Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence

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Climate change has brought on significant droughts in California and the Southwest.


The duration and intensity of drought is increasing worldwide largely due to climate change. Faculty member Peggy Lemaux is leading a $12.3 million Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research-funded project to examine how the drought-tolerant cereal crop, sorghum, survives water loss.
Lemaux and fellow PMB researchers John Taylor, Devin Coleman-Derr, and John Vogel are partnering with Elizabeth Purdom, Department of Statistics, Jeff Dahlberg and Robert Hutmacher, directors of ANR Research Stations, Axel Visel from DOE’s Joint Genome Institute and Christer Jansson, at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 

Five Year Project

The five-year project, “Epigenetic Control of Drought Response in Sorghum" (EPICON), came in the midst of an historic drought in California. During three years of field testing, researchers will investigate responses to drought at the molecular level, including how gene expression changes and which proteins and metabolites are altered.

Peggy Lemaux

"Historically, the genetic manipulation of crops, which is critical to increasing agricultural productivity, has concentrated on altering the plant’s genetic sequence, encoded in its DNA," said Lemaux.

Sorghum at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, where field testing will take place next year. (Photo by Peggy Lemaux)

"However, recent studies have shown that environmental stresses – in our case drought – can lead to epigenetic changes in a plant’s genetic information. Because epigenetic changes occur without altering the underlying DNA sequence, they allow plants to respond to a changing environment more quickly."

It is now well known that associations of specific bacteria and fungi with plants have positive effects on plant fitness. Therefore, EPICON researchers will also track changes in the sorghum-associated microbial communities to determine whether they correlate with changes that directly contribute to the crop's drought tolerance.

Researchers expect to develop better predictions about how sorghum and other cereal crops are affected by future climate scenarios, leading to approaches to improve crop growth and production under water-limiting conditions.


Peggy Lemaux's Profile

UC Berkeley News

Daily Cal Article

John Taylor

Devin Coleman-Derr

John Vogel

Elizabeth Purdom 

Jeff Dahlberg

Robert Hutmatcher

Axel Visel

Christer Jansson