About Us

The adaptation of crop plants to environmental stress conditions: 

Environmental stress due to drought and salinity are the most serious factors limiting the productivity of agricultural crops, which are predominantly sensitive to low soil moisture and the presence of high concentrations of salts in the soil. The relevance of solutions to these problems is of obvious importance for world’s agriculture in general and the State of California in particular. Crop production in both the Imperial Valley and the San Joaquin Valley is severely affected by limiting water resources and the progressive salinization of the soil. In addition, water resources are becoming increasingly scarce and water quality is decreasing, thus increasing the severity of the problem. Our work demonstrated that transgenic plants expressing IPT (isopentenyltransferase), a gene encoding an enzyme mediating cytokinin (CK) synthesis, under the control of the senescence- and stress-induced SARK promoter were able to survive drought stress with a significant yield advantage over wild-type plants. Moreover, the PSARK::IPT transgenic plants displayed reduced yield penalty and improved grain quality. Our working hypothesis, based on recent findings in our laboratory, is that in addition to the induction of protective mechanisms against the deleterious effects of stress, the partitioning of assimilates and nutrients between source and sink tissues is a key factor in the adaptation of crop plants to adverse environmental conditions in general and water deficit in particular. We have identified a number of genes that regulate hormone homeostasis, alter starch metabolism, and modify the plant source/sink balance during stress. We are characterizing the effect of these genes in ameliorating the effects of stress in the plants and pyramiding genes with complementary function. We use a System Biology approach combining molecular biology, plant transformation, genomics, proteomics and metabolomics to assess phenotype and gene function. We focus our work on cereals, using rice. Millet, wheat and the cereal model plant Brachypodium. Our work has generated a number of patents that have been licensed by the California biotechnology industry to develop salt tolerant and water use efficient cultivars.

The biochemical and molecular basis of fruit ripening: 

We are applying a systems biology approach (that combines genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, biochemistry, pre- and post-harvest physiology) to identify ethylene-mediated changes during fruit maturation, ripening and senescence aiming at the identification of key molecular and biochemical determinants that could be manipulated for the development of cultivars with enhanced quality traits. In particular, we are characterizing the metabolite profiles of climacteric and non-climacteric plum fruits and the protein/enzymes associated with ripening processes in climacteric and non-climateric plum fruits. We are analyzing the expression of genes associated with the development of quality traits in climacteric (and non-climacteric fruits) and identifying metabolic/enzymatic pathways associated with pre- and post-harvest quality traits.

Role of ion and pH homeostasis in plant growth and stress responses:

Our general is the characterization and identification of the biochemical and biophysical processes that regulate cell growth and cell expansion. We focus on the regulation of the transport of solutes (K+ and Na+ in particular), the establishment of ion and pH homeostasis in the plant cell and their impact on the regulation of cell volume and the traffic of membrane and their protein cargo between the different cell compartments, and the cell response to environmental changes. Our research builds on the work done by our group towards the characterization of the roles of the intracellular NHX-type of transporters. We have shown the paramount roles of the endosomal NHX5 and NHX6 in plant growth and development, and the vacuolar NHX1-NHX4 in floral development, cell expansion and ionic regulation. We apply a multidisciplinary approach to establish the functional role(s) of each intracellular NHX, combining physiology, biochemistry, genetics, genomics, vesicular membrane transport, the heterologous gene expression in plants, and use of multiple NHX-knockout lines developed in our laboratory.



Contact Us



Email: eblumwald@ucdavis.edu

Lab: 1201 PRB
Office: 1119 PRB

Department of Plant Sciences – Mail Stop 5
University of California
One Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616


Office: 530-752-4640
Lab: 530-754-7322
Fax: 530-752-2278

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From Highway 80: take Highway 113 north and exit on Hutchison Boulevard.  Drive east and turn left on Extension Center.  Parking is available for $6 in VP 30.  The Plant Reproductive Biology Building and the Bowley Plant Sciences Center are south of VP 30 and west of Transportation & Parking Services.  There are several one hour parking spots available on the west side of the building.

From Highway 5: take Highway 113 south and exit on Hutchison Boulevard.  Drive east and turn left on Extension Center.  Parking is available for $6 in VP 30. The Plant Reproductive Biology Building and the Bowley Plant Sciences Center are south of VP 30 and west of Transportation & Parking Services. There are several one hour parking spots available on the west side of the building.


Research Projects


The project aims at using a systems-based approach to develop new breeding tools for perennial grasses and apply these tools towards the improvement of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). Our objectives are: (1) Accelerate conventional breeding using the fast generation of doubled haploid lines (developing a CENH3-based method in switchgrass); (2) Use the model perennial grass Brachypodium sylvaticum to identify combinations of transgenes that confer tolerance to multiple abiotic stresses; (3) Develop a gene containment system to minimize gene flow from transgenic switchgrass; (4) Create transgenic switchgrass plants containing the best combinations of transgenes identified in objective 2 and the gene containment system from objective 3; (5) Evaluate the best transgenic switchgrass plants from objective 4 in field trials. click here


John Vogel [DOE Joint Genome Institute, Walnut Creek, CA94598]; Roger Thilmony [USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany CA94710]; Christian Tobias [USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany CA94710]



Abiotic stress is the primary cause of crop plant yield losses worldwide. Improving yield production and stability under stressful environments is needed to fulfill the food demand of the ever-growing world population, and an estimated increase of 50% in grain yield of major crops swill be needed by 2050. Drought, the most prominent threat to agricultural production worldwide, accelerates leaf senescence, leading to a decrease in canopy size, loss in photosynthesis and reduced yields. We hypothesized that it may be possible to enhance drought tolerance by altering sink/source relationships in the plant by promoting the stress-induced synthesis of cytokinins. The regulated expression of IPT (isopentenyltransferase) under the control of PSARK significantly improved drought tolerance in both laboratory and field conditions. Transgenic plants produced higher yields than wild-type plants in the field and the seeds from PSARK::IPT plants were normal, indicating that the nutritional value of the transgenic seeds was not altered. We used a multidisciplinary approach that combined genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and enzyme function analysis to identify and characterize cellular/biochemical components that regulate Carbon and Nitrogen metabolism in plants grown under water deficient conditions. Stress-induced cytokinin production had a positive effect on nitrate uptake as well as on the expression of genes associated with primary N assimilation and N re-assimilation, enhanced higher protein synthesis and the strengthening of the transgenic plants sink capacity. A System Biology approach was applied to identify genes and gene networks mediating the stress-response of crops to abiotic stress. A number of genes have been identified, and their expression has been modified in a number of crop species. The role of these genes and their effects on survival to stress is under study. Click here  Click here

Selected references:

Wang S, Blumwald E (2014). The regulation of stress-induced chloroplast degradation via a process independent of autophagy and senescence-associated vacuoles Plant Cell. 26:4875-4888.

Reguera M, Peleg Z, Abdel-Tawab YM, Tumimbang EB, Delatorre CA, Blumwald E (2013). Stress-Induced CK Synthesis Increases Drought Tolerance through the Coordinated Regulation of Carbon and Nitrogen Assimilation in Rice. Plant Physiol. 163:1609-1622.

Reguera M, Peleg Z, Blumwald, E. (2012). Targeting metabolic pathways for genetic engineering abiotic stress in crops. Biochem. Biophys. Acta. 1819:186-194.

Peleg, Z, Reguera, M., Walia, H., Blumwald, E. (2011) Cytokinin mediated source-sink modifications improve drought tolerance and increases grain yield in rice under water stress, Plant Biotechnol. J. 9:747-758.


Na+/H+ antiporters (NHX-type) are important regulators of intracellular pH and K+(Na+) homeostasis in plant cells. In Arabidopsis the NHX gene family includes six intracellular Na+/H+ members (AtNX1-6), which localize to either the vacuole (AtNHX1-4), or to trafficking endosomes (AtNHX5-6). Previously we showed that the double knockout nhx1nhx2 had reduced growth rates, smaller cells, shorter hypocotyls in etiolated seedlings and abnormalities in flower development. Measurements of intravacuolar pH and K+ concentrations indicated that nhx1nhx2 vacuoles were more acidic and accumulated less K+. nhx1nhx2 plants also displayed severe sensitivity to added K+ (10mM) but not to Na+, and the addition of 50mM NaCl to the growth medium partially rescued the growth phenotype. These results demonstrated that NHX1 and NHX2 play significant roles in vacuolar K+/H+ exchange and are key determinants in establishing vacuolar K+ homeostasis and raised questions regarding the cellular ‘compatibility’ of K+ ions, the transport of Na+ into the vacuole, the role of both ions in generating the vacuolar turgor needed to drive cell expansion, as well as the cellular response to high salinity. We extended these studies to a larger comparative analysis of additional multiple knockout lines lacking all possible combinations of NHX1, NHX2, NHX3 and NHX4. Triple and tetra knockouts exhibited complex and unique growth phenotypes suggesting that individual NHX isoforms contribute differentially to cell growth. We measured and compared vacuolar pH, K+ and Na+ concentrations, under varying conditions, in different knockout lines with the goal of quantifying the contribution of each vacuolar isoform to cell pH and ion homeostasis. Furthermore, other results showed that the Golgi and trans-Golgi network-localized NHX members, NHX5 and NHX6 are required for vesicular trafficking, cell growth and salt-stress responses. To investigate the roles of NHX5 and NHX6 in maintaining vesicular pH homeostasis, we developed genetically encoded pH sensors and targeted these to the distinct endomembrane compartments, along the secretory pathway. Measurements of endosomal pH, indicated that a gradual acidification of compartments from the ER to the vacuole exists. Using nhx5nhx6 double knockouts, we further investigated the role of intravesicular pH and ion homeostasis on vesicular trafficking and protein processing. Using a combination of approaches including in vivo protein-protein interactions, biochemical characterization of protein complexes, and in vivo endomembrane pH measurements, we provide evidence indicating that pH and/or ion homeostasis, controlled by NHX5 and NHX6, is a requisite for receptor mediated processing of storage proteins and trafficking of storage proteins to protein storage vacuoles.click here

Selected references:

Reguera M, Bassil E, Tajima H, Wimmer M, Chanoca L, Otegui M, Paris N, Blumwald E (2015). pH regulation by NHX-type antiporters is required for receptor -mediated protein trafficking to the vacuole. Plant Cell 27:1200-1217.

Bassil E and Blumwald E (2014) The ins and outs of intracellular ion homeostasis: NHX-type Cation/H+ transporters. Curr. Op. Plant Biol. 22:1-6.

Martiniere A, Bassil E, Jublanc E, Alcon C, Reguera M, Sentenac H, Blumwald E, Paris N (2013). In vivo intracellular pH measurements reveal an unexpected pH gradient in the plant endomembrane system. Plant Cell, 25:4028-4043.

Bassil E, Tajima H, Liang Y-C, Ohto M, Ushijima K, Nakano R, Esumi T, Coku A, Blumwald E (2011). The Arabidopsis Na+/H+ Antiporters NHX1 and NHX2 Regulate Vacuolar pH and K+ Homeostasis to Control Growth Flower Development and Reproduction Plant Cell 23: 3482-3511.

Bassil E., Ohto, M., Esumi, T., Tajima, H., Zhu Z., Belmonte, M., Peleg, Z., Yamaguchi T.,Blumwald, E. (2011). The Arabidopsis intracellular Na+/H+ antiporters AtNHX5 and AtNHX6 are implicated in novel endosomal functions associated with plant growth and development. Plant Cell. 23:224-239



Japanese plums represent the most abundant and variable group among tree species and include most of the fresh-market plums commercialized worldwide. We characterized and compared two Japanese plum cultivars, “Santa Rosa” (SR) and its bud-sport mutant “Sweet Miriam” (SM). These cultivars share the same genetic background but display contrasting ripening behaviors (SR, climacteric and SM, non-climacteric). Both cultivars differ in their sugar metabolism conferring the SM fruits with unusual quality properties (lower glucose and fructose, higher sorbitol and galactose-metabolism related sugars, etc). The main objective of this research is to characterize the differences in the complex sugar metabolic pathways between the cultivars and their possible crosstalk with ethylene biosynthesis-related enzymes, underlying their climacteric and non-climacteric fruit ripening behaviors. Fruits from each each cultivar were harvested at an early (S2: pit hardening) and late (S4: fully-ripe) stages of fruit development and assessed using a Systems Biology approach. Transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics methodologies, together with targeted gene expression and enzymatic activity assays were analyzed to reveal complex sugar metabolic interrelations and identify differences between the cultivars that could be associated to the observed changes in sugar homeostasis as well as ethylene biosynthesis and ethylene signaling. This experimental system provides a unique tool to study metabolic pathways underlying climacteric and non-climacteric fruit ripening behaviors and offers several practical applications. Understanding mechanisms that allow fruits to ‘switch’ to a sorbitol-based metabolism would have a great industry impact, since sorbitol is an alternative and healthier natural sweetener to sucrose. In addition, it could also allow the identification of candidate genes for breeding programs focused on fruit quality improvement.


Kim HY, Farcuh M, Cohen Y, Crisosto C, Sadka A, Blumwald E (2015). Non-climacteric ripening and sorbitol homeostasis in plum fruits. Plant Sci. 231:30-39.

Kim H-Y, Saha P, Farcuh M, Li B, Sadka A, Blumwald, E (2015). RNA-seq analysis of spatiotemporal gene expression patterns during plum fruit development reveal candidate genes for transcript normalization using quantitative Real-Time PCR. Plant Mol. Biol. Rep. in press. DOI 10.1007/s11105-015-0860-3



The goal of this project is to increase and stabilize yields of millet in South Asia and Africa and thus increase the incomes of small farmers in face of the harsh climatic conditions in which pearl millet is usually grown, while also preparing the crop to the even harsher conditions of future climates. By the end of the grant period, we expect to have one year of field trials at two locations in India to evaluate an increase in yield. The project will generate a range of products, either transgenic lines with triple construct, with or without a terminal drought tolerance QTL, and individual isolines containing several QTLs for components of terminal drought adaptation, all in a similar genetic background and ready for pyramiding. Our development objective is to demonstrate the value of these products to a point where the private sector will invest further and where a path for public sector delivery becomes feasible.


Vincent Vadez [ICRISAT, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India]


Saha P and Blumwald E (2014) Assessing reference genes for accurate transcript normalization using quantitative Real-Time PCR in Pearl Millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br. PloS ONE. 9(8) e106308 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0106308.

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Lab Christmas Party 2014


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In the News

$8.4 million for food grain and alternative fuel research

  • November 9, 2012
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November 9, 2012 Blumwald and his colleagues will use the grants to develop new molecular biology tools to accelerate switchgrass breeding and biotechnology tools to develop new varieties of pearl millet, a small-seeded grass. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo) With new grants totaling $8.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development […]

New Drought-tolerant Plants Offer Hope for Warming World

  • November 26, 2007
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Genetically engineered crop plants that survive droughts and can grow with 70 percent less irrigation water have been developed by an international team led by researchers at the University of California, Davis. The discovery offers hope for global agriculture that is already grappling with limited and variable water supplies. Research findings concerning the new drought-tolerant […]

Tomato research nurtures hope

  • August 17, 2001
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By Pat Bailey A genetically engineered tomato plant that thrives in salty irrigation water and may hold the key to one of agriculture’s greatest dilemmas has been developed by plant biologists at UC Davis and the University of Toronto. As the first truly salt-tolerant crop, these tomatoes offer hope that other crops can also be […]