About Dr. Jian-Kang Zhu
Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology, Departments of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture and Biochemistry. Dr. Zhu earned his bachelor's degree in soils and agricultural chemistry from Beijing Agricultural University; his master's degree in botany from the University of California, Riverside, and his doctorate in plant physiology from Purdue. He comes to Purdue from the University of California, Riverside, where he was the Jane Johnson Chair Professor in the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology and Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. He is internationally renowned for his creative and path-breaking research that has sought to elucidate the signaling pathways in plants that govern their responses to environmental stresses. His research has contributed fundamentally to current understanding of the molecular-genetic mechanisms underlying salinity tolerance, drought tolerance, and low temperature stress in plants. Dr. Zhu’s laboratory has been central in the effort to identify key genes that could be manipulated to modify crop responses to abiotic stresses, with the ultimate goals of both enhanced agriculture productivity and decreased degradation of the environment.
Detecting and responding to environmental perturbations are important for all living organisms. One of the most important distinguishing features of plants is that they are sessile and thus have to endure environmental challenges. We are interested in understanding the genetic and epigenetic basis of plant resistance to environmental stresses and in identifying key genes for modifying the responses of crops to environmental stresses which ultimately will lead to major contributions to agriculture and the environment.
Plant agriculture must change fundamentally by mid-century, when 9 billion people are expected to inhabit the planet, consuming 70–100% more food than is currently available (Godfray et al., 2010). Water is the primary limiting factor in global agriculture, yet water availability and quality are diminishing for crops as cities grow and as irrigation and land-clearing salinize the soil and the underlying water tables (Sophocleous, 2004). The problems of water deficit, salt, and other abiotic stresses are exacerbated by global warming and climate change (Fedoroff et al., 2010). The looming gap between water supply and demand creates a need for major advances in crop adaptation to drought and salt stresses through increased water-use efficiency and tolerance to saline soil. Our current and future research is aimed at improving our understanding of the drought, cold and heat, and salt-stress signaling pathways and resistance mechanisms. Increasing evidence suggests that plant adaptation to these abiotic stresses, in addition to being under genetic control, is also under epigenetic regulation. Accordingly, we are interested in epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation and their roles in abiotic stress resistance. Furthermore, we are interested in developing and applying TALE nuclease technologies and other genome engineering technologies for crop improvement. We use a combination of genetic, biochemical, genomic and proteomic approaches to analyze various levels of gene regulation (chromatin level/epigenetic, transcriptional, posttranscriptional, and protein activity) and to understand stress signaling and stress resistance. Our long-term goals are to elucidate the sensing and signaling pathways used by plants in responding to environmental stresses and to identify and utilize key genes for improving the stress resistance of crops.