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Chung-Jui (CJ) Tsai

Blurred image of the arch used as background for stylistic purposes.
Winfred N. "Hank" Haynes Professor
Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar
Ph.D. (1995) Michigan Technological University
  • I am a plant biologist with a special passion for large organisms - trees! Trees are 'large' not merely by their physical or genome size, but primarily by their longevity. Longevity depends on a perennial growth habit, which can mean added functionalities for genes, proteins and metabolites compared to herbaceous annuals. The quest for 'what makes a tree a tree' has led to various projects ranging from gene family evolution and functional diversification, to transgenic manipulation of traits important to growth and development. We use a variety of experimental approaches in our investigations, ranging from transcriptomics (RNA-Seq, sRNA-Seq and degradome), metabolomics (GC-MS and HPLC-MS) and CRISPR genome editing, to the more traditional tools of genetics, biochemistry and plant physiology. Needless to say, our research has industrial relevance due to the importance of forest trees as renewable feedstock. Our work is also of ecological relevance, because many of the traits we investigate are important in tree interactions with herbivores and pathogens.
  • Grant Support
    • Somatic genetic and epigenetic variations in long-lived perennial trees and their interactions with the environment. NSF (PI, Schmitz) 
    • The Center for Bioenergy Innovation. DOE (PI, Tuskan)
    • Promoting diversity in agriscience through integrative undergraduate training and research experiences in crop genetics and genomics. USDA-AFRI
Selected Publications:
  • Gu X, Chen I-G, Harding SA, Nyamdari B, Ortega MA, Clermont K, Westwood JH, Tsai C-J (2021) Plasma membrane phylloquinone biosynthesis in nonphotosynthetic parasitic plants. Plant Physiology (2021 Focus Issue on Parasitic Plants). link

  • Tsai C-J (2021) genome editing of woody perennial trees. In: M. Willmann (ed), Genome Editing for Precision Crop breeding. Burleigh Dodds (in press).

  • Harding SA, Frost CJ, Tsai CJ (2020) Defoliation‐induced compensatory transpiration is compromised in SUT4‐RNAi Populus. Plant Direct 4: 1-13 link

  • Tsai C-J, Xu P, Xue L-J, Hu H, Nyamdari B, Naran R, Zhou X, Goeminne G, Gao R, Gjersing E, Dahlen J, Pattathil S, Hahn MG, Davis MF, Ralph J, Boerjan W, Harding SA (2020) Compensatory guaiacyl lignin biosynthesis at the expense of syringyl lignin in 4CL1-knockout poplar. Plant Physiology 183: 123-136. link

  • Heyduk K, Ray JN, Ayyampalayam  S, Moledina  N, Borland A, Harding  SA, Tsai  C-J, Leebens-Mack J (2019) Shared expression of Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) genes predates the origin of CAM in the genus Yucca. Journal of Experimental Botany 70: 6597-6609. link

  • Harding SA, Tsai CJ (2018) Cell wall pectins in tree growth and woody biomass utilization. In: Canovas FM (ed.), Advances in Botanical Research Vol 89: Molecular Physiology and Biotechnology of Trees. Academic Press, pp. 235-256.

  • Ullah C, Tsai C-J, Unsicker S, Xue L-J, Reichelt M, Gershenzon J, Hammerbacher A (2018) Salicylic acid activates poplar defense against the biotrophic rust fungus Melampsora larici-populina via increased accumulation of catechin and proanthocyanidins. New Phytologist 221: 960-975. link

  • Bewg WP, Ci D, Tsai C-J (2018) Genome editing in trees: From multiple repair pathways to long-term stability. Frontiers in Plant Science 9:1732. link

  • Scully E, Geib S, Mason C, Carlson JE, Tien M, Chen H-Y, Harding S, Tsai C-J, Hoover K (2018) Host-plant induced changes in microbial community structure and midgut gene expression in an invasive polyphage (Anoplophora glabripennis). Scientific Reports 8: 9620. link

  • Tsai CJ, Harding SA, Cooke JEK (2018) Branching out: A new era of investigating physiological processes in forest trees using genomic tools. Tree Physiology 38: 397-408. link

  • Harding SA, Hu H, Nyamdari B, Xue L-J, Naran R, Tsai C-J (2018) Tubulins, rhythms and cell walls in poplar leaves: it’s all in the timing. Tree Physiology 38: 397-408. link

  • Hu H, Gu X, Xue L-J, Swamy PS, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2016) Tubulin C-terminal post-translational modifications do not occur in wood-forming tissues of Populus.  Frontiers in Plant Science 7: 1493. link

  • Xue, L-J, Frost CJ, Tsai C-J, Harding SA (2016) Drought response transcriptomes are altered in poplar with reduced tonoplast sucrose transporter expression. Scientific Reports 6: 33655. link

  • Bowsher AW, Ali R, Harding SA, Tsai C-J, Donovan LA (2016) Evolutionary divergences in root exudate composition among ecologically-contrasting Helianthus species. PLoS One 11: e0148280. link

  • Mason CM, Bowsher AW, Crowell BL, Celoy RM, Tsai C-J, Donovan LA (2016) Macroevolution of leaf defenses and secondary metabolites across the genusHelianthus. New Phytologist 209:1720-1733. link

  • Tsai C-J, Xue L-J (2015) CRISPRing into the woods. GM Crops & Food 6:206-215. link

  • Bowsher AW, Ali R, Harding SA, Tsai C-J, Donovan LA (2015) Analysis of wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) root exudates using gas chromatography‐mass spectrometry. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 178: 776-786. link

  • Xue L-J, Tsai C-J (2015) AGEseq: Analysis of genome editing by sequencing. Molecular Plant 8: 1428-1430. link

  • Zhou X, Jacobs TB, Xue L-J, Harding S, Tsai C-J (2015) Exploiting SNPs for biallelic CRISPR mutations in the outcrossing woody perennial Populus reveals 4-coumrate:CoA ligase specificity and redundancy. New Phytologist 208: 298-301. link

  • Swamy PS, Hu H, Pattathil S, Maloney VJ, Xiao H, Xue L-J, Chung J-D, Johnson VE, Zhu Y, Peter GF, Hahn MG,  Mansfield SD, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2015) Tubulin perturbation leads to unexpected cell wall modifications and affects stomatal behavior in Populus. Journal of Experimental Botany 66: 6507-6518. link

  • Xue L-J, Alabady MS, Mohebbi M, Tsai C-J (2015) Exploiting genome variation to improve next-generation sequencing data analysis and genome editing efficiency in Populus tremula x alba 717-1B4.  Tree Genetics and Genomes 11:82. link

  • Harding SA, Xue L-J, Du L, Nyamdari B, Lindroth RL, Sykes R, Davis MF, Tsai C-J (2014) Condensed tannin biosynthesis and polymerization synergistically condition carbon use, defense and growth in Populus.  Tree Physiology 34: 1240-1251. link

  • Peng D, Gu X, Xue L-J, Leebens-Mack JH, Tsai CJ (2014) Bayesian phylogeny of sucrose transporters: Ancient origins, differential expansion and convergent evolution in monocots and dicots.  Frontiers in Plant Science 5: 615. link

  • Chen H-Y, Babst BA, Nyamdari B, Sykes R, Davis MF, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2014) Loblolly pine contains phylogenetically divergent 4-coumarate:CoA ligases that confer distinct metabolic phenotypes when over-expressed in Populus. Plant Cell Physiology 55: 1669-1678. link

  • Babst BA, Chen H-Y, Wang H-Q, Payyavula RS, Thomas TP, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2014) Stress responsive Populus hydroxycinnamate glycosyltransferase modulates phenylpropanoid homeostasis.  Journal of Experimental Botany 65: 4191-4200. link

  • da Silva Taveira JH, Borém FM, Figueiredo LP, Reis N, Franca AS, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2014) Potential markers of coffee genotypes grown in different Brazilian regions: Metabolomics approach. Food Research International 61: 75-82. link

  • Wang H-Q, Tsai C-J (2013) CorSig: A general framework for estimating statistical significance of correlation and its application to gene co-expression analysis.  PLoS One 8(10): e77429. link

  • Xu Y, Chen C-F, Thomas TP, Azadi P, Diehl B, Tsai C-J, Brown N, Carlson JE, Tien M, Liang H (2013) Wood chemistry analysis and expression profiling of a poplar clone expressing a tyrosine-rich peptide.  Plant Cell Reports 32: 1827-1841. link

  • ​Xue L-J, Guo W, Yuan Y, Anino EO, Nyamdari B, Wilson MC, Frost CJ, Chen H-Y, Babst BA, Harding SA and Tsai C-J (2013) Constitutively elevated salicylic acid levels alter photosynthesis and oxidative state, but not growth in transgenic Populus.  Plant Cell 25: 2714-2730. link Image removed.

  • Tsai C-J (2013) Next-generation sequencing for next-generation breeding, and more. New Phytologist 198: 635-637. link
  • Molina-Rueda JJ, Tsai C-J, Kirby EG (2013) The Populus superoxide dismutase gene family and its responses to drought stress in transgenic poplar overexpressing a pine cystolic glutamine synthase (GS1a). PLoS One 8(2): e56421. link

  • Tsai C-J, Harding SA (2013) In situ hybridization. 113: 339-359. link

  • Frost CJ, Nyamdari B, Tasi C-J, Harding SA (2012) The tonoplast-localized sucrose transporter in Populus (PtaSUT4) regulates whole-plant water relations, responses to water stress, and photosynthesis. PLoS One 7(8): e44467. link

  • Tuominen LK, Johnson VE, Tsai C-J (2011) Differential phylogenetic expansions in BAHD acyltransferases across five angiosperm taxa and evidence of divergent expression among Populus paralogues. BMC Genomics 12: 236. link

  • Payyavula RS, Tay KHC, Tsai C-J, Harding SA (2011) The sucrose transporter family in Populus: The importance of a tonoplast PtaSUT4 to bioamss and carbon partitioning. Plant Journal 65: 757-770. link Image removed.

  • Wang HQ, Tuominen LK, Tsai C-J (2011) SLIM: A sliding linear model for estimating the proportion of true null hypotheses in datasets with dependence structures.  Bioinformatics 27: 225-231. link

  • Wegrzyn JL, Eckert AJ, Choi M, Lee JM, Stanton BJ, Sykes R, Davis MF, Tsai CJ, Neale DB (2010) Association genetics of traits controlling lignin and cellulose biosynthesis in black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa, Salicaceae) secondary xylem. New Phytologist 188: 515-532. link

  • Gou J, Strauss SH, Tsai C-J, Fang K, Chen Y, Jiang X, Busov VB (2010) Gibberellins regulate lateral root formation in Populus through interaction with auxin and other hormones. Plant Cell 22: 623-639. link

  • Babst, B.A., S.A. Harding and C.-J. Tsai. 2010. Biosynthesis of phenolic glycosides from phenylpropanoid and benzenoid precursors in Populus. Journal of Chemical Ecology 36: 286-297. link

  • Payyavula, R.S., B.A. Babst, M.P. Nelsen, S.A. Harding and C.-J. Tsai. 2009. Glycosylation-mediated phenylpropanoid partitioning in Populus tremuloides cell cultures. BMC Plant Biology 9: 151. link

  • Yuan Y, Chung J-D, Fu X, Johnson VE, Ranjan P, Booth SL, Harding SA, Tsai CJ (2009) Alternative splicing and gene duplication differentially shaped the regulation of isochorismate synthase in Populus and Arabidopsis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 22020-22025. link

  • Harding SA, Jarvie MM, Lindroth RL, Tsai CJ (2009) A comparative analysis of phenylpropanoid metabolism, N utilization, and carbon partitioning in fast- and slow-growing Populus hybrid clones. Journal of Experimental Botany 60: 3443-3452. link

Of note:
  • Editor, Tree Physiology
  • Review Editor, Frontiers in Plant Biotechnology
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Fellow, International Academy of Wood Science (IAWS)
  • UGA Plant Center Director (2014-2017, 2019-2020) 
Articles Featuring Chung-Jui (CJ) Tsai
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 9:54am

Genetics scientist featured in the Columns: "UGA researchers think they've come up with a system to identify the genes in trees responsible for stress tolerance, which includes everything from extreme temperatures to disease. Now they're using a new $490,000…

Monday, March 16, 2015 - 9:14am

Genetics scientist highlighted as Focus on Faculty: CJ Tsai, the Winfred N. Haynes Professor in Forest Biotechnology and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, helps her students gain the confidence that they can work outside of their comfort zone and…

Monday, January 26, 2015 - 3:26pm

Genetics scientist was featured in the Columns:

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten has appointed a committee to begin a national search to fill the position of dean of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural…

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