Jenna Hershberger

Welcome! My name is Jenna and I’m a Plant Breeding and Genetics Ph.D. candidate in Mike Gore’s lab at Cornell University. I study the genetics, genomics, and transcriptomics of sweet corn nutritional quality traits and develop near-infrared spectroscopy-based approaches and analysis tools for the phenotyping of quality traits in cassava. Find out more about my current and past research projects on my research page.

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Horticulture and a minor in African Studies in 2016. Throughout my time at UW-Madison, I worked with Dr. Phil Simon in the USDA-ARS Carrot Genetics group as an undergraduate research assistant. Parallel to my work in horticulture, I studied Swahili and spent a semester abroad in Kenya with a MSID, a program focused on international development. I’ve enjoyed having these interests intersect in my graduate work and plan to continue pursuing both as I move forward.

I am passionate about food security and envision a world in which appropriate, nutrient-dense cultivars are in the hands of smallholder farmers. I want to use my career to empower plant breeders both in the United States and abroad to efficiently create improved plant varieties through the development of user-friendly tools and effective breeding strategies. By focusing at the intersection of operations research, nutritional genomics, and informatics, I believe that I can make a substantial contribution towards these goals, but it is only through strong collaborations with experts in these fields and with breeding program partners in CGIAR and national agricultural research systems (NARS) that true progress will be made.

When I’m not coding or thinking about science, I do a lot of quilting and baking and am thoroughly enjoying the products of my sourdough starter through this stay at home season.


I am interested in international agriculture and rural development with a focus on breeding for improved nutritional quality. I want to empower resource-limited plant breeding programs through the development and deployment of appropriate and user-friendly tools for data capture, storage, and reproducible analyses.

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The PhenoApps project is focused on the development of Android apps for the efficient collection of plant phenotypes. Our open-source apps are available for free on Google Play and the source code can be found on GitHub. Throughout the project, I have collaborated closely with Nextgen Cassava to explore the use of low-cost near-infrared spectrometers for quality trait prediction in fresh cassava roots. This work led to the creation of a flexible spectral data analysis pipeline in the form of an R package (waves, available on CRAN) and Cassavabase GUI tool. Both are described in our preprint on bioRxiv. Our team has also developed an Android app to improve spectrometer workflows for a breeding program context. This project is made possible by NSF-BREAD IOS-1543958.

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Peeking through corn

Sweet corn nutritional quality

In 2019, I was awarded a USDA NIFA AFRI EWD Predoctoral fellowship titled Integrating transcriptomics for the improvement of genetic dissection and prediction of provitamin A and vitamin E in fresh sweet corn kernels. Last summer, I grew out a panel of diverse sweet corn inbred lines and harvested fresh kernels for RNA-seq. RNA has been extracted and we're now analyzing the sequences to study the control of carotenoid and tocochromanol traits through TWAS and transcriptome prediction.

Carrot cages
Purple carrot
Carrot flower

Carrot breeding and genetics

During my time in the Simon Lab at UW-Madison, I worked on the first iteration of the USDA NIFA OREI Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture project. I was involved in every stage of the carrot breeding program, from planting and cage building for fly pollination to DNA extraction, HPLC prep, and tissue culture, and loved every part of it. It's safe to say that my experience with the carrot group inspired me to pursue a graduate education in plant breeding and genetics. My family likes to joke that the true start of my career was my (single line) speaking part in a BigTen Network special on breeding carrots for color and flavor. Watch the video below and judge for yourself! ⇩