The Team

Current group members and Alumni of the Designer Glycans lab

Dr. Cătălin Voiniciuc – Associate Professor

Since 2022.03 – Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida
2019.01 – 2022.02 – Independent Junior Research Group Leader (IPB Halle, Germany)
2016.04 – 2018.12 – Research Associate (University of Düsseldorf, Germany)

Education: Ph.D., summa cum laude (RWTH Aachen University, Germany), M.Sc. (University of British Columbia, Canada), B.Sc., with distinction (UBC)

About me: My research in Vancouver (Canada)Jülich (Germany) and Versailles (France) identified novel regulators of polysaccharide structure using Arabidopsis seed mucilage mutants. After moving to Düsseldorf in May 2016, I developed a synthetic bology approach to study plant mannans in yeast. From January 2019 to February 2022, I ran an independent research group at IPB Halle to gain further mechanistic insight into the synthesis of matrix polysaccharides. In March 2022, I joined the University of Florida to lead its Plant SynBio efforts and further the Designer Glycans mission.

Outside the lab: family activities, football/soccer

Madalen Robert – Ph.D. Student (IPB Halle, Germany)

Education: M.Sc. (Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg), B.Sc. (Westphalian University of Applied Sciences)

About me: My Bachelor focused on the development of technical innovation based on various biological phenomena. Here I discovered my passion of using nature to solve relevant technological issues. Therefore, I studied molecular biosystems during my M.Sc. in order to understand complex biological processes on a system level to allow their specific alteration for various purposes. Now, I am happy to pursue my passion for the understanding of nature’s work-principles, by studying carbohydrate binding modules (CBM) as tools for designer cell walls.

Talia Jacobson – Ph.D. Student (Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology program)

Education: B.Sc. in Genetics (Purdue University)

About me: My B.Sc. degree involved work in a Drosophila developmental genetics lab followed by soybean breeding experience, where I became interested in plant molecular biology and how data science can be utilized to solve biological problems. This inspired me to pursue an opportunity with Bayer Crop Science where I developed machine learning models that analyzed corn genomic and environmental data to predict yield. This solidified my research interests in genetics and functional genomics, biotechnology, and computational biology. As a Ph.D. student, I hope to combine the skills gained during my undergraduate research to tackle questions revolved around polysaccharides in the cell wall. 

Outside the Lab: violinist, runner/swimmer

Fang Bai – Biologist IV

Education: Ph.D. in Plant Biology (University of California, Riverside)

About me: I have been working on the genetic and epigenetic regulation of maize seed development in the Department of Horticultural Science since 2012. From 2007-2012, I was a post-doc at the University of California, San Diego studying the inflorescence architecture and sex determination in maize.  My Ph. D. work in University of California, Riverside was on the phytohormones regulation of the leaf development. 

Outside the lab: I love to take care of the flowers in the backyard and travel with my family.  I also enjoy taking photos. 

Undergraduate Students

We mentor and empower undergraduate researchers from several colleges.

Rafena Boyd – B.Sc. Student (Microbiology & Cell Sciences)

About me: I’m a 4th year Microbiology and Cell Science B.Sc. student with a minor in African American Studies. I have interests in the microbiology world, especially in gut microbiome research and how different species of bacteria interact with each other overall. I also love to explore the structures of different cells, and how it upholds them in the environment they thrive in. I plan to pursue a career in pathology medicine in the future, while currently gaining experience in biological lab research.

Outside the Lab: I am immersed in my community, where I spread awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder through UF Impact Autism. I also like the topic of orchid care, where I care for two Phalaenopsis orchids at home. 

Lianna Larson – B.Sc. Student (Biological Engineering)

About me: I plan to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering. I hope to work in the field of biofuels to help progress the work done already. I also hope to conduct more research and get more hands-on experience during my time at UF. 

Outside the Lab: I love reading fiction books, playing games with my friends, and listening to music. I also like playing basketball and lacrosse. 

Tanya Lubbe – B.Sc. Student (Microbiology and Cell Science)

About me: I’m a third-year undergraduate student interested in learning more about genetics and biochemistry as well as translation studies. I am planning to pursue higher education abroad in the future in a related field.

Outside the lab: I am part of a traditional dance team here at UF and we get to travel all over the US during the spring!

Julia Moncrieff – B.Sc. Student (Biology)

About me: I am currently a student in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Florida studying biology and I hope to have a future career in research. I grew up in the Clearwater area surrounded by the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and have always had a passion for marine science and working with all types of marine organisms. I studied at an oceanography camp before entering high school and fell in love with research. I pursued my biotechnicians assistant certificate as a result, and I am now excited to be studying biology at the collegiate level as part of the Designer Glycans lab.

Outside the Lab: When I am not working in the lab I love to read. I also work as a volunteer scuba diver for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and as a rescue scuba diver for the Florida Aquarium.

Elyse Winne – B.Sc. Student (Microbiology & Cell Sciences)

About me: I am a third year B.Sc. student interested in using microorganisms as models for solving relevant issues in society. In the future I plan on completing an M.Sc. and working on biological research in industry. Throughout my lab experiences of my undergraduate degree, I am hoping to narrow down which topics I am passionate about.

Outside the Lab: I enjoy concerts, video games and hanging out with my chihuahua.

Want to design glycans with us?

Postdoctoral positions are available in the Designer Glycans lab at UF’s main campus in Gainesville, Florida. For full consideration, the email should detail the candidate’s professional interests and motivation, CV and the contact details of references. The start dates are flexible.

Students (undergraduate or graduate) who would like to combine synthetic biology with carbohydrate biochemistry should express their interest to Dr. Voiniciuc via email (cvoiniciuc [at]

December 2019 Lab Photo – Julian, Catalin, Annika, Bo, Christine, Benita and Stefanie