Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence

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Research Focus

Below are the areas in which Berkeley Plant & Microbial Biology researchers have special expertise and focus :


Innovative Perchlorate Research

Perchlorate was first identified as an environmental contaminant in the late 1900s and was added to the Environmental Protection Agency's Contaminant candidate list in 1998. Bioremediation is a process where microorganisms are used to break down pollutants like perchlorate.

Fossil Fuel Microbiology

Improving Oil Recovery

Although the use of non-traditional energy sources such as biofuels, solar, and wind will increase substantially over the next two decades, predictions suggest that these will account for less than ten percent of total energy by 2030.

Evolutionary Biology


Evolutionary biology is a subdiscipline of the biological sciences concerned with the origin of life and the diversification and adaptation of life forms over time. These processes include natural selection, common descent, and speciation.

The Blackman Lab focuses on the diversification in the phenotypic plasticity of developmental timing. Because environments fluctuate daily and seasonally, the onsets...

Plant-Microbe Interactions

Plants defend themselves from attack by disease, but microbes can overcome existing plant defenses, so there is a continual arms race. Plants also need strategies to take advantage of beneficial microbes. Understanding how plants and microbes interact is key to maintaining or improving crop yields, an important area of research as the world population increases.


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...


Several of our principal investigators are leaders in the field of epigenetics, the study of stable changes in gene activities that alter how the organism looks, lives, behaves and survives.

Circadian Clock

Most organisms have an innate ability to measure time. For example, plants do not simply respond to sunrise but can anticipate the dawn and sunset and adjust their biology accordingly. This is the fascinating field of the Circadian Clock. Research over the past 30 years and the powerful approach of molecular genetics has elucidated the underpinings of the...

Plant Signaling

The term "Plant Signaling" encompasses the many ways that plant cells perceive their environment, as well as cell-cell signaling within the plant.

Sheng Luan studies how plants perceive and respond to extracellular signals by modifying their developmental and physiological programs. His lab has identified a new molecular network for calcium signal transduction in plants. Downstream of these early...


Environmental pollution is a major threat to our planet, and water supplies are particularly vulnerable.

Electric utilities, oil refineries, and chemical plants produce billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater each year. In agriculture, toxic levels of various elements pollute the groundwater as a result of excessive fertilizer application, including nitrates and phosphates, and through leaching...


Many organisms, ranging from mammals to single-celled algae, are capable of transforming inorganic atoms into elaborate three-dimensional minerals in a process referred to as biomineralization. These biominerals are used as teeth, skeletons, protective shells and even navigational devices. Understanding biomineralization at a molecular level can also lead to novel applications that are informed by the special properties of biominerals...