Illinois Plant Biology is home to some of the world's most highly cited researchers and boasts world-class facilities for research in the areas represented at right. Our department is consistently ranked among the Top 10 Botany/Plant Biology programs nationally.

Physiology & Development icon

Physiology &


Systematics & Evolution icon

Evolution &


Biochemistry & Genetics icon

Genetics &


Ecology & Climate Change

Ecology &
Climate Change


to Plant Biology alumnus Karl Niklas Karl Niklas for his selection for the University of Illinois Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Achievement Award for 2012. Karl earned both his MS (1971) and PhD (1974) in Botany at Illinois, under the guidance of eminent paleoecologist Tom L. Phillips (Professor Emeritus, Plant Biology). Niklas is currently the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the Department of Plant Biology at Cornell University. He pioneered the areas of plant biomechanics, allometry, and functional morphology, and has received numerous prestigious awards in recognition for his long-standing contributions to understanding plant evolutionary biology.

to Plant Biology faculty member Lisa Ainsworth for receiving the prestigious 2012 Charles Albert Schull Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists. ASPB's Schull Award Committee noted that Lisa deserves the award "for her impressive scholarship that she incorporates into her teaching and service. Lisa’s pioneering research on current and potential impacts of global and environmental change on both natural and managed plant ecosystems is widely appreciated."

Congratulations to Plant Biology faculty member and Gutgsell Endowed Professor Stephen Long Steve in Miscanthus for receiving the 2012 Charles F. Kettering Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists "for his many seminal discoveries of the responses of photosynthesis to changes in the physical environment as well as the role of photosynthesis in mitigating climate change. Most recently, he and collaborators are developing plants as renewable sources of liquid fuel and addressing the social, economic, and ethical dimensions of allocating part of the food-producing landscape to the production of fuel."


fungiPRIME RIB FOR FUNGI. That's how Plant Biology affiliate professor Andrew Miller describes the cave-dwelling bats that are preyed upon by the appropriately named Pseudogymnoascus (formally Geomyces) destructans, the fungus that causes bat white-nose syndrome. The disease has killed as much as 20% of the species in the US and further losses are inevitable if a control is not found. Andrew and Plant Biology graduate student Dan Raudabaugh examined the pathogen's nutritional requirements in an effort to understand its ecology and thus, hopefully, discover a way to stop it. Unfortunately, the fungus is anything but finicky, happily nibbling on any and all cave detritis, both animal and vegetable, biding its time until the main course is served, the bat's wings and nose. So the ball is definitely in the bats' court: Develop immunity or continue to decline until P. destructans has to move down the menu to another host as appetizing and satisfying as the bat. Read the details of Andrew and Dan's study in PLOS ONE, the Los Angeles Times and Science Daily.

WELCOME! In August 2013, Plant Biology welcomed new graduate students into the biotechnology-focused Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program, which was established in 2011.  The new students (l-r), Troy Driskell, Julian Alvarado, Andrew Gabalis, Haorui Yang and Xinyi Tu bring unique backgrounds, scientific interests and career goals to our 15-month degree program.  From the outset of their training in the PSM, the students merge their science and business coursework with hands-on applications.  Among these, the industry team projects, developed in collaboration with our business partners, are centerpieces of the Plant Biology PSM.  For the Fall 2013 semester, our new students have already launched their first project with LICOR Biosciences in a venture that merges lab-based research with the development and implementation of product marketing strategies.  Learn more about our new grad students and the Plant Biology’s science + business MS program…

Long&ChuCONGRATULATIONS OF THE HIGHEST ORDER. Illinois Plant Biologist and Gutgsell Professor Stephen Long has been elected a FELLOW OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON, the United Kingdom's most elite scientific body. Shown here describing his biofuels research to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a recent Advanced Research Projects Agenecy-Energy (ARPA-E) summit in Washington, D.C., Stephen was cited by the Royal Society thus: "His integration of mechanistic models with novel techniques in environmental physiology and innovative large-scale field experiments have changed understanding of how global change affects productivity and physiology scaling from molecular to regional levels, and has informed approaches to improving crop yield. His work contributed to the emergence of Miscanthus as a major bioenergy crop and provided a novel framework for increasing crop yields through improved photosynthetic efficiency." Read more at the Institute for Genomic Biology's site here. Congratulations Stephen!

FODDER FOR FUEL. If plants are to make a significant contribution to modern society's seemingly unquenchable thirst for liquid fuels, we'll need to choose, understand and breed the best species for the job. A multi-institutional team that includes Illinois Plant Biologist Andrew Leakey has been awarded a five-year, $12.1 million grant from the US Department of Energy to explore genetically, physiologically and agronomically Foxtail Millet (Setaria viridis). The project, lead by the St. Louis Danforth Center, seeks to elevate the relatively obscure S. viridis LeakeySetariaYouTubeto the level of "model organism", with insights from the study of which to be rapidly applied to its cousins, promising biofuel feedstock candidates, Miscanthus and switchgrass. Andy's research program will receive $1.8M of the award to focus on drought tolerance. Read the story or watch the video to hear Andy describe the project. Andy's DOE Biofuels project was recently featured on a segment of EarthSky. Click here to listen to the episode.

RyanKCarolynCONGRATULATIONS to Plant Biology grad student Ryan Kelly and PEEC grad student Carolyn Barrett, winner and runner-up, respectively, of the 2012 Deevey Award from the Paleoecology Section of the Ecological Society of America. The award is given annually "to honor [Edward S.] Deevey's contributions through fostering the highest quality paleoecological research by graduate students. The award recognizes the best oral or poster presentation in paleoecology by a graduate student at the annual meeting of the Society." Ryan's award-winning talk was entitled "Pushing the limits of the Alaskan boreal forest fire regime: Modern changes in a 10,000 year context" and Carolyn's, "How many lake-sediment cores do we need to characterize regional fire-regime changes using macro-charcoal records?". Both Ryan and Carolyn work with Feng Sheng Hu.

papaya flowersON THE ORIGINS OF SEX (chromosomes). We may take for granted the X and Y chromosomes that largely determine our, and many plants', genders. But they weren't born out of thin air. They evolved by chance and selection from garden variety non-sex chromosomes called autosomes. Our human X and Y are about 167 million years old. Illinois Plant Biologist Ray Ming's team discovered that papaya's Yh chromosome was born a mere 7 million years ago when a major sequence rearrangement in the DNA of a papaya autosome occurred by chance, genetically isolating it from recombination with its erstwhile partner autosome. The Yh was further estranged 5 million years later with a second major inversion and continues to evolve to this day, slowly losing genes. At the same time, the papaya X chromosome is growing, bloating up with repetitive gene-less DNA. These and other findings were reported by Ray and co-workers in a pair of papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Paul NabityCONGRATULATIONS to Plant Biology Graduate Student Paul Nabity on his Ph.D. and successful defense of his thesis entitled "Interplay between insect herbivores and induced-plant responses"" under Evan DeLucia.

Ashley SpenceCONGRATULATIONS to Plant Biology Graduate Student Ashley Spence on her Ph.D. and successful defense of her thesis entitled "Molecular analysis of cold tolerance in Miscanthus x giganteus"" under Stephen Long.

PSMstudentsBiotechnology Professional Science Master's students chart a new course for the Plant Biology graduate degree programs: The Professional Science Master's (PSM) in Plant Biology is situated at the exciting intersection of the science and business of biotechnology, this non-thesis, 16-month program of study merges interdisciplinary graduate studies with the business knowledge and skills vital to the management needs of biotechnology industries. The PSM in Plant Biology enhances the preparation of students for these careers by embedding experiential learning and industry connections into a biotechnology-focused course of study. The first Plant Biology PSM students are advancing their interests in R&D, public relations, market research and consulting. Learn More…

Andrea GschwendCONGRATULATIONS to Plant Biology Graduate Student Andrea Gschwend on her Ph.D. and successful defense of her thesis entitled "Genetically mapping the male-specific region of male and hermaphrodite papaya's Y chromosome; effects of elevated carbon dioxide on soybean flower abortion" under Ray Ming.

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