Department of
Plant Biology

Research in Plant Biology

Our investigations extend from studies of the behavior of subatomic particles in photosynthetic reaction centers to the dynamics and complexity of Paleozoic ecosystems. We address many of society's most pressing challenges: managing and conserving our natural resources, assessing effects of climate change on crop yields and ecosystem function, and developing new sources of renewable energy. Research in the department can be broadly grouped into four overlapping areas: Physiology & Development, Ecology & Climate Change; Systematics and Evolution, and Biochemistry & Genetics. The multi-level, interdisciplinary nature of our approaches places most faculty in at least two of these categories.

Physiology & Development

The Plant Biology Department at UIUC takes pride in its long history of seminal contributions to photosynthesis research at the levels of bioenergetics, physiology and genetics. This tradition thrives today among members of the widely recognized USDA Photosynthesis Research Unit, all of whom hold full-time faculty appointments in the Department.

Ecology & Climate Change

Our planet is warming at an alarming rate and rising atmospheric CO2 levels are a major cause. Since plants are exquisitely sensitive to their environments, how will our food crops respond to these changes in temperature and atmospheric chemistry? Research at UIUC's SoyFACE site takes aim at this distant and moving target by pre-producing near future agricultural conditions, assessing crop plants', and their insect and microbial predators', responses.

Systematics & Evolution

Unlike humans, most plants bear both sexes on the same plant and can often, therefore, self-fertilize. On the other hand, some plant species have evolved separate sexes. Papaya, for example, has male plants, female plants, and hermaphrodites (both sexes on the same plant). Studies in the Department of Plant Biology have revealed that papaya is in the process of evolving sex chromosomes, much like the X and Y that determine human gender. Current research is aimed at understanding the genetic details of this important evolutionary transition that Papaya is undergoing.

Biochemistry & Genetics

Among the daily challenges that both wild and cultivated plants face are acquisition of water and predation by insect pests. Researchers in Plant Biology at UIUC continue to lead the way in applying genomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic technologies to understanding the genetic arsenals and regulatory networks that plants have evolved and routinely deploy to overcome the stresses of water shortage and insect herbivory.