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Nyree Zerega, Ph.D.

Director, Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation
(847) 835-6916
Teaching and Research Affiliations: 
Research Interests: 
  • Evolutionary processes in plants, especially as they apply to crops and their wild relatives
  • Origins, diversity, and conservation of underutilized crop plants, especially in the genus Artocarpus 
  • Plant systematics and biogeography
  • Pollination biology
  • Perennial crops and sustainable agriculture

Lab webpage


Inspired by the amazing diversity and utility of plants, my research uses phylogenomic, collections-based, and experimental field approaches to explore the evolution and genetic diversity of underutilized crops and their wild relatives, pollination, biogeography, and taxonomic revisionary work. I am also interested in applying findings to conservation of plant genomic resources and more sustainable agriculture. 

Selected Publications: 

Witherup, C.E., M.I. Zuberi, and N.J.C. Zerega. In press. Measuring temporal changes in genetic diversity in an unimproved tropical tree crop: Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) in Bangladesh. Journal of Economic Botany.

Zerega, N.J.C andE.M. Gardner. Delimitation of the new tribe Parartocarpeae (Moraceae) is supported by a 333-gene phylogeny and resolves tribal level Moraceae taxonomy. 2019. Phytotaxa 388 (4): 253–265.

Lincoln, N.K., D. Ragone, N.J.C. Zerega, L. Nkrumah-Roberts, M. Merlin, and A.M. Jones. 2018. Grow Us Our Daily Bread: A Review of Breadfruit Cultivation in Traditional and Contemporary Systems. Horticultural Review 46:299-384.

Laricchia, K.M., M. Johnson, N.J.C. Zerega, and N.J. Wickett. 2018. A transcriptome screen for positive selection in domesticated breadfruit and its wild relatives (Artocarpus spp.). American Journal of Botany.  

Wang, M., E.M. Gardner, A.R. Milan, Salma, C.M. Yee, R. Chung, L.S. Leong, and N.J.C. Zerega. 2018. Origin and diversity of an underutilized fruit tree crop, Artocarpus integer(Moraceae). American Journal of Botany.

Gardner, E.M. R. Gagne, P.E. Kendra, W.S. Montgomery, R.A. Raguso, **T.T. McNeil and N.J.C. Zerega. A flower in fruit’s clothing: Pollination of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus, Moraceae) by a new species of gall midge,Clinodiplosis ultracrepidatasp. nov. (Diptera: Cecidomyiidae). 2018. International Journal of Plant Sciences.

Kates, H.R., M.G. Johnson, E.M. Gardner, N.J.C. Zerega, and N.J. Wickett. 2018. Allele phasing has minimal impact on phylogenetic reconstruction from targeted nuclear gene sequences in a case study of Artocarpus(Moraceae). American Journal of Botany

Briscoe, L.R.E., N.J.C. Zerega, H.T. Lumbsch, M. Stech, E. Kraichak, M.J. von Konrat, J.J. Engel, and N. Wickett. 2017. Molecular, morphological, and biogeographic perspectives on the classification of Acrobolboideae (Acrobolbaceae, Marchantiophyta). Phytotaxa319 (1): 056–070.

Gardner, E.M., P. Sarraf, and N.J.C. Zerega. Phylogeny and biogeography of Maclura (Moraceae) and the origin of an anachronistic fruit. 2017. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Williams, E.W., E.M. Gardner, R. Harris III, A. Chaveerach, J.T. Pereira, and N.J.C. Zerega. Out of Borneo: Biogeography, phylogeny, and divergence date estimates of Artocarpus (Moraceae). Accepted pending minor revisions. Annals of Botany.

Zerega, N.J.C. and D. Ragone. In press. Toward a global view of breadfruit genetic diversity. Proceedings from the International Breadfruit Conference. Tropical Agriculture.

Gardner, E.M., M.G. Johnson, D. Ragone, N.J. Wickett, & N.J.C. Zerega. 2016. Low-coverage, whole-genome sequencing of Artocarpus camansi(Moraceae) for phylogenetic marker development and gene discovery. Applications in Plant Sciences4(7), apps.1600017.

Johnson, M.G., E.M. Gardner, Y. Liu, R. Medina, B. Goffinet, A.J., N.J.C. Zerega, and N.J. Wickett. 2016. HybPiper: Extracting coding sequence and introns for phylogenetics from high-throughput sequencing reads using target enrichment.Applications in Plant Sciences4(7), apps.1600016.

Gardner, E.M., K.M. Laricchia, M. Murphy, D. Ragone, B.E. Scheffler, S. Simpson, E.W. Williams, and N.J.C. Zerega. 2015. Primer Note: Chloroplast microsatellite markers for Artocarpus (Moraceae) developed from transcriptome sequences. Applications in Plant Sciences 3(9):

Zerega, N.J.C., T. Wiesner-Hanks, D. Ragone, B. Irish, B. Scheffler, S. Simpson, and F. Zee. 2015. Diversity of the breadfruit complex (Artocarpus, Moraceae): Genetic characterization of critical germplasm. Tree Genetics and Genomes.  

Zerega, N.J.C., G. Ravikanth, E.M. Gardner, K. Laricchia, T. Melhem, M. Wang, C. E. Witherup, S. Setty, M.I. Zuberi, M.R. Jagdish, and D. Ragone. 2015. New genomic resources to understand genetic diversity and promote crop improvement of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), breadfruit (A. altilis), and other under utilized Artocarpus crops. Procedings of the International Symposium on Jackfruit and Breadfruit of the Tropics.

Zerega, N.J.C. 2014. Origins and Development of Breadfruit, in C. Smith (ed.). Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. P. 234. Springer, New York, New York.

Witherup, C, D. Ragone, T. Wiesner-Hanks, B. Irish, B. Scheffler, S. Simpson, F. Zee, M. I. Zuberi, N.J.C. Zerega. 2013. "Development of microsatellite loci in Artocarpus altilis (Moraceae) and cross-amplification in congeneric species." Applications in Plant Science 1(7):

Misiewicz, T. and N.C. Zerega. 2012. "Phylogeny, Biogeography and Character Evolution of Dorstenia (Moraceae)." Edinburgh Journal of Botany 69(3): 413-440.

Zerega, N.J.C., M.N. Nur Supardi, and T.J. Motley. 2010. Phylogeny and recircumscription of Artocarpeae (Moraceae) with a focus on ArtocarpusSystematic Botany 35 (4): 766 - 783.

Khan, R., N.J.C. Zerega, S. Hossain, and M.I. Zuberi. 2010. Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.) Diversity in Bangladesh: Land Use and Artificial SelectionEconomic Botany 64(2): 124-136.

Rønsted, N., G.D. Weiblen, W.L. Clement, N.J.C. Zerega, and V. Savolainen. 2008. Reconstructing the phylogeny of figs (Ficus, Moraceae) to reveal the history of the fig pollination mutualism. Symbiosis 45:45-56.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2006. Genetic diversity and origins of domesticated breadfruit. In Darwin’s Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops, ed. T.J. Motley, N.J.C. Zerega, and H.B. Cross. Columbia University Press, New York.

Motley, T.J., N.J.C. Zerega, and H.B. Cross, ed. 2006. Darwin’s Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zerega, N.J.C., W.L. Clement, S.L. Datwyler, and G.D. Weiblen. 2005. Biogeography and divergence times in the mulberry family (Moraceae)Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37:402-416.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2005. Systematics and species limits of breadfruit (Artocarpus, Moraceae)Systematic Botany 30(3):603-615.

Zerega, N.J.C., L.A. Mound, and G.D. Weiblen. 2004. Pollination in the New Guinea endemic Antiaropsis decipiens (Moraceae) is mediated by a new species of thrips, Thrips antiaropsidis sp. nov. (Thysanoptera:Thripidae)International Journal of Plant Sciences 165(6):1,017-1,026.

Zerega, N.J.C., D. Ragone, and T.J. Motley. 2004. Complex origins of breadfruit: Implications for human migrations in OceaniaAmerican Journal of Botany 91(5):760-766.

Zerega, N.J.C. 2003. The Breadfruit TrailNatural History 112(10):46-51.

Zerega, N.J.C., S. Mori, C. Lindqvist, Q. Zheng, and T.J. Motley. 2002. Using amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) to identify black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)Economic Botany 56(2):154-164.

Bultman, T.L. and N.J. Conard. 1998. Effects of endophytic fungus, nutrient level, and plant damage on performance of Fall Armyworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Environmental Entomology 27(3):631-635.

Graduate Students: 
Lindsey Gohd (Master's, expected graduation 2020)
Leta Dickinson (Bachelor's degree, expected graduation 2019)
Lauren Audi (Master's 2018)
Elliot Gardner (Ph.D. 2017)
Theresa Melhem (Master's 2015)
Kristen Laricchia (Master's 2014)
Maria Wang (Master's 2014)
Paya Sarraf (Bachelor's degree 2014)
Tyr Wiesner-Hanks (Bachelor's degree 2013)
Colby Witherup (Master's degree 2013)
Lindsay Darling (Master's degree 2013)
Diane Huebner (Master's degree 2009)
Tracy Misiewicz (Master's degree 2009)
Evelyn Williams (Postdoctoral Research Associate, 2012-2014)

Zerega Lab Group
The Zerega Lab aims to understand evolutionary processes in plants, especially as they apply to underutilized crops and their wild relatives. The research takes both a basic and applied approach with the goals of advancing crop improvement, sustainable agriculture, and food security, as well as informing the conservation of plant genetic resources. 

Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation
This program is a collaboration between Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. The graduate program offers thesis and non-thesis master’s degree and Ph.D. programs and aims to foster an academic and research environment that allows students to gain experience, skills, and knowledge to become scholars, leaders, and practitioners in plant biology and conservation.