Principal Investigator

Lena Maria Mueller (Müller), PhD

Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor
Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory

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I am a plant molecular biologist fascinated by cell-cell signaling and species interactions.

After graduating from the University of Tübingen (Germany) with a degree in Biology, I obtained my PhD from the University of Zurich (Switzerland). I studied cell-cell communication mechanisms between male and female gametophytes in the plant genus Arabidopsis. This spiked my interest in intercellular communication, and I moved on to conduct my postdoctoral research with Maria Harrison at the Boyce Thompson Institute/Cornell (Ithaca, NY). There I started to study another aspect of cellular communication: peptide signaling in the context of arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, a research area that we continue to pursue in the PlantMycoLab.

In my free time, I enjoy traveling, the outdoors, food, and … also plants.


Sagar Bashyal

Graduate student


Sagar is a PhD student in the Biological Science program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Sagar’s interest in plant molecular research began with his undergraduate degree in Biotechnology, which he completed at Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (AKTU, India) in 2018. Following his undergraduate education, Sagar pursued a master’s degree in Plant Science from the University of Bonn, Germany, completed in January 2021. His master’s thesis, conducted at the Technical University of Munich, Germany in the lab of Dr. Caroline Gutjahr (current Max Planck Institute of Plant Physiology), revolved around investigating the molecular mechanisms of lipid transfer between plants and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, a topic that continues to inspire his ongoing research into plant-microbe interactions.

Prior to his PhD studies, Sagar acquired a broad range of research experience. In 2021, he contributed to the Evolutionary Microbiology lab of Dr. Bart Thomma as a research assistant at the University of Cologne, Germany, and also served as a junior research and development scientist at Ambiatec Biosolutions, Germany. These roles allowed him to further develop his research skills and deepen his knowledge in multiple fields.

Sagar joined Mueller Lab in January 2022. Now, Sagar focuses on unraveling the role of CLE-CLAVATA signaling during arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, contributing to our understanding of plant-microbe interactions at a molecular level.

Outside of the lab, Sagar enjoys soccer, food, gardening, and hiking (if not sleeping).


Mikayla Kappes

Research Assistant II

Mikayla Kappes received her BA degree in Biology and Spanish from Williams College. While at Williams, she worked as a student researcher studying eco-evolutionary dynamics through Trinidadian guppies, and she did a thesis documenting pollination network interactions in New England. Before returning for her final year of undergrad, Kappes worked in horticulture developing Sonoran Desert gardens in Baja California Sur. While in Baja, she fell in love with working with plants. Kappes began at Salk joining the Busch lab in the fall of ’22 as part of the greenhouse phenotyping team working with all HPI’s crops of interest. In the spring of ‘24, Kappes joined the Mueller lab where she is super excited to dive into studying the molecular mechanisms behind arbuscular mycorrhiza symbiosis. In her free time, Mikayla loves exploring new ways to be active and outside, spending time with her family, friends, and dogs, playing soccer, studying languages, beach time, and all things music related (especially dancing and singing)!


Diana Rodriguez García

Postdoctoral Fellow

Diana obtained her BA degree in Biology from Havana University, Cuba. She completed her PhD in Plant Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Buenos Aires with her research conducted at Leloir Institute Foundation. During her PhD she investigated the involvement of cysteine endopeptidases (AtCEPs) in controlling root hair polar growth through extensin-processing and insolubilization at the cell wall in Arabidopsis thaliana. She joined Mueller lab in May 2024 to research the molecular mechanisms during arbuscular mycorrhiza symbiosis. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, reading, watching movies, hiking, biking, and coffee.

Yeri Torres Ascurra

Postdoctoral Fellow

After graduating from the National University of San Marcos (Peru) with a degree in Biology, Genetics and Biotechnology, Yeri pursued her Master’s degree in Molecular Biology at the same institution. In 2017, she was awarded a scholarship for doctoral studies abroad. Consequently, in 2018, she moved to the Netherlands to commence her PhD at the Laboratory of Plant Breeding at Wageningen University. There, she studied the interaction of plants and pathogens, specifically the identification of a cell surface receptor in potatoes that recognizes an immunogenic pattern of the oomycete Phytophthora infestans. In April 2024, she joined the Müller Lab, where she will delve into another fascinating aspect of plant-microbes interaction, the CLAVATA signaling during AM symbiosis. In her free time, she enjoys spending quality time with her dogs, baking, and watching TV series.

Alumni (University of Miami lab)

Chandan Kumar Gautam, PhD

(now: Postdoc at North Dakota State University)

Johnathan Orosz

(now: PhD student at South Dakota State University)

Suzanne Matsuura

Joseph Balem

(class of ‘24)

Hasani Everett

(class of ‘23. Now: PhD student, Rice University)

Erica Lin

(class of ‘24)

Leah Mohnkern

(class of ‘24)