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Julia Bailey-Serres

Watch research video Professor of Genetics
Director, National Science Foundation ChemGen IGERT Program
Julia Bailey-Serres

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Cell-specific gene expression in plants
  • Global regulation of translation in plants
  • Plant low oxygen signaling and response mechanisms
  • Plant flooding and submergence response mechanism
  • Plant genetics, cell biology and biochemistry
College: Department: Affiliation: Press Release / Article: Key Podcast: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • World Technology Award Finalist (2009)
  • National Research Initiative Discovery Award (2008)
  • F.C. Donders Chair in Plant Genomics, Utrecht University (2008)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005)
  • Outstanding Faculty Mentor Chancellor’s Award (2002)
  • University of California Affirmative Action Career Development Award (1990-1)

Research Summary

Unraveling the complexities of plant response to environmental challenges with the goal of providing modern solutions to agricultural challenges.

Q&A

Q: What makes UCR a good place to pursue your research?
UCR's Center for Plant Cell Biology is home to a number of internationally recognized plant biologists who study the effect of stressful environments on plant growth. Collectively, we study how plants respond to flooding, drought, saline soils, as well as to infection with bacteria or fungi, and the damage caused by chewing and sucking insects. Unlike animals that can move away from environmental threats, plants must stick out hard times. To do so they must alter growth and the activities inside cells.

Q: How did you get interested in plant biology?
I became interested in plant biology as a young girl, photographing and journaling the coastal sage plant communities that grew around my family home. I was impressed by the endurance of plants during long periods of hot weather and slow growth and then the burst of growth in the rainy season that led to spring wildflowers.

Q: What is the hot pursuit for research in drought-tolerant plants?
Now that we have the ability to make any rice variety submergence tolerant, we want to increase the tolerance. The goal is to make the plant capable of enduring stress at different times in its life cycle. For example, we think we can develop rice that can grow rapidly underwater from a seed, become established as a photosynthetically active plant, and then be able to endure floods. My colleagues at the International Rice Research Institute are doing the breeding for this project, and my group is studying the cellular mechanisms. Now that the movie “Avatar” has put the term "signal transduction" into the public lexicon, I can say that what we are studying is the signal transduction that happens when oxygen levels fall. The big question is this: How is environmental change perceived and how does the plant cell respond to protect itself from the energy crisis that occurs when oxygen levels are limiting?

Q: What leadership role will California and the U.S. play in addressing these questions?
Our studies on plant stress responses are linked with the issue of global food security. The anticipated increase in world population to more than 9 billion by 2050 requires a doubling of food production. Providing farmers with seed that can grow in adverse environments is essential to this need. Our state and nation needs to continue support of basic and applied research in this area.

Q: Which thinkers, speakers or books in your field would you recommend to a general audience?
My UC Davis colleague Pamela Ronald has written a popular science book with her husband, an organic farmer, entitled, “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food.” In the book she talks about the development of submergence tolerant rice from her perspective as a molecular geneticist.
Julia Bailey-Serres "Unlike animals that can move away from environmental threats, plants must stick out hard times."

—Julia Bailey-Serres