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Hannah McMillan, Ph.D.

NSF PRFB Postdoctoral Fellow

Duke University | He Lab

Department of Biology

Howard Hughes Medical Institute


Climate models predict global temperature increases of 1-5°C over the next 60 years, which will have detrimental effects on crop performance (USGCRP, 2017) and will lead to changes in microbial community composition, function, and host interactions. To feed a growing global population, innovative new agricultural methods must be developed to improve plant stress tolerance and crop yield.

In my future lab, I hope to leverage my previous experience ranging broadly from biochemistry and molecular biology to genomics and bioinformatics to address some of today’s most pressing questions, including: What makes some microbes pathogenic and others beneficial? What role do microbiota play in preventing plant disease outbreaks or, alternatively, serving as a reservoir for emerging pathogens? How do “plant-microbiome-environment” triangular interactions change under environmental conditions associated with a warming climate?

A cornerstone of my lab’s success in beginning to address these questions will be my commitment to fostering an inclusive, welcoming environment for all members and collaborators of my lab including women and researchers from historically disenfranchised backgrounds. I have demonstrated my commitment to diversity and inclusion through a variety of outreach and leadership roles, and I will continue to promote equity by developing a lab code of conduct for my group that emphasizes my mission to promote all members of the lab. To ensure that this document continues to reflect the values and meet the needs of all lab members, I will survey the lab annually to assess lab climate and ask for feedback and additions to our code of conduct. In this safe space, we will celebrate and build on each other’s ideas to produce outstanding science.

To learn more about my current and previous work, visit the other tabs, find me on social media, or download my CV.


Graduate Research:

All Gram-negative bacteria release vesicles. In mammalian systems, these vesicles contain virulence factors, toxins, and more that can directly impact host immune responses. My graduate work uncovered new features of how vesicles interact with plants and showed that vesicles from a plant pathogen and a plant beneficial bacterium induce plant immune responses that protect against future bacterial and oomycete challenge in Arabidopsis and tomato.

Postdoctoral NSF PRFB Research:

Stressors such as high temperature, drought, and salt can lead to reduced crop yields and billions of dollars of crop loss each year. One emerging method to meet these goals and increase crop performance in a warming climate is through design and application of climate-selected microbial communities; however, we currently have little basic understanding of how existing microbial communities (microbiomes) influence plant performance at elevated temperature. My postdoctoral work  investigates how microbial communities change inside or on the surface of a plant at elevated temperature, and the impact those changes have on plant health.


Teachers are constantly challenged to adapt the way they describe and present material to meet the needs of their students. This is necessary both to improve student learning and also increase engagement with the topics. As the outreach coordinator for my department, I had the chance to practice this skill with elementary age children - a very curious audience! Applying lessons learned from this experience, my goal is always to improve student engagement and incite curiosity at the undergraduate and graduate levels to improve overall student learning.


We all learn more when we work with those who have experience different from our own. Whether its through my teaching, research collaborations, within my own lab, or through service and outreach, I always try to seek out differing opinions and expertise. My friends and colleagues have contributed immensely to my understanding and appreciation for diversity in the classroom and in the workplace, and I am excited to continue working to increase diversity in science throughout my career.


My scientific training would feel incomplete without incorporating ample service opportunities. I have found service both within and outside my scientific discipline to be incredibly rewarding. A few of these volunteer activities include leading science outreach, organizing events to serve the Durham community, planning symposia, and serving as a student ambassador for programs offered through the Duke Graduate School.

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