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Natasha Raikhel

Distinguished Professor of Plant Cell Biology
Ernst and Helen Leibacher Endowed Chair
Watch research video Director, Center for Plant Cell Biology
Director, Institute for Integrative Genome Biology (IIGB)
Natasha Raikhel

Area of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • American Society of Plant Biologists Fellow (2007)
  • UCR Faculty Research Lecturer Award (2007)
  • Stephen Hales Prize, American Society of Plant Biologists (2004)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow (2003)
  • Women in Cell Biology Senior Award, American Society for Cell Biology (2002)
  • The Japan Society for Promotion of Science Fellowship (1996)
  • Guggenheim Fellow (1996)


Q: Why is plant cell biology research important?
We know a lot about the way plants develop (seeds germinate, seedlings grow and develop, plants flower) and respond when environmental conditions change on a genetic level. We know very little, however, about what is happening on a cellular level to proteins in live cells during development or in response to different environmental conditions. If we know how a live cell works, we can think of clever ways to strengthen its “durability” and usefulness. This information is critical to addressing the challenges we face on the increasing world-wide demand for food, global warming, and biofuel production.

Q: What is chemical genomics and what does this approach require?
Chemical genomics uses simple chemicals to alter the functions of specific proteins without killing the plant. The resulting changes in plant growth provide valuable clues about the functions of those proteins. At IIGB, we uniquely house a collection of chemicals and instruments devoted to this innovative scientific approach in plants. Our instruments are housed within an outstanding suite of facilities that includes a Microscopy Core which houses confocal microscopes to observe proteins in the cell. We also have a Proteomics Core to study how proteins change during development. We have state-of-the art Genomics and Bioinformatics Cores that use the latest technologies for sequencing genomes and understanding the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously.

Q: Why did the institute decide to make these investments?
We realized the critical need to develop cutting-edge core facilities several years ago as the genomics and technological revolution was underway. Investing in such a strong infrastructure was a prerequisite for becoming a first-rate research university and attracting top-notch scientists and extramural funding.

Q: How will your research benefit society?
Many genes and their encoded proteins have great potential to improve the quality of human life by allowing the growth of more nutritious food. The discovery and increased production of alternative fuels and sustainable materials for building and clothing will also result from our understanding of plant-specific processes that produce cellulose and many other raw materials. Understanding the cellular responses of plants to man-made environmental challenges will teach us how to best preserve sustainability on our planet. Our lab trains well-prepared students and other young scientists who will teach others, make new discoveries or work on practical applications of our research in industry.

Q: How is UCR recognized in the area of genomics?
UCR is internationally recognized for significant discoveries in the small RNA (sRNA) biology of many organisms, including plants like Arabidopsis and rice, insects including Drosophila (fruit flies), and disease vectors such as mosquitoes. With most of these researchers gathered under one roof in the brand new $54 million, 64,000 square-foot Genomics building, we are in a fantastic position to decipher how sRNAs are mobilized and regulated in insect/pathogen and plant/environment interactions which profoundly affect human welfare.

Q: Are you reading anything for pleasure?
I am reading a book by Gail Collins, “When Everything Changed,” about the amazing journey of American women from 1960 to the present.
Natasha Raikhel "If we know how a live cell works, we can think of clever ways to strengthen its 'durability' and usefulness."

—Natasha Raikhel