Our Team

Our lab comprises of scientists, students, and technicians from seven different countries and a diverse array of educational backgrounds and experiences.

We are led by PI Dr. Ozgur Batuman in two main lab areas:

the Citrus Pathology Lab, focused on biological research of various types of plant pathogens, and the HLB Lab, focused primarily on citrus greening.

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Dr. Ozgur Batuman
Assistant Professor
Principal Investigator 

 

Ozgur Batuman leads the citrus pathology lab with an extensive background in plant pathology and virology and has researched several pathogens of economically important crops around the world. 

Ozgur Batuman received his BS and MS degrees in plant pathology from University of Cukurova, Turkey, and PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. His graduate studies primarily dealt with Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation of citrus and model plants with various genes of Citrus tristeza virus at the Volcani Center in Israel. He joined to Department of Plant Pathology at University of California-Davis as a post doc and later promoted to Project Scientist position. In California, he worked on thrips population dynamics and Tomato spotted wilt virus incidence in processing tomato, pepper and lettuce for development and implementation of an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. He was also involved in identification and characterization of virus and virus-like (i.e., viroid and phytoplasma) diseases of other vegetable crops.

 

Dr. Batuman has extensive expertise in epidemiology of virus and virus-like diseases in economically important crops. He develops IPM strategies for pest management through surveying Ag production regions for insect populations and disease incidence. Dr. Batuman has worked on the identification and characterization of a range of pathogens infecting economically important crops from USA and other countries. He developed improved methods for detecting viruses in their hosts and vectors and screened and identified candidate suppressors of gene silencing of viruses. Furthermore, Dr. Batuman successfully developed a highly specific polyclonal antibody for E. coli-expressed virus capsid proteins and demonstrated their effectiveness in virus detection. Dr. Batuman’s graduate studies dealt with genetic transformation of citrus rootstocks for disease resistance. He successfully established in vitro culture laboratory and optimized gene transformation protocols for Citrus sp. He obtained more than 400 transgenic citrus plants with CTV-derived constructs and excelled with micro grafting of Citrus sp., establishing transformants faster than those that were developed by rooting techniques. He analyzed and documented the genetic profile of these transgenic plants by utilizing advanced histological (fluorescent microscopy), serological and molecular techniques, and conducted virus inoculation experiments to assess their resistance to CTV. 

​Dr. Batuman joined the University of Florida, Department of Plant Pathology at Southwest Florida Research and Education Center as an Assistant Professor/Citrus Pathologist in October 2016. His current research and extension programs are focused on the better understanding of pathogens causing economically important diseases in citrus, and development of effective and long-lasting IPM strategies for controlling pathogens that currently threatening the citrus industry in Florida. 

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Dr. Sanju Kunwar 
Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Sanju is originally from Nepal and received her undergraduate degree in biotechnology from Nepal’s Purbanchal University. She joined University of Florida to complete her Master’s and PhD degrees in Plant Pathology focused on the integrated field management of bacterial wilt disease in tomato. Sanju began her career as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she researched the mechanism of EFR-based resistance in transgenic tomato line against bacterial wilt disease.

Sanju has 10 years of experience in integrated field management of vegetable and fruit diseases and is heavily involved in Extension and Education, for which she conducted trainings on plant disease management of vegetable-fruit crops in different countries across southeast Asia and Africa including Nepal, Taiwan, and Rwanda. She is particularly interested in genetic improvement of vegetable crops for better quality and yield. Additionally, Sanju has a passion for science communication and teaching plant science to the public and growers. Her blog channel: agfunnel.com teaches people about gardening, hydroponics, common garden diseases and pests as well as ways to manage them.

Her current responsibilities as a post-doctoral researcher in the Citrus Pathology program involve developing new and advanced technologies to deliver current and novel therapeutics to the citrus trees for managing citrus diseases in Florida. 

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Dr. Kellee Britt-Ugartemendia 
Post-Doctoral Research Associate

 

Kellee is a Floridian, born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Plant Science with a specialization in plant pathology at the University of Florida (Gainesville) in the Spring of 2014. She moved across the U.S. to complete her Master of Science in Plant pathology at University of California at Davis in the Fall of 2017 and joined the citrus pathology lab for a PhD in Plant pathology at UF (expected, Fall 2021) Her PhD program was focused on viruses in Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) populations in Florida to better understand potential biological control options for Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (CLas), the bacterial pathogen of Huanglongbing (HLB).

 

As a post-doc, Kellee's principal duties and responsibilities include working on various pathogens infecting economically important plants or insects in Florida by developing novel and reliable detection methods with PCR, RT-PCR, qPCR, LAMP, RPA and CRISPR-based relevant techniques. She focuses on identifying and characterizing new or emerging pathogens of citrus and their insect vectors (i.e., Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), aphids, whiteflies, etc), and gene expression profile (i.e. metagenomics, high throughput sequencing) of these hosts. She also works on the bioinformatic aspects of various ongoing projects in the Citrus Pathology program at SWFREC. In her spare time, Kellee enjoys hiking and trying new cuisines, as well as traveling to new places to learn different cultures. 

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Kseniya Chumachenko 
Biological Scientist/Lab Manager

 

Kseniya grew up in Urbana, Illinois and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology at Kansas State University (KSU). She continued to complete her Master of Science in plant pathology also at KSU, where her masters research was focused on the genetics of a Select Agent plant pathogenic bacteria and pathogen pathway/risk analysis. She has experience in Biosafety Level-3 laboratories at the Biosecurity Research Institute in Manhattan, Kansas, and training in plant disease diagnostics.

She joined the citrus pathology lab in January of 2021 where her roles include lab management, assisting in various research projects in the lab, greenhouse, and field, as well as diagnosing citrus diseases for local growers and research projects. The laboratory projects are mainly focused on molecular biology and genetics research, in which she contributes a skillset of PCRs, DNA/RNA extractions, cDNA prep, microscopy (light and fluorescence), pathogen culture, plant preparations for experiments, and statistical data analysis. 

 

Kseniya is also interested in science communication through writing and digital media, because of which she led the creation of the Citrus Pathology Website. In her free time, Kseniya enjoys going to any Naples beach, hiking, and photography of the beautiful Southwest Florida nature and wildlife.

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Ana Redondo 
Research Coordinator/Lab Manager

Ana has more than 20 years of experience in horticulture and plant pathology sciences gained from some of the most world-class citrus laboratories around the world, and still enjoys helping to solve the challenges citrus present to the industry today.

 

In the Citrus Pathology Lab at SWFREC, she is involved in development, assessment, and optimization of therapeutical treatments by using various delivery techniques to control diseases and improve health of citrus trees. Her tasks involve integrated lab, greenhouse, and field work to streamline the development of potential treatments for growers. She first develops test procedures and methods and assesses the potential treatments in lab experiments that involve in vitro assays and use of lab host or small citrus plants. Later, she retests treatments on more vigorous citrus trees in greenhouse and controlled conditions.

Ana enjoys all the outdoor activities Southwest Florida offers including canoeing, hiking, camping; to her, this is the perfect place to live.

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Salih Yilmaz
Graduate Student - PhD Candidate 

Salih completed his bachelor’s degree in 2015 in Crop Protection from Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University (Turkey) and Master of Science in 2017 in Integrated Pest Management of Mediterranean Fruit and Vegetable Crops from CHIEAM (International Center for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies) in Bari, Italy before joining the Batuman lab in 2019. His PhD research project focuses on the epidemiology of re/emerging virus and virus-like diseases on tomato crops in Florida.

His main research goals include molecular identification and characterization of diseases and improving detection methods for diseases and mutations by using newly developed biotechnological tools. Additionally, Salih is studying Florida tomato virus disease prevalence and anticipating disease emergence in the agro-ecological landscape based on virus metagenomic and network analysis.

In his free time, Salih enjoys local activities such trekking, photography, and swimming.  

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Nicholas Tezna Triana 
Agricultural Assistant

Nico obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology with a Minor in Chemistry from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2021. Nico was exposed to crop care and management from an early age due to growing up around his family's pineapple farm in Colombia, and his mother's career in agriculture & entomology.

 

His work in the HLB Lab of Citrus Pathology evolved from general greenhouse maintenance and oversight of running experiments, to focusing on sampling and processing of ongoing experiments in the greenhouse and lab, and plant tissue DNA extraction, quantification, and normalization. He also assists in field experiments, field data collection, and chemical applications. Nico is fascinated by this field area and believes there are discoveries yet to be made that will help save the citrus industry.  Some of his studies at FGCU revolved around mycology - which piqued his interest in the topic of using certain fungi to create symbiotic relationships with plants in groves to control or eradicate diseases. 

Nico has enjoyed growing up in Naples area as it allowed him to be close to the ocean while also being surrounded by watersheds, rivers and wetlands, allowing for a multitude of exciting of nature hobbies like kitesurfing, hiking, camping, freediving and photography. 

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Juan Balderas 
Agricultural Technician

Juan is originally from Mexico and has extensive experience with plants, as he owned his own landscaping business in the city of Miami before moving to Naples. As part of the Citrus Pathology Lab team, Juan is in charge of the general maintenance of field equipment, greenhouses/equipment and oversight of running experiments in terms of irrigation, fertilization, pruning, sampling and data collection, and grafting. Juan is the head of field experiment logistics and chemical applications. He is involved in the chemical spraying in greenhouses for disease and pest management and prevention of HLB, as well as the spraying applications in several Field Trials, such as the Citrus Black Spot and Citrus Canker trials.

 

Juan values doing his job to the best of his abilities and ensuring accurate results throughout experiments in greenhouses and out in the field. In his free time, he enjoys playing soccer and spending time with his wife and three sons.  
 

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Fetchina Gereus 
Agricultural Assistant

Fetchina’s studies in agriculture began when she was awarded a full scholarship from the Kellogg Foundation to attend EARTH University in Costa Rica. She graduated in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Science. Since then, Fetchina’s professional life has been centered around agriculture, food processing, small farm activities, community development, and management.  She is a co-founder of the Youth Association for Sustainable Development in Haiti, an initiative that gave her the opportunity to help a group of people in need as well as learn from them.

Currently, Fetchina is working on citrus greening, citrus black spot, and citrus canker activities in the HLB lab. She will also be involved in diagnosing diseases, monitoring disease progress and severity, assessing efficacity of treatments and pesticide applications, pest handling, field trial set up, sampling, data analysis, and other activities related to HLB (Huanglongbing/Citrus Greening). 

Fetchina is enthusiastic about this new experience and being able to help that with different projects in the lab. 

Lab Alumni

Nico Tezna Triana, former agricultural technician

Samantha Gebben, former Biological Scientist

Marissa Penquinney, former summer 2021 intern

Martha Silva, former research technician

Manali Motghare, former Post-Doc

Jessica Tores Valez, former PhD student