Staff Spotlights

Learn more about our team members — what it is that they do, how their research is impacting the grape and wine industries, and what keeps them going when things get discouraging.

Jack Olson
M.S. Candidate, University Of Minnesota
Jack Olson is a graduate student working with Matthew Clark on enhancing understanding of the physiology and genetics behind leaf variegation in hybrid grapevines.



Noam Reshef
Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University
Noam Reshef works as part of the fruit quality team. His primary focus is the accumulation and degradation of malic acid found in North American grape species and how these traits impact hybrid varieties.



Dilmini Alhakoon
PhD candidate, South Dakota State University 
Dilmini Alkakoon works with Anne Fennell’s grape genetics program studying QTL mapping of various traits.



Heather Scott
Research Technician, Cornell University, Ithaca
Heather Scott has been managing the fruit quality analysis for VitisGen2 in the Sacks lab since 2017. She oversees the chemical analysis of samples from throughout the country.



Anna Underhill
Research Technician, UDSA-ARS, Geneva
Anna Underhill recently started with the Vitisgen powdery mildew team where she primarily works to improve neural network analysis of powdery mildew for high-throughput phenotyping systems.


Daniel Zendler

Daniel Zendler
Postdoctoral Associate, Julius-Kühn Institute
German scientist Daniel Zendler, a leading expert on the Ren3 and Ren9 genes for powdery mildew resistance, spent the summer of 2019 working with the VitisGen2 team at Cornell AgriTech’s campus to target the location on the genome of these resistance markers, as well as determining how broadly effective they are against different strains of powdery mildew. You can read more about these research goals and findings in our article: “International collaboration advances research into grape disease resistance“.


Ugo IkeoguUgochukwu “Ugo” Ikeogu
Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University
Ugo has a dual role in VitisGen2 as Project Manager and as a Post-Doctoral Associate. As project manager, he facilitates communications between the teams, and keeps the project organized and running smoothly. In addition, he has vast experience with genetics and phenotyping.


Olena SambucciOlena Sambucci
Postdoctoral Associate, UC Davis
Olena focuses on economic payoffs to varietal innovation in table grapes, including traits such as flavor and disease resistance.


Melanie MassonetMélanie Massonnet
Postdoctoral Associate, UC Davis
Mélanie works on genome-wide analyses of breeding populations, in order to be able to layer multiple desirable traits such as disease resistance and wine grape quality.



Cheng ZouCheng Zou
Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University
Cheng uses bioinformatics tools to assist grape breeding. For example: designing more efficient molecular markers using whole genome de novo assembly, integrated data-mining of the genetic data, and other information processing tasks.


Lu Yin headshotLu Yin
PhD candidate, University of Minnesota
Lu Yin works with Dr. Matthew Clark’s grape breeding program, investigating grape genetic resistance to phylloxera, a gall-forming insect pest of grapes.



Surya Sapkota's headshot, in a vineyard and holding a ziplock bag full of grapesSurya Sapkota
Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University
Surya sets up, inoculates, and processes grape leaf tissue samples for powdery mildew resistance assessments. He collaborates with experts in robotics, machine vision, optics, microscopy, and image analysis to make this process go more quickly and efficiently.


Janet van Zoeren's headshotJanet van Zoeren
Viticulture extension support specialist, Cornell University
Janet provides web design and updates, write articles about team findings and publications, and generally helps the VitisGen2 program reach a broader audience.