My research is best described as applied chemical ecology. I focus on small bioactive molecules produced by plants and microorganisms that induce changes in other organisms. I seek to understand the origin, function, and significance of natural chemicals that mediate interactions within and between organisms. I have determined modes of action of toxic compounds produced by fungi designed to give the fungus a competitive edge in the obtaining nutrients from plants. I have analyzed alkaloids from plant-endophyte interactions that negatively impact animal production and behavior. I have determined the chemical basis of and developed means of utilizing natural compounds for pest and disease control that are biologically based and sustainable. I am skilled in the analysis and discovery of bioactive natural products and have participated in programs for the mathematical modeling of responses to these compounds. Currently we are applying the tools of bioinformatics to compare biosynthesis of terpenoid compounds in related plant species.
I have served as a mentor for ten M.S. students and two Ph.D. students. I have served as a research mentor for over 50 undergraduate students in my career. Many of these students are currently professionals in STEM fields, some in the health care fields. I was appointed as the first Coordinator for Undergraduate Research in the Herbert College of Agriculture. I serve on the university-wide Undergraduate Research Advisory Council. I also coordinate the Honors program for the Herbert College of Agriculture. I was recently awarded a USDA grant to develop courses for a new, peer-reviewed model for honors programming that helps students develop higher-order thinking and team skills, academic networks, and opportunities to engage in research activities.