We are studying RNA biology using a model organism Arabidopsis and econimcally-important crops.

The long-term goal of our research is to study functions and mechanisms of regulatory RNAs and ribonucleoprotein complexes in eukaryotes including plants. Our independent research started with RNA silencing in plants in 2008. RNA silencing is a key regulatory process that controls various aspects of biology in eukaryotes including growth and development, stress responses, and antiviral defense. The common themes of RNA silencing include the biogenesis of small RNAs by Dicers, or Dicer-like proteins, and the incorporation of small RNAs into Argonaute (AGO)-centered RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISCs). The RISCs execute the repressive or regulatory functions on target genes at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional levels. Our research has three major aspects:

1) RISC functions and mechanism using Arabidopsis AGO3 and AGO10 as models. AGO3 is highly induced by stress treatment whereas AGO10 controls development of plant stem cell. We wish that our study on AGO10 and AGO3 could provide new insight into how RISCs regulate development of shoot apical meristem (SAM), organ polarity, and plant responses to high salt stress. Such knowledge will advance our ability to manipulate plant architecture and performance in the hostile growth conditions in agriculture.

2) Microprocessor machinery in plants. Accurate and efficient production of miRNAs is critical for their functionality because any variation in miRNA processing may compromise the abundance, sorting, and targeting specificity of miRNAs. Our study of microprocessor machinery and understanding of regulatory mechanism of miRNA production will help to design an efficient and safe strategy of RNAi in agricultural biotechnology and pharmaceutical therapy.

3) Epigenetic silencing and viral suppressors. Geminiviruses are among top 10 most important plant viruses worldwide and the most damaging viruses in Africa. Our study of the molecular basis of Geminivirus-host interaction on the poorly understood epigenetic level will provide new ideas to design effective strategies for combatting the agriculturally devastating viruses.

Besides RNA silencing, we have already expanded our research to broader aspects in the field of RNA biology (i.e. RNA secondary structures in vivo and RNA quality surveillance) and synthetic biology (i.e., improvement of crop traits through new technologies).

Our research involves comprehensive integration of molecular, biochemical, biophysics, genetic, genomics, computational and other state-of-the-art approaches.

Get in touch

Norman Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement
2123 TAMU, Rm 112. College Station, TX 77840
e-mail: xiuren.zhang@neo.tamu.edu
Tel: 979-458-0596