and to determine the contribution of translational regulation to hormone signaling/response and plant development.

Dr. Stepanova admires the commitment NC State Genetics has for providing its graduate students with an in-depth, collaborative education. She attests that NC State uniquely gives its students a “solid knowledge of both cell/molecular and quantitative/evolutionary genetics”, ultimately resulting in successful careers within the genetics field after graduation. Additionally, she emphasizes the program’s dedication to making sure graduate students develop exceptional writing and oral presentation skills while obtaining their degree.

Dr. Stepanova recently won a prestigious CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (NSF IOS) for $1,275,899. The proposal was “Tailoring hormone responses in plants via synthetic signal integration devices”, and with the new award, Dr. Stepanova has the ability to support new PhD students in her lab who have an interest in her research areas and who are inquisitive, interactive, hard-working, and resilient.

Receiving the NSF CAREER grant is not the first time Dr. Stepanova’s impactful research has been recognized. Earlier in 2018, she was awarded 1st place in the Faculty and Staff Microscopy category of the Envisioning Research Contest hosted by NC State’s Office of Research and Innovation. Some of her recent publications are listed below:

– Brumos J., Robles L.M., Yun J., Vu T.C., Jackson S., Alonso J.M., Stepanova A.N. (2018) Local auxin biosynthesis is a key regulator of plant development. Dev Cell (provisionally accepted)
– Mazzoni-Putman S. and Stepanova A.N. (2018) A plant biologist’s toolbox to study translation. Front Plant Sci 9:873. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00873
– Bhosale R., Giri J., Pandey B.K., Giehl R.F.H., Hartmann A., Traini R., Truskina J., Leftley N., Hanlon M., Swarup K., Rashed A., Voß U., Alonso J., Stepanova A., Yun J.4, Ljung K., , Brown K.M., Lynch J.P., Dolan L., , Vernoux T., Bishopp A., Wells D., von Wirén N., Bennett M.J., Swarup R. (2018) A mechanistic framework for auxin dependent Arabidopsis root hair elongation to low external phosphate. Nature Commun 9(1):1409 doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03851-3
– Ferrando, A., Castellano, M. M., Lisón, P., Leister, D., Stepanova, A. N., Hanson, J., eds. (2018). Relevance of Translational Regulation on Plant Growth and Environmental Responses. Lausanne: Frontiers Media. doi: 10.3389/978-2-88945-413-6