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Z. Jeffrey Chen

Chen, Z. Jeffrey
D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics



Main Office: NMS 3.122 Phone: (512) 475-9327

Alternate Office: NMS 3.270 Phone: (512) 475-9335

Mailing Address:
The University of Texas at Austin
Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology
One University Station, A-4800
Austin,TX 78712-0159

Research Lab Members:
  • Ge, Hui
  • Guan, Xueying
  • Huang, Tien-Yu
  • Johnson, Thomas
  • Kirkbride, Ryan
  • Ko, Dae Kwan
  • Miller, Marisa
  • Qiu, Lin
  • Shi, Xiaoli
  • Song, Qingxin

  • Research Summary:
    We study genetic and epigenetic mechanisms for gene expression changes in polyploids. Polyploidy, or whole-genome duplication (WGD), is an evolutionary innovation for all eukaryotes including some animals and many plants. The common occurrence of polyploidy suggests an evolutionary advantage of having multiple sets of genetic material for adaptive evolution. However, increased gene and genome dosages in autopolyploids (duplication of a single genome) and allopolyploids (combination of two or more divergent genomes) often cause genomic instabilities, chromosomal imbalances, regulatory incompatibilities, and reproductive failures. Aneuploid and polyploid cells in animals and humans are often associated with carcinogenesis. Therefore, new polyploids must establish a compatible relationship between alien cytoplasm and nuclei and among divergent genomes, leading to rapid changes in genome structure, gene expression, and developmental traits such as fertility, inbreeding, apomixis, flowering time, and hybrid vigor. The underlying mechanisms for these changes are poorly understood. We employ genetic and biochemical approaches in combination with DNA microarrays, deep-sequencing, and bioinformatic tools to investigate how changes in DNA sequences, cis- and trans-acting factors, chromatin modifications, RNA-mediated pathways, and regulatory networks modulate silencing and activation of homoeologous genes, giving rise to phenotypic variation in polyploid plants and agricultural crops, many of which have increased biomass and enhanced traits. Elucidating mechanisms for polyploidy may ultimately reveal new approaches to reactivate or silence endogenous genes and lead the way to improve future applications of biotechnology in agriculture and medicine.

    2013 Chen, Z. J., Genomic and epigenetic insights into the molecular bases of heterosis, Nature Reviews Genetics 14: 471-482
    2012 Lu, J., Zhang, C., Baulcombe, D. C., and Chen, Z. J. , Maternal siRNAs as regulators of parental genome imbalance and gene expression in endosperm of Arabidopsis seeds, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 5529-5534
    2011 Ha, M., Ng, D. W.-K., Li, W.-H., and Chen, Z. J., Coordinated histone modifications are associated with gene expression variation within and between species, Genome Research 21: 590-598
    2011 Ng, D. W., Zhang, C., Miller, M., Palmer, G., Whiteley, M., Tholl, D., and Chen, Z. J., Cis- and trans-regulation of miR163 and target genes confers natural variation of secondary metabolites in two Arabidopsis species and their allopolyploids, Plant Cell 23: 1729-1740
    2010 Chen, Z. J., Molecular mechanisms of polyploidy and hybrid vigor, Trends in Plant Science 15: 57-71
    2009 Pang, M., Woodward, A. W., Agarwal, V., Ha, M., Guan, X., Vanitharani Ramachandran, V., Chen, X., Triplett, B. A., Stelly, D. M., and Chen, Z. J., Genome-wide analysis revealed rapid and dynamic changes in miRNA and siRNA sequence and expression during ovule and fiber development in allotetraploid cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), Genome Biology 10: R122
    2009 Ha, M., Lu, J., Tian, L., Ramachandran, V., Kasschau, K. D., Chapman, E. J., Carrington, J. C., Chen, X., Li, W.-H., Wang, X., and Chen, Z. J., Small RNAs serve as a genetic buffer against genomic shock in Arabidopsis interspecific hybrids and allopolyploids, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106: 17835-17840
    2009 Ni, Z., Kim, E., Ha, M., Lackey, E., Liu, J., Zhang, Y., Sun, Q., and Chen, Z. J., Altered circadian rhythms regulate growth vigour in hybrids and allopolyploids, Nature 457: 327-331