Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
Research Associate, Cornell Institute for Biotechnology,
Project Director, Breeding Insight,
Project Associate-Director, BI OnRamp,
Moira Jane Sheehan is a Research Associate in the Cornell Institute for Biotechnology within the Research Division and an Adjunct Professor in the Plant Breeding and Genetics section of the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS). She is the Director of the Breeding Insight (BI) program at Cornell and co-director of BI OnRamp at NC State University. Breeding Insight, and its sister program BI OnRamp, have a common mission to bring genomic and phenomics tools and software solutions to ARS breeders, particularly those breeding specialty crops or animals. Breeding Insight was created in 2018 to aid technology adoption and expand ARS breeding program capabilities. In 2021, BI was expanded from the first 6 pilot species (alfalfa, blueberry, sweetpotato, rainbow trout and North American Atlantic salmon) with the addition of 7 additional species (cranberry, cucumber, lettuce, honeybee, lettuce, oat, and pecan). BI OnRamp was initiated in 2021 to allow more ARS breeding programs access to BI tools, technologies, methodologies, and software. BI OnRamp currently serves 4 species (citrus, cotton, soybean and sugarcane). Breeding Insight and BI OnRamp are both USDA-ARS funded initiatives that together serve 17 different plant and animal species.
Before coming to Cornell, Moira worked for 9 years at Nature Source Improved Plants as Research Scientist and Project Manager. In that time, she worked with a wide array of different crops, including potato, tea, and soybean, helping seed companies and vertically integrated food companies optimized their breeding pipelines and implement genomic selection.
She received her PhD in Plant Biology from Cornell in 2006.
Awards & Scholarships
- USDA Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2006-2009
- Winner of an international essay contest (awarded a monthly blog column in Nature Magazine NatureJobs section dedicated to postdoctoral life), 2007
- University of Missouri, Columbia Chromosome Painting Workshop Scholarship, 2006
- Maize Genetics Conference Travel Award, 2004
- Cornell University Short-term Research Fellowship, 2004
- Conference Travel Grant awards, 2002-2003
- US Department of Education GAANN Fellowship, 2003
- Cornell University Plant Biology Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, 2001
- School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Breeding and Genetics Seminar Chair (AY 2021-2022)
- School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Breeding and Genetics Graduate Admissions Committee member (AY 2021-2022)
- PhD in Plant Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, U.S.A., 2000-2006
- BSc in Biology, Minor in Chemistry, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, U.S.A., 1993-1997
- Research Scientist & Project Manager, Nature Source Improved Plants, Ithaca, U.S.A., 2010-2018
- Postdoctoral Researcher, Cornell University, Ithaca, U.S.A., 2009-2010
- USDA Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University, Ithaca, U.S.A., 2006-2009
- Research Technician, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, U.S.A, 1993-2000
Breeding Insight (BI)
Role: Director | Funded by USDA Agricultural Research Service (2019-2024)
Breeding of specialty crops and animals has lagged behind the major crops and livestock, despite the fact that these specialty species together have equal economic value to the major crops and provide critical nutrition and variety to human diets. One of the avenues for improving this situation is to accelerate breeding efforts by integrating the use of phenomics (trait analysis) with genomics and natural variation to increase the rate of genetic gain and to create novel healthy, nutritious, and sustainable specialty crops and animals. There are numerous challenges facing specialty crops, which hamper technology adoption and limit program efficiency. Breeding Insight is a new USDA-ARS initiative started in 2018 is creating new opportunities for ARS specialty breeders to assimilate tools, technologies (including software), and methods into their programs, allowing genomic insight to be used routinely in breeding. In the pilot phase, Breeding Insight supported breeding for grape, blueberry, sweetpotato, alfalfa, and rainbow trout, and North American Atlantic salmon. In 2021, BI was expanded to support ARS breeding programs of 7 additional species (cranberry, cucumber, lettuce, honeybee, lettuce, oat, and pecan). In future growth phases, BI (and its sister group, BI OnRamp) are expected to expand even further to support breeding programs of ~50 specialty crops, all national germplasm repositories for pre-breeding, ~15 specialty animals and 30 natural resource species across the US.
Breeding Insight OnRamp (BI OnRamp)
Role: Associate-Director | Funded by USDA Agricultural Research Service (2021-2023)
Breeding Insight OnRamp was founded in 2021 in response to the growing need for support and time to migrate historical data from decades-long breeding programs, and to allow public breeding efforts in major crops (eg., cotton and soybean) to benefit from BI technologies and services. Currently, BI OnRamp supports 4 ARS breeding programs in the southeastern area of the US: citrus, cotton, soybean, and sugarcane. In time, OnRamp is expected to expand to support more ARS geographic areas and species. BI OnRamp is directed by Dr. Amanda Hulse-Kemp out of North Carolina State University and assisted by Dr. Sheehan. BI and BI OnRamp are sister groups that work closely together on a regular basis with the same software infrastructure and mandates.
Dyrszka E, Sheehan M, Tanksley S, Casa A, Petiard V, Coque M, Mirleau-Thebaud V, Bascouert S, Gentou F, Lespinasse D, Cottet O (2012). Genetic Molecular tools for exploitation of genetic resource in wild species. Proceedings of the international sunflower conference, Mar del Plata, Argentina:101-105.
Ersoz ES, Wright MH, Pangilinan JL, Sheehan MJ, Tobias C, Casler MD, Buckler ES,Costich DE (2012). SNP discovery with EST and NextGen sequencing in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). PLoS One 7(9):e44112
Sheehan MJ, Pawlowski WP (2012). Imaging chromosome dynamics in meiosis in plants. Methods in Enzymology 505:125–143.
Costich DE, Friebe B, Sheehan MJ, Casler MD, Buckler ES (2010). Genome‐size Variation in Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): Flow Cytometry and Cytology Reveal Rampant Aneuploidy. The Plant Genome 3(3):130-114.
Sheehan MJ, Pawlowski WP (2009). Live imaging of rapid chromosome movements in meiotic prophase I in maize. PNAS 106:20989–20994.
Pawlowski WP, Sheehan MJ, and Ronceret A (2007). In the beginning: the initiation of meiosis. BioEssays 29:511-514.
Sheehan MJ, Kennedy LM, Costich DE, Muzynski M, Brutnell TP (2007). Subfunctionalization of PhyB1 and PhyB2 in the control of seedling and mature plant traits in maize. Plant Journal 49:338-353.
Sawers RJ, Sheehan MJ, Brutnell TP (2005). Cereal phytochromes: targets of selection, targets for manipulation? Trends in Plant Science 10: 138-143.
Sheehan MJ, Farmer P, Brutnell TP (2004). Structure and expression of maize phytochrome family homeologs. Genetics 167: 1395-1405.
Xu B, Sheehan MJ, Timko MP (2004). Differential induction of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) gene family members in transgenic tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L. cv. Bright Yellow 2) cell suspensions by methyl-jasmonate treatment. Plant Growth Reg 44 (2):101-116
Wang J, Sheehan M, Brookman H, Timko MP (2000). Characterization of cDNAs differentially expressed in roots of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum cv Burley 21) during the early stages of alkaloid biosynthesis. Plant Science 158:19-32.
Wang J, Sheehan M, Timko MP (2000). Differential Expression of two members of the nuclear gene family encoding Arginine Decarboxylase in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L). J. Plant Biochem and Biotechnology 9:57-65.
Book chapters and reports
Mejia-Guerra MK, Zhao D, Sheehan MJ (2021) Genomic Resources for Breeding in Alfalfa: Availability, Utility, and Adoption. In: Yu LX., Kole C. (eds) The Alfalfa Genome. Compendium of Plant Genomes. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-74466-3_11
Sheehan MJ, Dawe RK, Pawlowski WP (2013). Live imaging of chromosome dynamics. Chapter 8 in WP Pawlowski, M Grelon, and S Armstrong (eds.) Plant Meiosis: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 990, 91-104.
Ronceret A, Sheehan, MJ, Pawlowski WP (2007). Chromosome dynamics in meiosis. Chapter 6 in D.P.S. Verma and Z. Hong (eds.) Plant Cell Monographs (9): Cell Division Control in Plants. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany, p. 103-124.
- ASA, CSSA and SSSA Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, U.S.A., Invited speaker, 2021
- Cornell SIPS Horticulture Seminar, Ithaca, U.S.A., 2021
- EUCARPIA General Congress (online), Keynote, 2021
- National Plant Breeder Association Annual Meeting (online), 2021
- Excellence in Breeding Polyploid Webinar (online), 2021
- Citrus Research and Development Foundation (online), Invited speaker, 2021
- Excellence in Breeding Webinar (online), 2020
- USDA ARS Inform and Engage Seminar (online), 2020
- AgBioData Webinar (online), Invited speaker, 2020
- Software for Breeding Symposium, Tokyo, Japan, Invited speaker, 2019
- National Grape Research Alliance, Geneva, U.S.A., Invited speaker, 2019
- Plant and Animal Genome, San Diego, U.S.A., 2019
- VitisGen2 Annual Meeting, San Diego, U.S.A., Invited speaker, 2019
103 CALS Surge Facility
525 Tower Rd
Ithaca, NY 14853
mjs224 [at] cornell.edu
Moira in the news
- School of Integrative Plant Science
- Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
- Cornell AgriTech
- School of Integrative Plant Science
- Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section