Meet the Researcher: Anthony Brusa
Post-Doctoral Associate | he/him/his
Anthony Brusa is part of an MITPPC-funded team led by agronomist Don Wyse. Check out this profile's companion piece, "Sorting Seed: How a New DNA Test will Improve Palmer Amaranth Detection."
Can you give a quick overview of your work with MITPPC?
We're developing methods of detecting high-impact invasive Palmer amaranth through genetic markers. There are a number of pigweed species that are difficult to tell apart. Palmer amaranth is a really high priority one, and we're trying to prevent it from spreading. So, we're using genetic testing to identify Palmer and distinguish between [pigweeds], even though they are very, very similar looking.
What drew you to invasive species research?
I went to undergrad outside of Chicago, in one of the general biology and ecology programs. There was this ecology guy doing work with invasive species, and he was looking for someone to do summer work. Everyone else was convinced they were going to be doctors, and I was like, “sounds interesting to me!” So, I started working with Ailanthus altissima, which is the tree of heaven, or the stinking ash. That was 2006, the first time I got a publication. Then I went into the industry for two years. I worked in a candle factory – I still can’t stand the smell of lavender after that!
And then it was on to graduate school. I went to Rutgers up in New Jersey. I got a lot of background on tree of heaven, Japanese knotweed, Phragmites and all of these major invasives. There were a lot of questions I had. With traditional field ecology work, there are a lot of things you can't figure out unless you have other sources of information – in this case, genetic information. So I started studying on my own, because we didn’t have a population geneticist on staff.
My dissertation was about the population genetics of tree of heaven and figuring out how it was spreading around the state of New Jersey. I was sort of the guy who crossed over between the two halves of the departments, I worked with pretty much everybody. And at the end, I had a really solid foundation of how these invasive plants were spreading in a lot of ways that traditional ecologists were overlooking.
What is one thing you hope people can take away from your research project by the end of it?
Really, just the fact that there are tools [for Palmer amaranth detection] are out there that are ready to go. That first step just needs to be taken by growers in the field to help find these things. Farmers can do their part just by being alert and reporting plants. And we're willing to step forward and do what we can on our end to see the rest of it through.
It's really fulfilling to do something that'll actually have a real world impact compared to, say, working at a candle factory where my job was to get the color of orange just right. For my colleagues, I would say learn to code. It’s the only way to deal with genomic data.
When you are not out in the field or in the lab, what do you like to do for fun?
My biggest thing right now is I got back into oil painting. Oil painting and photography. I used to do bird photography. But I need an ornithologist to actually point things out to me. Here on campus, I started board gaming nights. Apparently, Minnesota is really a board gaming hub.
About the Author
Maggie Nesbit is a Communications Intern with the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center (MITPPC). She is a double major in English and Strategic Communications at the University of Minnesota. In her spare time, Maggie enjoys running, hiking, reading and spending time with friends and family. Maggie's position is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council.