Three New Faculty in Entomology and Plant Pathology Mark Halfway Point in First Semester

Bode Olukolu

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It’s been a whirlwind start for three new faculty members in the University of Tennessee Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. The department welcomed the new researchers in late 2017 and January 2018, and they are midway through their first semester.

Bode Olukolu (shown top left) joined the department in January as an assistant professor studying the genetics and genomics of plant/plant-microbe interactions. He is working to develop tools that can lead to better understanding of genome structure and function. Prior to his appointment at UT, he worked for two years as a research assistant professor developing genetic and genomic tools for sweet potato improvement at North Carolina State University. As a post-doctoral research scientist, Olukolu undertook studies to identify genetic factors underlying quantitative disease resistance in maize, including understanding the evolution and domestication of maize from its wild ancestor, teosinte. Olukolu also participated in mapping resistance to chestnut blight and root rot diseases.

Olukolu obtained his Ph.D. from Clemson University, where his research entailed dissecting the genetics of chilling requirement and dormancy bud break in apricot. He also conducted research on the genetics and breeding of plantains and bananas, as well as on the genetic diversity of Bambara groundnut at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which is headquartered in Oyo State, Nigeria. He is a native of Lagos, Nigeria.

Zach Hansen (center left) also joined the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in January as an assistant professor and specialty crops pathology extension specialist. Previously he served as a post-doctoral associate at Cornell University in the laboratory of Sarah Pethybridge, where he worked on a fungal disease of table beet called Cercospora leaf spot. He received his Ph.D. in plant pathology at Cornell University where he worked on the economically important disease of potato and tomato called late blight. He received his B.A. and M.S. degrees from Clemson University, where he worked on alternatives to chemical soil fumigation for vegetable disease management. Hansen has also spent time in private industry as an arborist for Bartlett Tree Experts, and a plant pathologist for Zymtronix Catalytic Systems Inc., where he worked on a novel approach to plant disease management using enzymes. 

At UT, Hansen will support Tennessee’s specialty crops industry through extension education and applied plant pathology research. Hansen is originally from Wilmington, New York ― near Lake Placid ― and currently resides in Maryville.

Although she is not new to the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, having served since 2011 as a research assistant professor, Denita Hadziabdic (bottom left) was welcomed by the department as an assistant professor in November 2017. Her research focuses on population genetics of fungal plant pathogens, population biology, forest health, forest pathology, and diversity and conservation efforts principally for U.S. native plants and trees. At UT, her recent research has focused on understanding host-pathogen-vector interactions within members of the Thousand Cankers Disease (TCD) complex. Within this complex, the fungus, Geosmithia morbida, is vectored by the walnut twig beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis, and has been associated with disease outbreaks in walnut trees. The unique relationship of the host-pathogen-vector complex can result in significant evolutionary pressure for the pathogen, thus shaping the genome of G. morbida in ways that have not yet been documented in fungi. Hadziabdic is currently investigating a genome-enabled approach focused on G. morbida that will provide a better understanding of the biology of the pathogen involved in TCD and identify candidate genes and functions required for pathogenesis.

Hadziabdic also intends to devote research and teaching efforts to preserve biodiversity in North American forests and to limit the impact of forest diseases by providing an understanding of the evolutionary dynamics, diversity and disease ecology of environmentally, socially and economically significant tree species. Her lab is also involved in a number of conservation genetics projects focused on endangered and endemic plants in Ghana, Africa. Although Hadziabdic obtained her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the U.S., she is a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia. 

DeWayne Shoemaker, EPP department head, is excited to welcome the new faculty. “We are extremely excited to have all three young faculty join our department. They each bring unique expertise that will strengthen our abilities to accomplish our mission, and that of the Institute, to improve the lives of all the people in Tennessee and across the world.”

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture celebrates 50 years of excellence in providing Real. Life. Solutions. through teaching, discovery and service.​.



Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications, 615-835-4570,


Download higher resolution images of Bode Olukolu, Zach Hansen or Denita Hadziabdic.
All images courtesy UTIA.​