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NIMFFAB Students

Marie sitting in lab

Gretta “Marie” Sharp
  • BS in Bioenvironmental Sciences and Agronomy from Texas A&M
  • MS in Biology from University of Texas, Tyler
  • PhD Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University
    (expected graduation – Spring 2019)

In my doctoral work, I strive to develop new tools for human foodborne pathogen detection using bioinformatics. My main goal is to make bioinformatic methods relevant for forensic and diagnostic applications and to bring these methods into the field. Ms. Sharp is a National Needs Fellow with NIMFFAB.


Rydzak sitting by a computer in a lab

Patrick Rydzak
  • BS in Marine Biology from Texas A&M
  • MS in Biology from the University of Texas

Patrick Rydzak is a Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Assistant in Plant Pathology and a National Needs Fellow who joined the NIMFFAB team in the summer of 2016. Originally from Texas, Patrick received a Bachelors of Science Degree in Marine Biology from Texas A&M Galveston and a Masters of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Texas at Tyler. After graduating with his Masters degree, Patrick worked full time as a Extension Demonstration Technician at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Center in Overton, Texas until beginning his Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University. Patrick’s current research interests include the development of novel diagnostic tools for the detection and discrimination of pathogens of cereal crops and RNA silencing of viruses. In the future, Patrick hopes to work for a government agency and peruse a career in agricultural biosecurity.


standing by a lab window

Christian Ayala Ortiz
  • MS Student Entomology and Plant Pathology, Okalhoma State University (expected graduation – July 2019)
  • BS Biotechnology Engineering, Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas-ESPE

For my Master's degree I am working in the comparative genomics of Deltocephaline leafhoppers trying to identify some vector competence-related genes. Mr. Ayala is on a fellowship supported by DITRA.


Portrait view

Sara Wallace
  • MS student at OSU working on diagnostics of diseases of grapevines.

A native of Virginia, Ms. Wallace was and Paramedic. In 2012, she moved to OK where she shifted her focus to working in horticultural farms as a groundskeeper and gardener. Ms. Wallace is a National Needs Fellow with NIMFFAB


Portrait view

Santiago Molina Cardenas
  • MS Student Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University (expected graduation – July 2018)
  • BS Biotechnology Engineering, Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas-ESPE

My research is focused in the development of rapid and quantitative nucleic acid amplification methods for detection of foodborne pathogens. Specifically, I am working with the third generation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), droplet digital PCR, and with the field deployable method, loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP). The model pathogens for my studies are Listeria monocytogenes and generic Escherichia coli. In addition to the novel nucleic acid amplification methods, my laboratory work allowed me to become familiar with standard microbiology methods stablished by the FDA, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and EPA.


Portrait view

Lizbeth Pena Zuniga
  • Biotechnology Engineer,
    University of Army Forces (ESPE) in Ecuador
  • PhD student in Plant Pathology

Lizbeth is a first-year Ph.D. student. Under the guidance of Dr. Ochoa Corona. Her research is focus in using and developing new detection methods for plant viral pathosystems. She is interested in plant viral interactions and the available detection technologies for virus monitoring in microbial forensics, biosecurity, epidemiological studies in agriculture. Currently, she is using a deep parallel sequencing and metagenomic data analysis platform, EDNA (E-probe Diagnostic Nucleic acid Analysis) that successfully detects plant virus in sequenced metagenomes. She developed a crop base detection for: cucurbits, rose, soil and water viromes. Before being part of NIMFFAB, Liz worked in viral gene expression analysis at the Entomology and Plant Pathology department at OSU as a Research Scholar, where she collaborated in a project for studying stress metabolic pathways during plant viral infection. Liz graduated from the University of Army Forces (ESPE) in Ecuador her home country, as a Biotechnology engineer. In her spare time, she enjoys running, working out, outdoors and enjoying nature.