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Zhixiang Chen

Botany and Plant Pathology 

  • Professor
765.494.4657
765.494.5896
Whistler Hall Room B026

Area of Expertise: Plant Molecular Biology - Molecular basis of plant responses to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Due to their sessile nature, plants are constantly exposed to a variety of microbial pathogens and a multitude of environmental stresses and through evolution have developed a battery of disease resistance and stress tolerance mechanisms. The major research interest of our group is to decipher the regulatory network of plant defense and stress responses. Our current research is focused on the following three topics:

1. Plant WRKY transcription factors--WRKY transcription factors are found in plants andare encoded by a large gene family with more than 70 members in Arabidopsis. A majority of theWRKY genes in Arabidopsis are rapidly induced upon pathogen infection, suggesting a majorfunction of the gene family in plant defense responses. We are using both genetic and molecularapproaches to understand the regulation and biological functions of plant WRKY genes in plantdefense and stress responses.

2. Autophagy in plant defense and stress responses—Autophagy is a pathway fordegradation of cytoplasmic components. In plants, autophagy plays an important role in nutrient recycling during nitrogen and carbon starvation, and in responses to abiotic stresses. We have recently shown that autophagy plays a critical role in plant resistance to necrotrophic fungal pathogens. We are interested in the mechanisms by which autophagy selectively targetsdegradation of cellular structures during plant defense and stress responses.

3. Pathogen-induced salicylic acid (SA) biosynthesis—SA is an important plant defensesignal molecule. Two pathways of SA biosynthesis have been proposed in plants. Despite over a half century of research, how SA is synthesized in plants is still not fully elucidated. We have recently reported that the EPS1 gene from Arabidopsis is important for pathogen-induced SA accumulation. EPS1 encodes a member of the BAHD acyltransferase superfamily and may be directly involved in the synthesis of an important precursor or regulatory molecule for SA biosynthesis. We are using a combination of genetic, molecular and biochemical approaches to understand how EPS1 is involved in pathogen-induced SA accumulation

Awards & Honors

(2010) Changjiang Visiting Professor. Zhejiang University, China.

(2009) Guangbiao Visiting Professor. Zhejiang University, China.

(2006) 2006 Distinguished Alumi Award. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Selected Publications

Chi, Y., Yang, Y., Zhou, Y., Zhou, J., Fan, B., Yu, J., & Chen, Z. (2013). Protein-protein interactions in the regulation of WRKY transcription factors.. Molecular Plant, 6, 287-300.

Zhou, J., Wang, J., Cheng, Y., Chi, Y. J., Fan, B., Yu, J. Q., & Chen, Z. (2013). NBR1-mediated selective autophagy targets insoluble ubiquitinated protein aggregates in plant stress responses. PLoS Genetics, 9, e1003196.

Jiang, Y. P., Cheng, F., Zhou, Y. H., Xia, X. J., Mao, W. H., Shi, K., . . . Yu, J. Q. (2012). Cellular glutathione redox homeostasis plays an important role in brassinosteroid-induced increase in CO2 assimilation in Cucumis sativus. New Phytologist, 194, 932-943.

Cheng, Y., Zhou, Y., Yang, Y., Chi, Y. J., Zhou, J., Chen, J. Y., . . . Chen, Z. (2012). Structural and functional analysis of VQ motif-containing proteins in Arabidopsis and soybean as WRKY-interacting proteins. Plant Physiology, 159, 810-825.

Mao, G., Meng, X., Liu, Y., Zheng, Z., Chen, Z., & Zhang, S. (2011). Phosphorylation of a WRKY transcription factor by two pathogen-responsive MAPKs drives phytoalexin biosynthesis in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell, 23, 1639-1653.

Lai, Z., Li, Y., Wang, F., Cheng, Y., Fan, B., Yu, J. Q., & Chen, Z. (2011). Arabidopsis sigma factor-binding proteins are coactivators of WRKY33 transcription factor in defense against necrotrophic pathogens. Plant Cell, 23, 3824-3841.

Cui, J. X., Zhou, Y. H., Ding, J. G., Xia, X. J., Shi, K., Chen, S. C., . . . Yu, J. Q. (2011). Role of nitric oxide in hydrogen peroxide-dependent induction of abiotic stress tolerance by brassinosteroids in cucumber. Plant Cell Environment, 34, 347-358.

Lai, Z., Wang, F., Zheng, Z., Fan, B., & Chen, Z. (2011). A critical role of autophagy in plant resistance to necrotrophic fungal pathogens in Arabidopsis. Plant Journal, 66, 953-968.

Chen, H., Lai, Z., Shi, J., Xiao, Y., Chen, Z., & Xu, X. (2010). Roles of Arabidopsis WRKY18, WRKY40 and WRKY60 transcription factors in plant responses to abscisic acid and abiotic stress. BMC Plant Biology, 10, 281.

Huang, J., Gu, M., Lai, Z., Fan, B., Shi, K., Zhou, Y., . . . Chen, Z. (2010). Functional analysis of the Arabidopsis PAL gene family in plant growth, development and response to environmental stress. Plant Physiology, 153, 1526-1538.