Dazhong Zhao

Biological Sciences


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Pennsylvania State University, 1998-2000
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Peking University, China, 1996-1998
  • PhD, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, 1996
  • MS, Hunan Agricultural University, China, 1993
  • BS, Huazhong Agricultural University, China, 1990

Research Interests

Receptor Kinase-activated Signal Transduction and MicroRNA-mediated Auxin Signaling in Cell Differentiation

Plants and animals basically produce two types of cells, i.e. somatic and reproductive cells, in their life cycles. A longstanding question is how somatic and reproductive cells differentiate during sexual reproduction. Research in our laboratory aims at elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which receptor kinase-activated signal transduction and microRNA-mediated auxin signaling control cell fate determination in plant sexual reproduction using molecular genetic, cell biological, biochemical, biophysical, genomic, and proteomic approaches.

Anther, the male part of a flower, is essential to plants for production of offspring; it is also crucial in agriculture for maintaining crop quality and yield. The anther produces reproductive microsporocytes (pollen mother cells) which give rise to pollen (male gametophytes), and the surrounding somatic cells that support normal pollen development. We found that the EXCESS MICROSPOROCYTES1 (EMS1) receptor kinase plays a central role in somatic and reproductive cell fate determination in early anther development. Over the past decade, we have identified several major signaling components in the EMS1 signal transduction pathway, including the small protein ligand TPD1, the potential co-receptor SERK1/2, and a downstream player, βCA (β-Carbonic anhydrase). Our laboratory is focusing on dissecting the molecular basis and functions of receptor kinase-mediated signal transduction pathways in somatic and reproductive cell differentiation using anther as our system.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs), found in both plants and animals, are small (~21 nucleotides) non-coding RNAs. MiRNAs have emerged as crucial regulators of gene expression. Recent studies suggest that miRNAs are involved in signaling networks to ensure the precise control of many biological processes, ranging from cell proliferation, differentiation, death, development to stress responses. The second focus of our research is to identify the molecular mechanisms by which miR160 and its target genes ARF10, 16, and 17 coordinate the auxin signaling to regulate megaspore mother cell differentiation during ovule development in the model species Arabidopsis, and early fruit development in the important fruit crop, tomato.

Flower Development in Crops Under Normal and Stress Conditions

 Flower quality determines the yield of crops. Our laboratory is currently identifying genes essential for flower development in sorghum using genomic tools. We are also studying gene networks important for strawberry flower development under the heat stress. Male sterility is widely exploited for hybrid breeding, to prevent gene flow, and to increase plant biomass. We are developing new hybrid breeding systems and optimizing our method for creating bisexually sterile plants (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2-OgrbUbY).

Our laboratory provides various research and education opportunities for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, as well as visiting students and scholars. We welcome inquiries about positions at different levels.

Selected Publications

Huang, J, Li, Z, Biener, G, Xiong, E, Malik, S, Eaton, N, Zhao, C Z., Raicu, V, Kong, H, and Zhao, D. “Carbonic Anhydrases Function in Anther Cell Differentiation Downstream of the Receptor-Like Kinase EMS1.” The Plant cell 29.6 (2017): 1335-1356.
, , and . E-book: Molecular and Cellular Plant Reproduction. Ed. Zhao, Dazhong, Chong, K, and Palanivelu, R. Frontiers in Plant Science, 2017.
Xin, Z, Huang, J, Smith, A R., Chen, J, Burke, J, Sattler, S E., and Zhao, D. “Morphological Characterization of a New and Easily Recognizable Nuclear Male Sterile Mutant of Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor).” PloS one 12.1 (2017): e0165195.
Li, Z, Wang, Y, Huang, J, Ahsan, N, Biener, G, Paprocki, J, Thelen, J J., Raicu, Valerica, and Zhao, Dazhong. “Two SERK Receptor-Like Kinases Interact with EMS1 to Control Anther Cell Fate Determination.” Plant physiology 173.1 (2017): 326-337.
Klocko, A L., Brunner, A M., Huang, J, Meilan, R, Lu, H, Ma, C, Morel, A, Zhao, D, Ault, K, Dow, M, Howe, G, Shevchenko, O, and Strauss, S H. “Containment of transgenic trees by suppression of LEAFY.” Nature biotechnology 34.9 (2016): 918-22.
Huang, J, Zhang, T, Linstroth, L, Tillman, Z, Otegui, M S., Owen, H A., and Zhao, D. “Control of Anther Cell Differentiation by the Small Protein Ligand TPD1 and Its Receptor EMS1 in Arabidopsis.” PLoS genetics 12.8 (2016): e1006147.
Damodharan, S, Zhao, D, and Arazi, T. “A common miRNA160-based mechanism regulates ovary patterning, floral organ abscission and lamina outgrowth in tomato.” The Plant journal : for cell and molecular biology 86.6 (2016): 458-71.
Huang, J, Wijeratne, A J., Tang, C, Zhang, T, Fenelon, R E., Owen, H A., and Zhao, D. “Ectopic expression of TAPETUM DETERMINANT1 affects ovule development in Arabidopsis.” Journal of experimental botany 67.5 (2016): 1311-26.
Huang, J, Smith, A R., Zhang, T, and Zhao, D. “Creating Completely Both Male and Female Sterile Plants by Specifically Ablating Microspore and Megaspore Mother Cells.” Frontiers in plant science 7. (2016): 30.
Liu, X, Huang, J, Wang, Y, Khanna, K, Xie, Z, Owen, H A., and Zhao, D. “The role of floral organs in carpels, an Arabidopsis loss-of-function mutation in MicroRNA160a, in organogenesis and the mechanism regulating its expression.” The Plant journal : for cell and molecular biology 62.3 (2010): 416-28.
Liu, X., Huang, J., Parameswaran, S., Ito, T., Seubert, B., Auer, M., Rymaszewski, A., Jia, G., Owen, H. A., and Zhao, D. “The SPOROCYTELESS/NOZZLE gene is involved in controlling stamen identity in Arabidopsis.” Plant Physiology 151.3 (2009): 1401-11.
Jia, G., Liu, X., Owen, H. A., and Zhao, D. “Signaling of cell fate determination by the TPD1 small protein and EMS1 receptor kinase.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105.6 (2008): 2220-2225.
Zhao, D., Wang, G., Speal, B., and Ma, H. “The EXCESS MICROSPOROCYTES1 gene encodes a putative leucine-rich repeat receptor protein kinase that controls somatic and reproductive cell fates in the Arabidopsis anther.” Genes & Development 16. (2002): 2021-2031.
Zhao, D., Yu, Q., Chen, M., and Ma, H. “The ASK1 gene regulates B function gene expression in co-operation with UFO and LEAFY in Arabidopsis.” Development 128. (2001): 2735-2746.