Doris Wagner

Headshot of the Principal Investigator

DiMaura Professor of Biology

Wikipedia | CV

My unconventional path to plant biology

My mother has a green thumb and I grew up surrounded by plants in Germany. When I had to decide what to study at University in high school, I chose literature which I loved. Over time, I became worried about how I could earn a living in my chosen field, as a first-gen student of low means. I deliberated about my next steps while working on an organic farm. This developed into an apprenticeship, a two-year combined hands-on and theoretical training that dates back to the middle-ages. The gardener that taught us theory was outstanding, she made plant biology come alive. As a certified vegetable gardener, I enrolled in Horticulture at University, where I was most fascinated by the basic sciences. One professor ‘s teaching of plant physiology especially captivated me, prompting me to start research in his lab. However, switching from Horticulture to Plant Biology turned out to be impossible. To continue with Plant Biology, I applied to grad schools in the US, reasoning that my combined training resembled a bachelor’s degree. Amazingly, I was accepted to the graduate programs I had applied to. Looking back, I ask myself – what is the chance that something like this would work? I love my work and would never have found it without serendipity, outstanding teachers and several leaps of faith. Who knows, maybe the many plants that surrounded me growing up also played a part. Now we bridge fundamental research in plant biology and appications in agriculture. I have not entirely turned my back on literature either; in my free time I read novels and short stories.

Doris in working in the farm

What we do

I am excited about learning how to ‘speak’ the language of plants so we can program both plant resilience to climate change, and when and where plants make flowers, fruits and seeds. To gain mechanistic insight, we use fundamental research, deciphering the contribution of the epigenome to stress response and applying novel approaches like single-molecule FISH or spatial transcriptomics to observe how changing environments affect the fate of individual cells in organisms.