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Indiana University Bloomington

Department of Biology

Graduate Studies

Genetics, Cellular & Molecular Sciences Training Grant

Trainee Profile

Briana K. Whitaker

Photo of Briana Whitaker
Research Image(s)
Native Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) by the Ohio River in Madison, Ind.

Native Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) by the Ohio River in Madison, IN.

Isolated culture of a fungal endophyte from a leaf of the grass host, Tridens flavus, in Bloomington, Ind.

Isolated culture of a fungal endophyte from a leaf of the grass host, Tridens flavus, in Bloomington, IN.

Graduate Student
Contact Information
By telephone: 812-855-1674 (lab)
JH 159
Clay Lab website
Whitaker's web page
Program
Department of Biology:
Evolution, Ecology & Behavior
Education
B.S. Biology, 2012, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), Minors in Geography and Chemistry
Awards
NSF-Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF) – 3 years of Support and Tuition (2014)
Graduated from UNC-CH with Honors in Biology, Highest Distinction, Dean’s List (2012)
John A. Couch Award, Dept. of Biology, UNC-CH (2012)
Francis J. LeClair Award, Dept. of Biology, UNC-CH (2012)
NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Dr. Charles Mitchell, UNC-CH (2010)
Research Description

My main research interests centers around the intersection of plant and microbial community ecology. How can traditional ecological theories of community assembly and species interactions be used to gain insight into microbiome formation, evolution, and impact on diverse host species? I study the fungal symbionts that colonize aboveground leaf tissues in diverse plant hosts, ranging from tallgrass species of the North American Midwest, to herbaceous plants from the Asteraceae family. These fungal symbionts of leaves are known as endophytes (‘inside plant’) and are increasingly recognized for their functional roles in altering host physiology and immune system defense. Many questions surrounding their dispersal and host-impact, however, remain poorly understood. What are the consequences of colonization for host fitness and competition in natural systems? How can we use community phylogenetics to better understand the interactions and evolution of microbiomes across multi-host plant communities? Which plays a greater role in species interactions, local adaptation of the host (e.g., genetic background) or environmental context? Through my research, I hope to use advanced genetic tools and statistical methods to push the boundaries of plant-microbiome understanding.

Select Publications
Whitaker et al. (2014). In Preparation. “Viral pathogen production in a wild grass host driven by host growth and soil nitrogen.”
Select Presentations
Whitaker et al. (2013). Ecological Society for America (ESA) Annual Conference. “Viral pathogen production and virus-plant interactions are controlled by nitrogen and phosphorus supply.” Poster.

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