Scientists & Staff

Shaneka Lawson, PhD

Shaneka Lawson

Research Plant Physiologist
Purdue University, 715 W State Street
West Lafayette, IN, 47907
Phone: 765-808-8188

Contact Shaneka Lawson

Current Research

The major objectives of the individual's current research projects include:

1) Evaluating genetic diversity within black walnut and Persian walnut populations using bioinformatics techniques;
2) Investigating differential expression of genes observed in fine hardwood responses to abiotic stress conditions;
3) Comparing individual samples of figured wood with those collected from non-figured Acacia koa using bioinformatics methodologies and using data obtained from the study to inform future research on fine hardwood species in the Central Hardwoods Region (CHR);
4) Determining soil suitability indices for black walnut and Northern Red oak of known genotypes.

Research Interests

My research interests are focused on comparative analysis of differentially expressed genes related to abiotic stress tolerance and wood formation in tropical hardwood and Central Hardwoods Region forest tree populations. My methodologies involve use of in silica, ex vitro, and molecular-based data acquisition aided by field experimentation.

Past Research

Previous research efforts in this field involved three distinct topics:

  • Overexpression of wax formation and salt tolerance genes in poplar to increase salt tolerance and improve water-use efficiency;
  • Manipulation of stomatal density in poplar to improve water-use efficiency;
  • Engineering drought tolerance in poplar.

Prior to a career in forestry, my research efforts were based on human genetics and neuroscience. The topics of interest consisted primarily of human disease conditions. I gained experience working with a variety of model research organisms.

Selected research topics are listed below:

  • Characterization of genes affecting brain neuronal development using embryonic dissections for in situ hybridization experiments in G. gallus and M. musculus;
  • Generation of mutants in D. rerio by artificial in vitro fertilization to study Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone syndrome);
  • Use of whole-mount in situ hybridization and morpholino injections of M. musculus and D. rerio to study Bardet-Biedl Syndrome;
  • In silico analysis of a homologue of the human glaucome gene myocilin when microinjected into C. elegans.

While these research topics are highly divergent from my current work, the techniques, qualitative and quantitative skills, and my overall work ethic have served as a solid foundation for my current research.

PUBLICATIONS (from past research)

  • Gerdes JM, Zaghloul NA, Leitch CC, Lawson SS, Mitsuma N, Tan PL, Menezes LF, Hill J, Kato M, Beachy PA, Beales PL, Germino GG, Fisher S, and Katsanis N. 2007. Disruption of the basal body compromises proteasomal function and perturbs intracellular Wnt response. Nature Genetics39:1350-1360.
  • Badano JL, Leitch CC, Ansley SA, May-Simera H, Lawson SS, Lewis RA, Beales PL, Dietz HC, Fisher S, and Katsanis N. 2006. Dissection of epistasis in oligogenic Bardet-Biedl syndrome. Nature439:326-330.

DOI's from publications where my technical assistance was acknowledged but I did not participate in the writing of the manuscript.



Lawson, Shaneka S. 2016. Investigation of the effect of AtWIN1/SHN1 overexpression on poplar trees. Research Journal of Botany. 12(1): 1-13. Lawson, Shaneka S.; Michler, Charles H. 2014. Overexpression of AtSTO1 leads to improved salt tolerance in Populus tremula × P. alba. Transgenic Research. [15 June 2014]. Lawson, Shaneka S.; Pijut, Paula M.; Michler, Charles H. 2014. Comparison of arabidopsis stomatal density mutants indicates variation in water stress responses and potential epistatic effects. Journal of Plant Biology. 57(3): 162-173.

Why This Research is Important

The importance of my work with Central Hardwoods Region fine hardwood species:

Although considerable knowledge exists about the preferential growth of many walnut species, few studies have used bioinformatics to evaluate the role of pollen flow, gene expression, and genotype on future tree generations. As walnut are rarely mature before 80 years of age, methods to encourage the optimal growth of select trees early in the life cycle are vital to ensure the best return on time invested. As demands for fine hardwood logs and veneers continue to escalate, greater pressures are placed on those scientists dedicated to providing the best estimates for the productivity of a plantation or seed orchard. Forestry professionals and private landowners need to be provided with the latest research facts to make informed decisions regarding planted or to-be planted trees. The scientist works on a variety of topics related to responses of specific genotypes to abiotic and biotic stress along with site suitability. When research data regarding these topics are combined, information regarding long-term performances of sites and trees can be delivered directly to the public as products.

The importance of my work with tropical hardwoods:

Acacia koa A. Gray (koa) is a tree species endemic to all of the islands within the Hawaiian archipelago but only exists in populations of sufficient size to be called forests on Hawai'i, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. Free-range cattle grazing and over-harvesting combined with invasive grasses have severely crippled koa forests to a point where populations are continuing to decline despite several small-scale restoration efforts. Koa populations also vary along elevational transects thus attempts to determine which genetic components allow specific trees to survive conditions intolerable to other members of the species are urgently needed. Climate change, invasive species (both flora and fauna), and over-harvesting have combined to severely impact koa populations. Additional research is desperately needed for the sake of the tree species, the endangered animals that depend on these trees for survival, and the native islanders that depend on the highly-prized, figured wood for their livelihood.



  • Purdue University, Ph.D. Molecular Tree Physiology (Genetics) , 2011
  • Johns Hopkins University, M.S. Biotechnology (Biodefense), 2006
  • Morgan State University, B.S. Biological Sciences (Major(s): Biology/Chemistry Minor(s): English/Spanish), 2001

Professional Experience

  • Research Plant Physiologist, USDA Forest Service @ Purdue University 2011 - Current
  • Graduate Research Assistant / Teaching Assistant, Purdue University 2007 - 2011
  • Laboratory Manager, Johns Hopkins University 2006 - 2007
  • Laboratory Manager, Johns Hopkins University 2002 - 2006
  • Laboratory Technician, Morgan State University 2000 - 2002

Professional Organizations

  • Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (2011 - Current)
  • American Society for Plant Biology (ASPB) (2009 - Current)
  • Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) (2007 - Current)
  • Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB) (2010 - 2013)
  • American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) (1999 - 2003)
  • Society of Toxicology (SOT) (1999 - 2003)

Awards & Recognition

  • Extension - Community Outreach, 2019 Alpha Kappa Alpha Soror of the Year Nominee - Nominees are chosen based on dedication to community service efforts and continued support of programming designed to benefit the physical and mental health of community members.
  • Research - Service, 2018 USDA FS Northern Research Station Inspiring Women's Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award Nominee - Nominees are selected based on the volume and impacts of their research efforts over the course of the year.
  • Extension - Diversity and Inclusion, 2018 Purdue College of Agriculture Unsung Diversity Hero Award - Nominees are selected based on efforts within the university and local community to improve educational and experiential learning opportunities for underserved populations.
  • Research - Impact, 2017 Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships (EVPRP) Annual Report Life-Ology magazine Featured Researcher - Nominees are selected purely on the nature of their research and estimated interest by the academic and local science community.
  • Extension - Service, 2017 Alpha Kappa Alpha Central Region Environmental Ownership Award Nominee - Nominees are selected purely on the creation and implementation of environmental targets designed to benefit the local community as a whole.
  • Extension - Diversity and Inclusion, 2017 Peggy Lewis LeCompte Journalism Award Nominee - Nominees are selected based upon their use of electronic and print media to dissemination historical and scientific information regarding minority groups, of which many are minority females.
  • Extension - Community Outreach, 2016 USDA FS Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award - Nominees are selected based on total hours (500+) in a 12-month period (Jan-Dec) spent volunteering in the community, with charities, and at summer programs that benefit of youth and underserved groups.
  • Research - Impact, 2016 Purdue University Highlighted "Research at Purdue" Scientist - Scientists are selected based upon the interest by peers in their research topic and the uniqueness of the methods in achieving research results.
  • Research - Impact, 2016 Journal of Forestry Research Citation Award - Awardees win based on the volume of downloads by students and scientists of research manuscripts published in the journal for the month.
  • Extension - Community Outreach, 2015 USDA FS Silver Presidential Volunteer Service Award - Nominees are selected based on total hours (250+) in a 12-mo period (Jan-Dec) spent volunteering in the community, with charities, and at summer programs that benefit of youth and underserved groups.
  • Extension - Community Outreach, 2015 USDA FS Outstanding Woman Award for Outreach - Nominees are selected from among all Northern Research Station employees for work done by female scientists in the field of mentoring and outreach to younger scientists and peers.
  • Extension - Diversity and Inclusion, 2014 USDA FS Northern Research Station Director's Award for Multicultural Achievement - Nominees are awarded based upon the quality and quantity of research programs created and executed over the course of a year in multicultural communities.

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

imbedded with text S.S. Lawson -

Assessing stable isotopes in koa trees may aid in reforestation efforts

Year: 2017

Stable isotopes in trees can be used to help determine overall tree health, nutrient levels, and optimal locations for trees to thrive. Forest Service scientists measured isotopes in koa leaves to identify the best sites for reforestation efforts on the island of Hawai’i.

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Unraveling the mystery of figured wood in koa hardwood

Year: 2017

Acacia koa (koa), a tropical hardwood only found in the Hawaiian Archipelago, is highly valued for its beautiful figured (with special textures or patterns) wood. The underlying factors determining amount and quality of figuring is not known. Forest Service scientists are just beginning research to solve the mystery.

Last modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2019