Welcome to Zhao Lab!

Our research lab uses a combination of comparative and functional genomics, genetics and epigenetics approaches to study the mechanisms underlying structural and functional genomics changes within and between different plant species, with an emphasis on the determination of how transposable elements (TEs) and polyploidy contribute to plant evolution, and how TEs are epigenetically regulated in agronomically important crop species. Ongoing research area includes:

  • Comparative genomics and epigenomics in plant evolution. We seek to understand the function of TEs in plant evolution, the differentiation and functional consequences of duplicated genes, and co-evolution of small RNAs and their targets, including the fates of microRNAs and protein coding genes, and the evolution patterns of small interfering RNAs and RNA-directed DNA methylation (RdDM) components.
  • Genetic dissection of important agronomic traits in maize. We have been using high copy Mutator transposons and Ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) as mutagens to screen knockout mutants which show deficiency of important agronomic traits in maize. We are eager to identify the candidate genes and dissect the function of the genes.
  • Epigenetic regulation in soybean and maize. We are currently using classical genetics to work on an active transposon system, Mutator, and RdDM mutants to dissect epigenetic regulation and evolution of TEs in maize. We have focused on how RdDM pathway mutants affect meiotic recombination rates, Mutator transposon activity, double strand break repair, and the mechanisms underlying the evolution of plant imprinting. We would also like to extend our maize epigenetic work to soybean to compare the conservation and differentiation of the RdDM pathway in these two important crops.
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