Molly Hanlon

  • Ph.D. Candidate, Plant Biology
Molly Hanlon
310 Tyson Building
University Park, PA 16801

Connect with Molly Hanlon



  1. Ph.D Intercollege Graduate Program in Plant Biology, Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, Penn State University.
  2. Anticipated end date: Summer 2016.
  3. --
  4. B.S. Biochemistry, minor in Creative Writing, Allegheny College, Meadville PA. 2005-2009.

Advisor: Kathleen Brown


Research Summary

I work on bridging the gap between two subdivisions of plant biology: research done on crop species and research done on Arabidopsis.  I focus on traits that other students and researchers in the Root Biology group have found to be important for nutrient acquisition and subsequent successful plant growth, including root angle and root hair growth properties.  
Using precise methods of image acquisition and analysis, I am working to discover the underlying mechanisms behind the maintenance of plant root growth at a specified angle, specifically the plagiogravitropic behavior of lateral roots. I hope to couple findings in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana discovered using the wealth of molecular and genetic tools with the observations and data previously collected in crop species.  I am completing this work partially in collaboration with researchers at the Centre for Plant Integrative Biology at the University of Nottingham. I also completed part of this project (hormone analysis) at the Umeå Plant Science Centre in Umeå, Sweden with Dr. Karin Ljung.

I am also working to understand the genetic control of agronomically important root traits in rice (Oryza sativa) basing this work on the dissertation of a former lab student,  Phanchita Vejchasarn. Using her phenotypic data in combination with genome wide association studies (GWAS) completed in collaboration with the lab of Susan McCouch at Cornell University we will gain insight into the control of the natural variation of various rice root traits.  I'm specifically working on dissecting the phenes of root hairs: length and density.  Both critical to the uptake of phosphorus, these traits are often coupled, though they show distinct patterns of response in plasticity across different lines.

Lastly, I am looking at the complex dynamics of phosphorus movement in the classic gel-based Arabidopsis growth system.  Differing greatly in chemical and physical properties from soil, the gel system may not be giving us accurate insight into plant behavior.  Using the an adapted method of the solid phase buffered phosphorus protocol, we have altered the delivery mechanisms of phosphorus to the plant, resulting in interesting behavioral changes.


Burton AL, Johnson J, Foerster J, Hanlon MT, Kaeppler SM, Lynch JP, Brown KM (2014) QTL mapping and phenotypic variation of root anatomical traits in maize (Zea mays L.). Theor Appl Genet. doi: 10.1007/s00122-014-2414-8

Burton AL, Johnson JM, Foerster JM, Hirsch CN, Buell CR, Hanlon MT, Kaeppler SM, Brown KM, Lynch JP (2014) QTL mapping and phenotypic variation for root architectural traits in maize (Zea mays L.). Theor Appl Genet. doi: 10.1007/s00122-014-2353-4

Hanlon, M. T. and Coenen, C. (2011), Genetic evidence for auxin involvement in arbuscular mycorrhiza initiation. New Phytologist, 189: 701–709. 

 Onyeiwu, S., Pallant, E., and Hanlon, M. (2011). Sustainable and Unsustainable Agriculture in Ghana and Nigeria: 1960 – 2009. In Ecosystems and Sustainable Development (Y. Villacampa and C.A. Brebbia Eds.) WIT Press: 211 – 222.


National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF) - 2011-2014
NSF Graduate Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) Fellowship - 2014-2015
Company of Biologists Travelling Fellowship - 2012
University Graduate Fellowship - 2010-2011
NASA Space Grant (PA Space Grant Consortium) - 2012-2014
ARCS Scholarship - 2010-2013
Harold M. State Research Fellowship - 2008

Outreach, Mentoring, and Other Activities

In addition to working with highly skilled undergraduate students, I take part in the Planting Science program serving as a Master of Plant Science and acting as a liaison and mentor to middle and high school science groups nationwide.  Planting Science works to build the scientific community by linking young students to scientists who guide the class through the process of project-based inquiry. 
I'm also very interested in the ways in which basic science can embrace technology to better communicate our message.  Making our 'big data' make sense to to world around us is necessary for impact, but as our questions and answers continue to gain complexity, this becomes more of a challenge.  Using innovative design to make cool figures, talking to non-scientists about what we do, or embracing the open source movement are all ways by which we can embrace innovation to strengthen our message.

Research Interests

Roots Lab