Sheng Yang He, Ph.D.

Benjamin E. Powell Distinguished Professor, HHMI Investigator

I am broadly interested in biological processes that mediate the molecular interplay between plants and microbes. In the past two decades, I led an interactive group of postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in exploring novel phenomena in bacterial pathogenesis and disease susceptibility in plants. In addition, I teach graduate classes on plant and microbial biology and contribute to the large scientific community through serving on a variety of committees.

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Saunia Withers

Lab Manager

I joined the He lab during the move to Duke to help coordinate the transition from Michigan State University. My prior lab management experience allows me to keep the lab running efficiently. I also have expertise in protein biochemistry, which I will be using to support the various projects in the lab.

YuTi Cheng

Yuti Cheng, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Using a reverse genetics approach, I study the function of Arabidopsis genes whose expression are affected by the bacterial elicitor flg22, the bacterial toxin coronatine, and/or the salicylic acid analog BTH.

Richard Hilleary, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am broadly interested in signal transduction processes that allow plants and other organisms to perceive changes in their environment. My research focuses on elucidating the molecular species regulating the generation and maintenance of calcium signals during plant-pathogen interactions and how abiotic factors can influence this process on the cellular and molecular level.

Hannah McMillan, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Personal Website

I am interested in how plants and microbes communicate and use perceived signals to respond appropriately. In the context of altered abiotic conditions, these signals and responses change and may disrupt a plant's ability to distinguish friend from foe. My current research examines how microbiome structure and function may change in response to elevated temperature. Additionally, I am studying how plant extracellular vesicles, which have known roles in plant-pathogen interactions, may alter microbiome composition.

Kinya Nomura

Kinya Nomura, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

I work with Pseudomonas syringae Type-III effectors, which suppress plant immunity during infection.

Comzit Opachaloemphan, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am broadly interested in how plants respond to changes in environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature. These changes influence plant growth and disease susceptibility. Heavy rain or high air humidity commonly facilitates bacterial infections. My current research is to understand how plants sense and respond to high humidity.

Brad Paasch

Brad Paasch

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on unraveling the molecular mechanisms in which a plant microbiome influences host processes. The role of a microbiome on plant development and innate immunity are of particular interest to my research.

Reza Sohrabi, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on studying plant-microbiota-environment interactions under biotic and abiotic stresses. Using a gnotobiotic plant growth setup, I am studying mechanisms of microbiota functions in enhancing plant health and growth and evaluating the roles of small molecules from defined microbial communities in mediating host processes.

Shanice Webster, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am interested in how microbes interact with each other in the context of the plant microbiome, with a focus on the mechanistic underpinnings driving pathogen-microbiota interplay during infection. Given the presence of beneficial, neutral and pathogenic microbes on plants, it is important that plants maximize the benefits of useful bacteria and prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacterial species. My research examines changes in the structure and function of the endogenous plant microbiome during pathogenicity, and whether these changes contribute to or cause disease development.

Nan Wu, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which the microbiome is involved in the pathogenesis of bacteria and other pathogens. Additionally, I am interested in constructing synthetic microbial communities to enhance plant disease resistance across various environments.

Chi Kuan

Ph.D. Student

I am intrigued by the mechanisms of how plants memorize environmental stress. My ongoing research primarily investigates the regulation of plant immune responses by biological condensates with temperature fluctuations. By exploring this relationship, I aim to enhance our understanding of how plants adapt and safeguard themselves in the face of climate change.

Runlong Dong

Ph.D. Student

I am broadly interested in how plants sense and respond to environmental cues such as temperature and pH. It has been shown that acidification or alkalinization could affect plant immune response and microbial colonization. My research aims to reveal the molecular mechanism of how changing pH could impact plants and their interactions with microbes. 

Paula Collado Cordon

Ph.D. Student

In order to face a future overshadowed by anthropogenically-driven climate change, it is imperative to understand how plants perceive and defend against multiple abiotic and biotic stresses. Climate change brings with it increasing incidence of drought and flooding, both of which can concomitantly contribute to increased soil salinity. Salt stress can profoundly influence the effectiveness of plant immune responses, but molecular mechanisms responsible for this defense suppression are scarce. I am interested in unraveling the interplay between biotic and abiotic stress pathways, particularly how salt stress modulates plant-microbe interactions.

Rose Kithan

Ph.D. Student

Microbial colonization can offer significant benefits to the overall health of a host plant. However, our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms underlying microbial assembly, activity, and recruitment is limited. To harness the power of colonization by beneficial microbial communities in agriculture, we must obtain a holistic understanding of the interactions that occur between the host plant and colonizing microbes. To that end, I’m interested in studying the mechanisms by which plants control the quantity and content of the leaf microbiota, as well as how microbe-microbe interactions further influence community assembly.

Adam Seroka

Ph.D. Student

My research focuses on the interaction between Pseudomonas syringae  pv. DC3000 and Arabidopsis thaliana and how local infection and  activation of defense systemically disrupts plant growth and movements. By studying the interconnected nature between plant  pathogens, defense, and development, we can gain a broader insight  into the molecular mechanisms that regulate plant behavior.

Julian Liber

Ph.D. Student

Eukaryotic microbes, especially yeasts, are abundant and persistent members of leaf microbial communities. My research aims to use diverse phyllosphere yeasts to understand the assembly of beneficial or detrimental microbial communities and create plant-microbe systems with enhanced resilience to stress.

Former Members

Previous studies in our lab indicate that plant-microbe interactions are influence by a number of environmental conditions, including temperature and humidity. As average global temperatures increase, our understanding of the connections between elevated temperature and pathogenesis is increasingly important for effective crop management. Within this context, I'm interested in the molecular and cellular "crosstalk" that occurs when plants are simultaneously challenged by pathogen infection and elevated environmental temperature.

Visiting Scholars

Dr. Anne Rea


Austin Chrisley

Glory Gun

Laya Tummala

Lindsay Dial

Mariana Bouchan

Michelle Liang

Social Events

The lab continues its fascination with staring at cameras as a group - Plant Molecular Biology Retreat 2022

Group picture after walk through Duke Gardens - Lab Retreat 2021

Group picture after walk through Duke Gardens - Lab Retreat 2021

Halloween festivities on the 4th floor (2019)

Group picture after ziplining - 2019 He Lab Retreat

MPS 4200 bids a fond farewell to He Lab member Danve Castroverde (2019)

Happy Halloween from the He Lab! (2018)

Enjoying the fall colors in Baker Woodlot at MSU (October 2018)

He Lab Retreat (2018)

First and Second place winners of the first annual He Lab Games at the 2018 He Lab Retreat

Lab Lunch during ICAR in St. Louis (2017)

Spartans Will pose (2017)


The He Lab annual retreat up north to the beautiful Au Sable River for boating, games, fishing, relaxation, and of course, riveting scientific discussions (2014)

Playing some music at Sheng Yang's house (2012)

Lab ski trip to Crystal Mountain (2013)

Another photo from the annual lab retreat (2014)