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Xuemei Chen

Watch research video Professor of Plant Cell and Molecular Biology
Xuemei Chen

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Plant Development
  • Small Regulatory RNAs
College: Department: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • 2007-2010 University Scholar, UC Riverside
  • 2006 Charles Albert Shull award from American Society of Plant Biologists
  • 2005 Board of Trustees Research Fellowship for Scholarly Excellence, Rutgers University
  • 1995-1997 NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 1991-1994 Cornell Plant Science Center Fellowship


Q: Why is research in plant cell biology important?
Research in plant biology uncovers basic mechanisms of life that are universal to multicellular organisms including humans. Research in plant biology is cost effective as compared to research using animal models.

Q: How does this research benefit the public?
By uncovering molecular mechanisms that are common in plants and animals, knowledge of the small RNA-degrading enzymes can potentially be translated into designing therapeutic small RNAs to treat human diseases.

Q: What got you started in this line of research?
I’ve been fascinated with nature since I was little. I’d have to say that it is my desire to understand nature that got me interested in plant cell biology. I feel fortunate that over the years I’ve been able to contribute to this well-populated research field and compete with other labs in the world.

Q: What motivates you to succeed?
I am motivated by my desire to understand life. Another motivation for me is a desire to educate the next generation of scientists, encourage and nourish their interest in science, and spread the joy of doing scientific research.

Q: Which thinkers, speakers or books do you recommend for a general audience?
I would recommend Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock’s scientific writings. McClintock remains a role model for me. It was she who developed the technique for visualizing maize chromosomes and used microscopic analysis to demonstrate many important genetic ideas.

Q: What books are you currently reading?
Currently, I am reading books about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose work was instrumental in revealing the structure of DNA. They are “Rosalind Franklin and DNA” by Anne Sayre; and “Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA” by Brenda Maddox.

Q: What are some of the hot topics of pursuit for researchers in plant cell biology? What are some of the big questions researchers are trying to answer?
Two come to mind right away: epigenetics and small RNA biology. Epigenetics is an aspect of genetic control that is important in human health. It refers to how some environmental influences can permanently activate or inactivate certain genes. RNA is a close cousin of DNA. Small RNA molecules play a role in gene regulation and expression. The successful application of small RNAs can enable the development of therapeutic applications for a variety of human diseases.

Q: What advice do you give to your students as they explore careers in your field?
I tell my students that this is truly an exciting time to be a plant cell biologist, given all the technological advances we have at our disposal to do research. I also tell them that keeping an open mind can help you make truly original discoveries.