Xuehua Zhong

Epigenetic regulation of plant traits and environmental adaptation.


  • BS, Wuhan University, China M.S., Wuhan University, China
  • PhD, The Ohio State University
  • Postdoctoral Research, University of California, Los Angeles

Research Description

Epigenetic regulation of plant traits and environmental adaptation

A functional plant or human body develops from a single cell. This cell divides and produces millions of cells that make up a body. If all cells that come from this very first cell were identical, there would be just a mass of cells and no body parts or organs. So subsequent to cell division, cells gradually become different from each other, a process called differentiation. These different cells build different organs that perform different functions. The burning question is: how do cells that ultimately come from a single cell become so different? A simple answer is that during specific stages of development the cells express different genes. This leads to the formation of distinct types of cells. Then, how do cells know what genes to express to make them distinct? One of the answers is epigenetic regulation, the chemical modification on chromatin, that switch gene ‘on’ or ‘off’ without changing the underlying DNA sequences. Epigenetic regulation is not only critical for the proper development of an organism, but also plays important roles in cross talk to the environment. The overall goal of our research is to uncover how versatile developmental and environmental signals trigger epigenetic modifications, how environmental conditions feed back to the epigenetic landscape, and how cells are instructed to deposit the modification correctly in the genome. By understanding how plants reprogram epigenetic landscapes to meet growth and survival needs, we are developing innovative tools to edit and engineer epigenomes for biomass production and agricultural improvement.


  • NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (2011)
   • NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award (2015)
   • Alfred Toepfer Faculty Fellow Award (2016)
   • NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (2017)
   • Vilas Faculty Early Career Investigator Award (2018)
   • Vilas Associates Award (2019)