I am currently a Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University. I received my bachelor’s degree at the University of Northwestern St. Paul in Minnesota. Our lab (Ling Li Lab) works on improving crops such as soybean, corn and rice by utilizing the Arabidopsis thalianaorphan gene Qua Quine Starch (QQS) and also using QQS as a model to better understand orphan genes and how they arise. My interest in Biology never really took hold until late in my undergraduate life, and my interest in plant biology didn’t spark until beginning work in the Li lab.  Since then, I have found the plant biology realm to be a wonderful place to explore both practical and basic scientific questions.  Although I entered into graduate school knowing I wanted to become a teacher, I have begun to enjoy plant research much more than I expected and look forward to continuing my education and research career in plant biology.

Career Status:
Graduate Student

Research Areas:
Evolution, Genetics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Gene Regulation


O’Conner, S. & Li, L. Mitochondrial fostering: the mitochondrial genome may play a role in plant orphan gene evolution. doi:10.1101/2020.01.02.884874.

Qi M, Zheng W, Zhao X, Hohenstein J, Kandel Y, O'Conner S, Wang Y, Du C, Nettleton D, Macintosh G, Tylka G,Wurtele E, Whitham S, and Li L (2018) QQS orphan gene and its interactor NF-YC4 reduce susceptibility to pathogens and pests, Plant Biotechnology Journal, DOI:10.1111/pbi.12961. Impact Factor 7.44

O’Conner S, Neudorf A, Zheng W, Qi M, Zhao X, Du C, Nettleton D, Li L (2018) From Arabidopsis to crops: the Arabidopsis QQS orphan gene modulates nitrogen allocation across species. In: Shrawat A, Zayed A, and Lightfoot DA. eds. Engineering Nitrogen Utilization in Crop Plants, Springer, ISBN 978-3-319-92957-6.

Current Affiliations
Experience & Education