Distinguished Professor J. Clark Lagarias of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Davis earned bachelor’s degrees in botany and chemistry in 1975 and his doctorate in chemistry in 1979, all from University of California at Berkeley. A faculty member at the University of California at Davis since 1980 Lagarias is internationally known for his work to understand the molecular basis of plant, algae and cyanobacteria light perception, focusing on a group of linear tetrapyrrole (bilin)-based light sensors in the phytochrome superfamily. The author of six issued US patents and over 150 peer-reviewed publications, Lagarias’ and colleagues’ research has provided new knowledge impacting crop improvement efforts, synthetic biology applications and development of bilin-based imaging and optogenetic agents for biomedical and agricultural applications used by many researchers worldwide.

Research Interests

My laboratory's current research focuses on defining the rules for spectral tuning and signal transfer within the phytochrome photoreceptor superfamily leveraging the molecular diversity that has arisen in nature. We seek to understand the design principles that underlie the successful fusion of bilin-binding, light-input modules with diverse, often nucleotide-binding signal output modules, which include protein kinases, nucleotidyl cyclases, transcription factors, amongst others. By functioning as bistable photoswitches, members of the extended phytochrome superfamily sense the color, intensity, direction and predictable/random fluctuations of light in the natural environment to effect behavioral responses ranging from motility, feeding, reproduction, circadian clock entrainment to the initiation/arrest of key developmental transitions of eubacteria, plants, eukaryotic algae, and fungi. Our studies exploit the profound evolution of spectra tuning, range of light intensity range responsiveness and temperature dependence of extant phytochrome light sensing that have been shaped by the environments to which these organisms are best adapted.

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Primary Section

Section 25: Plant Biology

Secondary Section

Section 21: Biochemistry