Meet the Team

Alejandra I. Huerta, PhD    

Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Alejandra Huerta is Assistant Professor in Phytobacteriology at North Carolina State University. Her research goal is to advance our scientific understanding of the interacting components that influence the survival, establishment, and suppression of plant pathogenic bacteria within agricultural systems, and how this impacts plant health and productivity. She believes that understanding the fundamental biology of plants and their pathogens will lead directly to applications. She was born in Michoacán, Mexico and immigrated to Salinas, California the “Salad Bowl of the World” with her immigrant parents. English is her second language, Portuguese her third and and she is a first generation college graduate.

Alejandra is passionate about agriculture, plant disease, and STEM education. She received a Bachelors in Spanish and Portuguese from the University of California in Santa Barbara and a second Bachelor’s in Chemistry from the University of California in Santa Cruz prior to earning her doctoral degree in Plant Pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Postdoctoral Research Scientists

Ying-Yu Liao, PhD    
Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Ying-Yu Liao, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Huerta lab, is passionate about bridging the gap between the benchtop scientific discoveries and public understanding of how these impact societal advancement. Her research mainly focuses on developing management strategies for endemic and emerging bacterial diseases of Capsicum. She is using a combination of applied and molecular techniques to 1) screen pepper germplasm for resistance to Xanthomonas spp. and Pseudomonas spp. on pepper; 2) assess novel anti-bacterial compounds for bacterial disease management in the field, and 3) study bacterial pathogen diversity. Her project’s long-term goal is to reduce economic losses in pepper production caused by foliar bacterial pathogens and promote sustainable, profitable production and environmental stewardship in the community. Besides Capsicum, she also studies plant-microbe interaction between phytobacteria and vegetable crops using RNAseq analysis and other bioinformatics approaches. With the skillset developed in the Huerta lab, Dr. Liao is open to collaboration and extension opportunities to serve the North Carolina Agricultural community.

Dr. Liao is from Taipei, Taiwan (ROC). She finished her Bachelor’s in Agricultural Chemistry at National Taiwan University then moved to the US for her Master’s and Doctorate in Plant Pathology at the University of Florida under Dr. Jones and Dr. Paret’s supervision. Dr. Liao is a native speaker of Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Taiwanese Hakka. She also learned English and Japanese during her professional training. As a Taiwanese, there is no surprise that Dr. Liao is adventurous about food and enjoys learning its historical background. She enjoys connecting with people over some traditional Taiwanese Boba tea.


Katherine D’Amico-Willman, PhD     
Curriculum Vitae Dr. D’Amico-Willman’s webpage: Link

Dr. Katie D’Amico-Willman earned her PhD from the Ohio State University in May 2021 in the Translational Plant Sciences graduate program. For her dissertation research, Katie focused on plant aging and its effect in perennial species using non-infectious bud-failure in almond (Prunus dulcis) as a model system. Prior to completing her PhD, Katie earned a Master’s degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry as part of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration program. As part of this research group, Katie focused on identifying potential non-target impacts of a transgenic American chestnut with enhanced blight resistance. Katie also worked for 3 years as a molecular biologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Cornell University in a Pseudomonas systems biology lab focused on characterizing virulence factors in plant-pathogenic bacteria.

As a postdoctoral scholar in the Huerta Lab, Katie’s research focus is on bacteriophage, which are viruses that infect bacteria. Katie is interested in better understanding the ecology and evolutionary biology underlying the interaction between bacteriophage and host bacteria. To address this, she will focus on the peach (P. persica) – Xanthomonas arboricola pv. pruni (Xap) pathosystem to characterize genetic diversity in both bacteriophage and their associated Xap hosts in an effort to better understand host range and specificity in these viruses.
Outside of research, Katie is active in the NCSU Postdoctoral Association on campus and enjoys hiking, knitting, and spending time with her husband, dog, and two cats.

Graduate Research Assistants

Andrea Gomez Cabrera, Graduate Research Assistant

Andrea’s interests are focused on agricultural sustainability, she strongly believes that plant pathology is the one agricultural field that attempts to assure food security by reducing food waste. She developed an interest in microbiology and disease management when she did her internship at NC State University in a poultry disease lab, where she performed research focused on molecular diagnostics and treatment strategies related to bacterial and to protozoal infections in poultry.

Andrea is from Guayaquil, Ecuador. She finished her bachelor’s in Agricultural Science and Production at Zamorano University, a recognized agricultural university in Latin America. During her last year at Zamorano she had the opportunity to take a plant pathology class which left her with the desire to enforce her knowledge in this branch of agricultural science. Andrea is now a master’s student in the Entomology & Plant Pathology department and the focus of her research project is to get a better understanding of how toxins functions in plant pathogenic bacteria. In the future she looks forward to improving the Agricultural production of her country. In her free time Andrea likes to cook Ecuadorian dishes and share them with her friends, she is a big fan of sunsets and taking pictures of animals and flowers.


Afiq Taufiq, Graduate Research Assistant

Afiq is a graduate student in the Huerta Lab and his research focus is on Xanthomonas vasicola pv. vasculorum (Xvv), causal agent of bacterial leaf streak (BLS) on corn. Specifically, he is investigating how prophage contribute to bacterial virulence and evolution. Outside of research, Afiq also aspires to inspire, educate, and lead youths from Malaysia to new heights in the biological sciences.

Afiq is an international student from Malaysia and has always been in awe with the unknown. While working on his Bachelor’s in Biotechnology and Molecular Biosciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, he enjoyed his coursework and laboratory research in Microbiology. He has experience working on human diseases diagnostics. His passion for plant pathology arose from working with Breanne Kisselstein on the grape powdery mildew pathosystem in the Gadoury Lab at Cornell University.

Gina Zabala, Graduate Research Assistant


Gina is a graduate student working with Dr. Robert Jetton on bacterial wilt of Eucalyptus, caused by the bacterial plant pathogen Ralstona solanacearum. Gina and her work are under the Central America and Mexico Coniferous Resources Cooperative  Organization (Camcore) housed her at North Carolina State University. Gina’s research is focused on adapting small scale pathogenicity screening methods to large scale Eucalyptus production systems in South America. Specifically, she is testing different inoculation techniques to accurately measure the susceptibility of different families of Eucalyptus to this bacterial pathogen. This data will be used to propose management strategies for bacterial wilt in the tropics. Gina is also working on defining the R. solanacearum’s genotypic diversity on Eucalyptus through genomic analysis.

Gina is from Colombia and holds a B.S in Forest Engineering from Universidad del Cauca (Colombia). In Colombia Gina has worked with Smurfit Kappa Colombia for two years, first in the silviculture team and then as a researcher. Her research focuses on  forest pathology. In her free time she likes to spend time with her daughter Alyson. 

Undergraduate Research Assistants


Lab Technicians

Anisa Guedira, Laboratory Technician


Anisa obtained her degree in Environmental Science at UNC Chapel Hill, with a minor in Biology. She joined Huerta Lab in May 2022, with a research focus on Xanthomonas spp. in Pepper, and Ralstonia solanacearum, the causal agent of bacterial wilt, in soil. She became interested in plant-microbial interactions after taking a microbiology and microbial ecology course at UNC and applied to graduate programs in Biochemistry (with a focus on plant systems), Microbial Ecology, and Crop and Soil Science.

Outside of research, Anisa enjoys hiking, going for runs, listening to podcasts, and learning to cook dishes from various parts of the world.

Kimberly Montalban, Laboratory Technician

Kim is currently providing technical support on various projects in the lab. She is characterizing an emerging bacterial disease on sesame, a potential alternative crop to North Carolina. She is also working on expanding our phage collection through isolation, purification, sequencing and hostrange experiments. Kim is lookin forward to applying what she learns in the Huerta Lab to a Ph.D. in the near future. Kim graduated from the Universidad Autonoma de Chapingo with a bachelor’s of science in Crop Protection, this is the leading agricultural program in Mexico. During her undergraduate studies Kim worked on the etiology of tomato wilt in Tepoxcuautla and Puebla, Mexico. She used bioinformatics and genetics to characterize the causal agent of the tomato wilt as  Ralstonia solanacearum. Her long term research goals to apply the kknowledge gained from plant-microbe interactions to improve crop management of bacterial diseases. 

Kim was born in Concord, North Carolina to Mexican immigrant parents. She speaks English, French, and Spanish. Kim is keen on learning from all those around her to learn and develop new approaches to contribute North Carolina’s diverse agricultural production systems. Kim enjoys playing basketball and listening to music in her spare time. She is quite intrepid and enjoys traveling and trying new experiences, like zip-lining

Lab Alumni

Samah (Yaken) Ameen, Masters of Plant Pathology (2019-2021)

Samah’s research interests in agricultural sciences and the development of innovative solutions to plant diseases stemmed from a love of molecular and microbial biology. As an undergraduate research assistant, she developed a passion for biotechnology while engineering the bacterium Paenibacillus glucanolyticus to degrade and convert pulp mill waste to ethanol and butanol. After graduating, she worked with Aspergillus flavus, a fungus that produces aflatoxins, toxic compounds that cause a variety of adverse health effects on both humans and animals (aflatoxicosis). She assessed the effect of two commercially available biological treatments, as alternatives to manage and eradicate mycotoxin producing strains of the fungus

Samah graduated with a master’s and her research focus was to understand the functions and diversity of bacterial toxins deployed by plant pathogenic bacteria. The long-term goal of her research is to develop novel biological treatments to improve agricultural sustainability while reducing environmental damage through precision agriculture. Samah is now working at Baylor College as a laboratory assistant.

Roshni Panwala, Undergraduate Research Assistant (2022-2022)

Roshni is an undergraduate student studying Crop and Soil Sciences and Political Science with a concentration in Crop Biotechnology and Regulatory Policy. She has spent the last two years as an intern in de-regulated trait research within a Soybean Discovery Breeding Program at BASF.  In the Huerta Lab, Roshni wants to gain research experience within Plant Pathology as it relates to Ralstonia strains and their potential bacterial toxins that could be used for further application. In the future, Roshni looks forward to entering Graduate School in Tropical Plant Pathology, specifically in bacterial and fungal diseases of Cocoa or Coffee. In her free time, Roshni likes to be outdoors kayaking and hiking or playing Dungeons and Dragons with her friends. Roshni is now


Heidi Wettign (Summer 2022)

Heidi is an undergraduate student studying Biology at Hollins University with a concentration in plant ecology and microbiology. She spent the 2022 summer working in the lab on Bacteriophage Lytic on Xanthomonas spp. Pathogenic on Pepper. Through her experience in the Huerta lab, Heidi has gained the knowledge and skills to continue working in research settings. Heidi is interested in exploring various laboratory or fieldwork settings while she finishes her bachelor’s degree. Heidi is most interested in research within the fields of microbiology, plant ecology, and native plant conservation. Heidi plans on working in research settings where she will be able to explore these topics more. After attaining her Bachelor of Science in Biology, Heidi wants to attend graduate school to earn her Ph.D. In Heidi’s free time she loves to spend time with her two cats, practice yoga, hike, and bake.

Mark Almazo Rosendo (Summer 2022)

Mark is an early college student earning his Associates of Science degree, and plants to transfer to a four year institution to major in microbiology. He spend the summer of 2022 as an intern through the ASPIRE program at NCSU. In the lab he researched the phenotypic and genetic diversity of Xanthomonas arboricola pv. pruni, a bacterial pathogen of peach, to develop alternative treatment to copper tolerance in the pathogen population. In the Huerta Lab, Mark wants to gain research experience in Plant Pathology. In the future, mark looks forward to entering graduate school to gain skills important in a career in research and extension. In his free time, Mark likes to go shopping, attend art galleries and philanthropic events, try new foods, traveling, and getting manicures with friends.

Howard Jacobs (Summer 2022)

Howard Jacobs is an undergraduate student studying Agriculture through the Associates Program at NCSU. In the Huerta Lab he is studying plant pathogenic Xanthomonas and bacteriophage interactions as an intern through the ASPIRE program at NCSU. He is excited about the possibility of using bacteriophage as a way to treat peach tree leaves that have Bacterial Spot. In highschool, Howard became interested in plant pathology through a horticulture class and when he came to NCSU he wanted a better understanding of the subject. Howard looks forward to applying to a Bachelors program to expand his knowledge and possibly continue his research. In his free time Howard likes to garden with his grandmother who is the reason he is interested in a career with Agriculture.

Peyton Ferguson, Undergraduate Research Assistant (2020)

Peyton is a third-year undergraduate student studying Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology with a minor in Biotechnology. Previously, she had an internship looking at cancer formation in zebrafish and is interested in learning about bacterial pathogen diversity in pepper fields. Peyton hopes to use biotechnology and molecular tools to look at invasive plant diseases and eventually pursue a graduate degree in Biotechnology. In her free time, Peyton likes to cook and hike around the Raleigh area.


Amanda DeLucia, Undergraduate Research Assistant (2019-2020)

Amanda is in her fourth year at NC State studying Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Before entering the Huerta Lab, Amanda studied the usage of nanoparticles and their effect on disease progression of the fungal pathogen Fusarium wilt in multiple crop varieties including eggplant, tomato, basil, and watermelon.  In the Huerta Lab, she has helped develop the lab’s collection of Pseudomonas syringae. She also has participated in competition experiments between Pseudomonas syringae and Xanthomonas vesicatoria in pepper plants.She has been passionate about agriculture and plant health well before arriving at NC State, but the Huerta Lab has significantly helped that passion grow. Amanda is hoping to continue following her passions for Agriculture by teaching it to the next generation at the secondary level. She intends on attending graduate school to attain her Master of Education in Agricultural Curriculum and Instruction. When she’s not devoting her time to science, you can find her baking bread, creating resin crafts with pressed flowers, or listening to her favorite comedians.