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Robin Buell - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Robin Buell Robin Buell

Michigan State University Foundation Professor of Plant Biology | Michigan State University


Expert in plant genomics, specifically the mint family and potato genomes, and genetically engineered crops





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Meet Robin Buell



Dr. C. Robin Buell joined the Department of Plant Biology of Michigan State University in October 2007 after spending 9 years at The Institute for Genomic Research. Her research program focuses on the genome biology of plants and plant pathogens, including comparative genomics, bioinformatics, and computational biology. She has worked on the genomes of Arabidopsis, rice, potato, maize, switchgrass, sweetpotato, mints, and medicinal plants. With expertise in bioinformatics, one component of Dr. Buell’s research is provision of databases and web-based data-mining tools for the greater scientific community. Dr. Buell maintains the Rice Genome Annotation Project, which receives over 2 million page visits a year. Dr. Buell earned her BSc from the University of Maryland, her MSc from Washington State University, and her PhD from Utah State University. Dr. Buell has an active research group composed of postdoctoral research fellows, research assistants, graduate students, undergraduate students and high school interns and collaborates with scientists across the United States and throughout the world. She has served as an editor at Plant Physiology, the Plant Genome, Crop Science, Frontiers in Plant Genetics and Genomics, and Plant Cell. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement for Science and the American Society of Plant Biologists, a Michigan State University Foundation Professor and a Michigan State University William J. Beal Distinguished Faculty. At MSU, she is a member of the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Graduate Program, the Genetics Graduate Program, the Plant Resilience Institute, and MSU AgBioResearch.

Industry Expertise (4)

Research Education/Learning Agriculture and Farming Food Production

Areas of Expertise (3)

Computational Biology Comparative Genomics Bioinformatics

Education (3)

Utah State University: Ph.D., Biology/Molecular Biology 1992

Washington State University: M.S., Plant Pathology 1988

University of Maryland: B.S., Biology 1985

Affiliations (4)

  • Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Graduate Program : Member
  • Genetics Graduate Program : Member
  • Plant Resilience Institute : Member
  • MSU AgBioResearch : Member

News (3)

Analyzing the genes of ancient potatoes helps to improve future potato varieties

potatopro.com  online


The old adage of looking to the past to understand the future certainly applies to improving potatoes.

Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years. The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Examining potatoes’ past could improve spuds of the future

MSU Today  online


The old adage of looking to the past to understand the future certainly applies to improving potatoes.

Examining the ancestors of the modern, North American cultivated potato has revealed a set of common genes and important genetic pathways that have helped spuds adapt over thousands of years. The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Unlocking mints’ secrets could advance medicine, spices, more

MSU Today  online


Michigan State University has netted a $5.1 million National Science Foundation grant to explore the diverse world of mints.

Mints, or Lamiaceae, is the world’s sixth-largest family of flowering plants. If the secrets of this wide-ranging species can be unlocked, mints can be improved and potentially new synthetic molecules and products may be developed.

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Journal Articles (3)

Genome sequence of M6, a diploid inbred clone of the high‐glycoalkaloid‐producing tuber‐bearing potato species Solanum chacoense, reveals residual heterozygosity The Plant Journal

Courtney P. Leisner John P. Hamilton Emily Crisovan Norma C. Manrique‐Carpintero Alexandre P. Marand Linsey Newton Gina M. Pham Jiming Jiang David S. Douches Shelley H. Jansky C. Robin Buell


Cultivated potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) is a highly heterozygous autotetraploid that presents challenges in genome analyses and breeding. Wild potato species serve as a resource for the introgression of important agronomic traits into cultivated potato. One key species is Solanum chacoense and the diploid, inbred clone M6, which is self‐compatible and has desirable tuber market quality and disease resistance traits. Sequencing and assembly of the genome of the M6 clone of S. chacoense generated an assembly of 825 767 562 bp in 8260 scaffolds with an N50 scaffold size of 713 602 bp. Pseudomolecule construction anchored 508 Mb of the genome assembly into 12 chromosomes. Genome annotation yielded 49 124 high‐confidence gene models representing 37 740 genes. Comparative analyses of the M6 genome with six other Solanaceae species revealed a core set of 158 367 Solanaceae genes and 1897 genes unique to three potato species. Analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms across the M6 genome revealed enhanced residual heterozygosity on chromosomes 4, 8 and 9 relative to the other chromosomes. Access to the M6 genome provides a resource for identification of key genes for important agronomic traits and aids in genome‐enabled development of inbred diploid potatoes with the potential to accelerate potato breeding.

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Genome Assembly and Annotation of the Medicinal Plant Calotropis gigantea, a Producer of Anticancer and Antimalarial Cardenolides G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics

Genevieve M. Hoopes, John P. Hamilton, Jeongwoon Kim, Dongyan Zhao, Krystle Wiegert-Rininger, Emily Crisovan and C. Robin Buell


Calotropis gigantea produces specialized secondary metabolites known as cardenolides, which have anticancer and antimalarial properties. Although transcriptomic studies have been conducted in other cardenolide-producing species, no nuclear genome assembly for an Asterid cardenolide-producing species has been reported to date. A high-quality de novo assembly was generated for C. gigantea, representing 157,284,427 bp with an N50 scaffold size of 805,959 bp, for which quality assessments indicated a near complete representation of the genic space. Transcriptome data in the form of RNA-sequencing libraries from a developmental tissue series was generated to aid the annotation and construction of a gene expression atlas. Using an ab initio and evidence-driven gene annotation pipeline, 18,197 high-confidence genes were annotated. Homologous and syntenic relationships between C. gigantea and other species within the Apocynaceae family confirmed previously identified evolutionary relationships, and suggest the emergence or loss of the specialized cardenolide metabolites after the divergence of the Apocynaceae subfamilies. The C. gigantea genome assembly, annotation, and RNA-sequencing data provide a novel resource to study the cardenolide biosynthesis pathway, especially for understanding the evolutionary origin of cardenolides and the engineering of cardenolide production in heterologous organisms for existing and novel pharmaceutical applications.

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Extensive Genetic Diversity is Present within North American Switchgrass Germplasm The Plant Genome

Joseph Evans, Millicent D Sanciangco, Kin H Lau, Emily Crisovan, Kerrie Barry, Chris Daum, Hope Hundley, Jerry Jenkins, Megan Kennedy, Govindarajan Kunde-Ramamoorthy, Brieanne Vaillancourt, Ananta Acharya, Jeremy Schmutz, Malay Saha, Shawn M Kaeppler, E Charles Brummer, Michael D Casler, C Robin Buell


Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a perennial native North American grass present in two ecotypes: upland, found primarily in the northern range of switchgrass habitats, and lowland, found largely in the southern reaches of switchgrass habitats. Previous studies focused on a diversity panel of primarily northern switchgrass, so to expand our knowledge of genetic diversity in a broader set of North American switchgrass, exome capture sequence data were generated for 632 additional, primarily lowland individuals. In total, over 37 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified and a set of 1.9 million high-confidence SNPs were obtained from 1169 individuals from 140 populations (67 upland, 65 lowland, 8 admixed) were used in downstream analyses of genetic diversity and population structure. Seven separate population groups were identified with moderate genetic differentiation [mean fixation index (Fst) estimate of 0.06] between the lowland and the upland populations. Ecotype-specific and population-specific SNPs were identified for use in germplasm evaluations. Relative to rice (Oryza sativa L.), maize (Zea mays L.), soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], and Medicago truncatula Gaertn., analyses of nucleotide diversity revealed a high degree of genetic diversity (0.0135) across all individuals, consistent with the outcrossing mode of reproduction and the polyploidy of switchgrass. This study supports the hypothesis that repeated glaciation events, ploidy barriers, and restricted gene flow caused by flowering time differences have resulted in distinct gene pools across ecotypes and geographic regions. These data provide a resource to associate alleles with traits of interest for forage, restoration, and biofuel feedstock efforts in switchgrass.

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