- The Team

Jean-Philippe Marelli @Mars

Senior Director of Integrated Pest Management for Mars Wrigley Confectionery

Dr. Marelli has a distinguished academic career obtaining his undergraduate degree in Agronomy at the Institut National Polytechnique in Toulouse, France, his M.S. from Imperial College in the U.K. and his Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Pennsylvania State University in the United States. He also holds an international MBA in Project Management from FGV University in Sao Paulo, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine.
Jean-Philippe was born in Colombia but moved in his early years to Cameroon where he spent seven years before moving to France.
After his post-doc in Agri Food Canada, He joined Mars in 2009 as a Plant Scientist at the Mars Center for Cocoa Science, located in Bahia, Brazil where he became Science Director in 2012 and led many projects on cacao breeding, fermentation and pathology. In 2016, Jean-Philippe relocated to Miami, FL to manage a corporate innovation program dedicated to revolutionizing the cacao supply chain, called project Sapphire.
In 2020, Jean-Philippe moved to the new Mars Wrigley Plant Sciences Laboratory located in Davis, California from where he leads a team globally distributed in the US, Australia, Indonesia and Ecuador.

Dario Cantù @UC Davis

Professor of Systems Biology and Louis P. Martini Endowed Chair in Viticulture
Academic Director, UC Davis Chile Life Sciences Innovation Center
Chair, Viticulture and Enology Graduate Group
Chancellor's Fellow 2018-2023

Dario is Professor of Systems Biology and Louis P. Martini endowed chair in viticulture in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California Davis. He was born and raised in Milan, Italy, where he obtained both his BSc and MSc in Agricultural Sciences. Dario moved to Davis, California, in 2005 to pursue a PhD in Plant Biology at University of California, working on the interaction between Botrytis and ripening fruit. After graduating in 2009 Dario joined the laboratory of Jorge Dubcovksy, where he pioneered the use of next generation sequencing technologies to study the interaction between plants and their associated microorganisms. Since 2012 Dario has been a Faculty member in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, where he leads a research group that studies plant and microbial activities in a variety of contexts, from disease resistance, wood decomposition, to fruit ripening, and flavor development.

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Bryan Bailey @USDA/ARS

Research Plant Pathologist, Sustainable Perennial Crops laboratory, BARC-West, Northeast Area, USDA/ARS, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.

Dr. Bailey has a B.S. (1981) and M.S. (1982) in Agronomy from Mississippi State University and a Ph.D. in Genetics from Texas A&M University (1987). He has been working as a Research Plant Pathologist for ARS in Beltsville since 1993 and has carried out research on cacao and its diseases since 2002, focusing on the genomics/transcriptomics associated with cacao disease interactions. In this time, he has variously supported and directed the sequencing of the genomes/transcriptomes of multiple cacao pathogens including Moniliophthora species (causal agents of witches’ broom and frosty pod rot), Phytophthora species (causal agents of cacao black pod rot) and most recently Lasiodiplodia theobromae and Ceratobasidium theobromae (causal agent of vascular streak dieback). Similar studies on these and other pathogens of cacao continue to be his focus.

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Andrea Minio @UC Davis @Cantu Lab


Andrea earned a master degree in Bioengineering at Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy) under the supervision of prof. Di Camillo studying the topological properties of gene co-regulatory networks reconstructed by reverse egineering expression profiles. In Prof. Massimo Delledonne's lab he received his Ph.D in Applied Biotechnologies at Università di Verona (Italy) focusing on de novo reconstruction and annotation of genomes and transcriptomes. As bioinformatician in the Cantu Lab, Andrea applies computational methods to sequencing data with the purpose of uncover complex genomic characteristics and lifestyle of grapevine cultivar, fungal phytopathogens and other non model species.

Rosa Figueroa-Balderas @UC Davis @Cantu Lab

Senior Research Scientist

Rosa Figueroa-Balderas completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Biochemical Sciences at the Institute of Biotechnology in the National University of Mexico (IBT-UNAM). In 2007, she was awarded a UCMexus-Conacyt postdoctoral fellowship where she developed marker-free transformation technologies to genetically improve California relevant crops at PIPRA/UC Davis. Throughout her postdoctoral training at UC Davis, Rosa designed and built complex plant transformation vectors with maximum freedom-to-operate with the aim of generating marker-free plants. She has collaborated with several Ag-companies designing plant transformation vectors and developing molecular characterization of thousands of independent transformation events with pre-commercial purposes. Rosa has been working in Cantu’s lab since December, 2014 primarily on the development, optimization and implementation of molecular biology protocols for grapevine genomic studies related to grape genetic resistance to Pierce’s disease, powdery mildew and Neofusicoccum parvum, as well as in grape whole genome projects.

Shahin S. Ali @USDA / @UC Davis @Cantu Lab


Shahin received his B.Sc. in Agriculture and M.Sc. in Agricultural Biotechnology from Assam Agricultural University in India and Ph.D. in Biology and Environmental Science from University College Dublin, Ireland. Shahin’s Ph.D. research was on exploiting the molecular interaction between the fungus and plant cell wall during bio-ethanol production. During his short period as a postdoc in Ireland, Shahin studied Fusarium head blight and brassinosteroid mediated plant defense response of wheat and barley. In 2013 he moved to US and join the USDA/ARS Sustainable Perennial Crops Lab in Beltsville, Maryland and started working on the molecular mechanism of disease development and plant defense against various pathogens of cacao. He joined the Cantu lab in early 2018 as part of the ‘Microbial Pathogenomics of Major Cacao Disease’ project and is stationed at ARS Beltsville where he works with Dr. Bryan Bailey.

Abraham Morales-Cruz


Abraham obtained his B.S. in the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica and received his Ph.D. at UC Davis. During his Ph.D. he worked at the Department of Viticulture and Enology in Dario Cantu’s lab and studied comparative genomics of grapevine trunk diseases. Abraham did his first Postdoc in the Cantu lab working on genomics of the cacao black pod pathogens. He joined the Gaut lab at UC Irvine in August of 2019 and is currently working in population genomics of North American wild grapes. Abraham is interested in the genome evolution of plants and pathogens.

Jadran García Navarrete @UC Davis @Cantu Lab

Junior Specialist

Jadran received his B.S. in Biotechnology Engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica in 2017. As an undergraduate student, he worked in his University at the Biotechnology Research Center (CIB) with projects related to synthetic biology. He also worked at the Cantu Lab in 2016-2017 with projects related to the detection of fungal communities from grapevine cuttings of a commercial nurseries using high-throughput sequencing techniques. These projects served as his graduation work. After his degree, Jadran worked for a commercial laboratory where he conducted molecular biology diagnostics on different types of samples. As a junior specialist in Cantu Lab, Jadran will continue his work on diagnostics and ecology of grapevine trunk pathogens.