Recipients of the C. R. Weber Award for Excellence in Plant Breeding – Fall 2021

Clayton Carley

Originally from Crescent City, IL, grew up on a family farm where he started his own sweet corn business and developed a passion for agriculture. He obtained a B.S. in Crop Science – Plant Biotechnology & Molecular Biology in 2015 and a B.S. in Agricultural Science Education – Teacher Certification from the University of Illinois in 2016. After living and working for a year in Ghana with AgriCorps, Clayton started his Ph.D. in 2017 as a Genetics & Genomics student in Dr. A. K. “Danny” Singh’s soybean breeding and genetics lab. His graduate research work focuses on high throughput phenotyping of root traits and root system architecture to improve soybean breeding programs. His collaborative work with engineers at Iowa State led to a machine learning pipeline to assess nodule growth and development in early growth stage soybeans. This work, Using Machine Learning to Develop a Fully Automated Soybean Nodule Acquisition Pipeline (SNAP) was recently published in Plant Phenomics in 2021. Clayton continues to explore the underlying genetic components of soybean root system architecture and how these traits can be optimized for modern breeding programs and grower needs.Clayton has been actively involved in the R.F. Baker Plant Breeding Symposium, most recently serving as a Co-Chair for the 2020 event. Additionally, he has served as an officer with the AGSC, was named a 2020 NAPB Borlaug Scholar, and is currently an ambassador for the International Society of Root Researchers. Clayton enjoys volunteering at Harvest Vineyard Church’s youth and student ministries, helping out on the family farm, and enjoying game nights with fellow graduate students.

Laura Tibbs-Cortes

Laura grew up on her parents’ farm near Williams, Iowa, where the crops and animals her family raised inspired her interest in biology and genetics. This led Laura to earn a B.A. in Biology from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas in 2017. Later that year, Laura began her Ph.D. at Iowa State University, where she joined Dr. Jianming Yu’s lab studying quantitative genetics and maize breeding. She obtained and brought to Iowa State a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Laura’s research has focused on identifying genetic and environmental factors underlying nutritional and agronomic traits in maize. In her first project, Laura applied Genome- and Transcriptome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS and TWAS) to dissect the genetic basis of B vitamin content in maize, identifying several candidate genes. In her second project, Laura identified environmental indices that strongly influence important agronomic traits in maize. She also used GWAS and QTL mapping to identify loci underlying the plastic response to these environmental indices. Because of the importance of GWAS in her research, Laura wrote a paper in Plant Genome reviewing the history and development of GWAS, as well as current GWAS techniques and opportunities for continued improvement.

Laura has been active with the R.F. Baker Plant Breeding Symposium, serving as an officer for three symposia (2019 Speaker Committee, 2020 Speaker Chair, and 2022 Poster Chair). Among other awards, she received Brown Graduate Fellowship and Teaching Excellence Award in 2020. Laura enjoys hiking and kayaking with her husband, reading, playing the flute, and playing with their two cats.

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