The AgroSpheres Team

Payam Pourtaheri


Payam co-founded AgroSpheres and manages the company’s day-to-day operations, along with aiding in both the technical and business development of the company. He also leads regulatory and IP strategies for the company. Payam is passionate about utilizing synthetic biology to provide safer, more efficient crop protection solutions. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a background in nanomedicine, materials science, and chemistry. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Charlottesville BioHub.

Ameer Shakeel


Ameer co-founded AgroSpheres. He leads product development and technical corporate collaborations. He ensures AgroSpheres  reaches its long-term technical milestones and effectively executes on its collaborations with corporate and academic partners. Ameer has managed the successful completion of several corporate contracts. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, studying biomedical engineering with his research focused on utilizing synthetic biology for real-world applications.

Sergio Carballo


Sergio was Chief Scientist at Marine Essence Biosciences, a biotechnology company located in California. As a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sergio conducted nanotechnology and biotechnology research to produce novel polymeric carriers. At AgroSpheres, he focuses on engineering novel encapsulation and carrier platforms to achieve optimal loading efficiency and controlled release profiles, utilizing novel polymeric stabilizing systems and innovative colloidal science principles. Sergio received his Ph.D. from the University of Valencia, Spain. 

Zachery Davis

Head of RNAi

Zach specializes in biological engineering including the production and interaction of DNA, RNA, and proteins. He works to optimize fermentation to maximize the production of encapsulated, biological active ingredients. Zach also oversees laboratory operations to coordinate the technical development of AgroSpheres’ multifaceted technology.  He graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemistry and a concentration in biochemistry.

Joseph T. Frank

Head of platform technology

Joseph helps lead the research and development of the characterization and formulation of the various platform technologies.  His work focuses on enhancing the encapsulation of actives and engineering their release kinetics. In addition to his research, Joseph also facilitates lab administration and operations. He is a biomedical engineering graduate with a minor in business from the University of Virginia.

Sepehr Zomorodi

head of innovation

Sep is AgroSpheres’ lead product engineer and concentrates on developing next-generation micro-scale technologies. Currently, he focuses on formulations and engineering the platform to encapsulate a variety of active ingredients for agricultural applications. Sep also specializes in product testing and technology scouting. He is a biomedical engineering graduate of the University of Virginia.

Kira Bartlett

Formulation Engineer

Kira focuses on improving the encapsulation efficiency of a wide range of active ingredients. Her responsibilities also include application formulation and scale-up of production. Kira comes to AgroSpheres from Novozymes Biologicals, where she worked for several years in downstream product development. Kira graduated from Clemson University with a degree in biosystems engineering and a focus on bioprocessing. 

Jacob Englaender

Lead Microbial Fermentation scientist

Jake leads research and development of microbial fermentation, a core component of AgroSpheres’ R&D program. His work is aimed at optimizing the fermentation process to increase the production of encapsulated biologicals. In addition to improving the fermentation process, Jake also conducts strain engineering. Jake received his Ph.D. in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where his work centered on metabolic engineering and protein expression in bacterial and yeast systems.

Elisabeth Somers


Elisabeth supports RNA research related to advancing the platform. Her work includes RNA extraction, quantification and data analysis. In prior work with genetic testing companies, she developed a diverse skill set in genetic and microbiological laboratory techniques. Elisabeth holds a master’s in genetics and genomics from Oxford Brookes University along with an undergraduate degree in medical laboratory sciences from the University of New Hampshire.


Dana Hatcher

Office Administrator

Dana Hatcher, Human Resource Professional, was pleased to become a part of the  AgroSpheres team. She comes to the organization with many years of office management and administrative experience. She spent the last five years with the largest attorney firm in Charlottesville, VA. Prior to that, she spent many years in management and administrative positions with government contractors. 


Jonathan Lacey

Research Associate

Jonathan specializes in plant molecular biology and plant pathology. His multi-faceted experiences were obtained from academic, government, and private agricultural research labs. He contributes this knowledge for downstream analysis of our RNAi platform. Previously, Jonathan has worked with RNAi technology on Cannabis sativa at Trait Biosciences. He obtained a masters degree from the internationally-ranked plant pathology department at the University of Kentucky. Throughout his plant science career, Jonathan has strived to develop environmentally conscious management options for growers.

AgroSpheres Internship Program

Lisa Chen

Lisa concentrates on the research and development of synthetic biological products for a multitude of agricultural applications. She also works on characterization and on expanding the platform technology across a variety of different active designs. She obtained her B.S. in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, where she is currently studying for her master’s in engineering.

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Allison Boboltz

Allison Boboltz is BME major with a minor in technology entrepreneurship, graduating in 2021. She has 2 years of prior research experience in a Chemical Engineering lab at UVA specializing in synthetic biology and protein engineering applications. In that lab, her work primarily focuses on characterizing and degrading microbial biofilms.
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Evan Biedermann

Evan Biedermann is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in applied mathematics graduating from UVA in 2021. Prior to working at AgroSpheres, Evan led the 2019 Virginia iGEM team as Captain to achieve gold and receive a nomination for Best Environmental Project. Evan’s research experience has mainly been in computational biology and metabolic engineering which he hopes to continue learning.

Non-Executive Directors

Carl M. Casale

Carl joined the AgroSpheres board in August 2019. In 1984, he started work at the Monsanto Company and rose through the ranks from sales representative to Executive Vice President of Strategy and Operations and finally to Chief Financial Officer. In 2011, Carl left Monsanto to become CEO of CHS, Inc., which is the largest farmer-owned cooperative in the United States. Currently, Carl is a member of Syngenta’s board of directors, where he chairs the audit committee, and he is a senior agricultural partner at Ospraie Ag Science, an investment firm focused on sustainable technologies for the agriculture industry. 

Yelda Ünal

Yelda joined the AgroSpheres board of directors in August 2017. Currently, Yelda leads the R&D department and is the manager of production and quality assurance of ORBA Biokimya San. A.S. in Istanbul. ORBA is a leading producer and formulator of industrial enzyme products with an emphasis on enzymes for the food sector. Yelda has been at ORBA since 1996. She studied engineering at the Biochemical & Molecular Department at Louisiana State University. Yelda has a degree in food engineering and a master’s degree in biotechnology from Middle Eastern Technical University of Ankara, Turkey.

Advisory Board

Todd Abraham

Todd Abraham is currently the Chief Innovation Officer for The Cronos Group, a global leader in the emerging cannabis industry. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President of global research and nutrition at Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods). His 35+ year career spans research and development, marketing, and general management in the food industry. In addition to his experience in food technology, Dr. Abraham received his PhD in inorganic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and his MBA from the Wharton School.

Per Falholt, Ph.d.

Per Falholt was the Executive Vice President of R&D at Novozymes A/S. The department grew from 400 to 1350 employees in his 15 years as a leader there. With a global innovation rank of 59, according to Forbes, and a #1 position as best employer for scientists within biotech & pharma by Science Magazine in October 2015, Per Falholt sets himself as a frontrunner in the fields of delivering solutions for customer needs and maintaining growth through innovation.

Mark Kester, PH.D.

Dr. Kester, our Chief Scientific Advisor and co-founder, has research interests that include the design, characterization, and validation of nanotechnologies for targeted drug delivery. Dr. Kester has consulted with and helped found several companies that have the license to his “nano Solutions.” He is also the Director of the nanoSTAR Institute at the University of Virginia. He is a founder of Keystone Nano, a pharmaceutical company developing a ceramide nanoliposome drug that is in clinical trials for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Daniel kittle, ph.d.

Dan led Dow AgroSciences R&D for 16 years.  His management of its portfolio elevated Dow AgroSciences to a leading position in the crop protection chemicals industry and a top position in seeds and traits. His tenure included commercialization of the most successful fermentation derived active ingredient for the agricultural market. Dan’s leadership accelerated the development of innovative products that delivered billions of dollars of revenue for Dow AgroSciences and, more importantly, help address the essential challenge of feeding the growing world population.

David Nothmann

David serves as the Chief Revenue Officer for Terramera, where he leads all revenue-generating activities, develops growth strategies to pioneer new markets and oversees all business development related to Terramera’s Actigate™ technology, intellectual property, agricultural and consumer products.  As a visionary strategist with more than 20 years of executive-level B2B and B2C experience in agriculture and food production industries, he has held leadership roles at Monsanto, Battelle Memorial Institute, ArborGen and most recently Valent U.S.A.  David has developed and executed against long-range plans at numerous organizations and has overseen the launch of more than 50 unique products and services across eight countries during his career.

Kelly Smith, PH.D.

Kelly Smith co-founded Pasteuria Bioscience, where she was principally responsible for development of the proprietary Pasteuria manufacturing process. She served most recently as CTO prior to its acquisition by Syngenta. Currently, Kelly is the Director of Bioprocessing at Joyn Bio. She holds an MS and PhD in environmental engineering science from the California Institute of Technology and a BS in chemical engineering from Michigan State University.

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Willy A. Valdivia

Willy A. Valdivia is the founder and CEO of Orion Integrated Biosciences, Inc., where he heads a team of experts in genomics, computational biology, data analytics, and artificial intelligence. Supported by DHS-S&T-OUP, DHS-CBP, DoD, DTRA, USDA, NIH, and the EU. Mr. Valdivia has a a broad view of innovation and technology development for agro-and biodefense. Mr. Valdivia was named one of the four most successful Latin-American bio-entrepreneurs by the Spanish Bioindustry Association (ASEBIO). Currently, he leads or participates in sectors to support national security including. Willy Valdivia is the author of publications on data mining, genomics of infectious diseases, and bioterrorism and four book chapters on national security and policy. He serves as a subject matter expert for the US government and the European Commission and has active research projects in the US, Europe and Africa, and Latin-America. He is also Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology at Kansas State University.