Sean Cutler is a plant biologist recognized for his work on plant responses to drought. He is known particularly for his studies on the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA), which is a stress-activated signaling molecule that plants make to help them acclimate to water stress. Cutler was born in Ontario, Canada and grew up the suburbs of Toronto. He graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in anthropology (BA) and botany (MS) and from Stanford University in 2001 with a Ph.D. in biological sciences. After brief postdoctoral studies at the Scripps Research Institute, he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and subsequently moved to the University of California, Riverside in 2006, where he has been since. He is currently a Professor of Plant Cell Biology in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Research Interests

Sean Cutler's laboratory is interested in understanding and manipulating plant responses to drought. His laboratory uses a combination of chemical, biochemical, and genetic approaches to dissect the mechanism of action of a plant drought stress-signaling molecule abscisic acid (ABA). ABA levels rise after drought stress and it acts to induce protective responses. When he started his lab in 2002 a long-standing unresolved question was: how is ABA perceived? Previous attempts to answer this question using mutational analysis had turned up empty-handed; we now know that this was due to the extensive genetic redundancy of the ABA perception machinery. His laboratory took a chemical genetic approach and identified a synthetic ABA mimic called pyrabactin that selectively activated a subset of ABA responses. His group then used pyrabactin as a reagent to isolate an ABA receptor called Pyrabactin Resistance 1, which was a pivotal step in the path to our current understanding of plant signal transduction. His lab has since developed synthetic ABA mimics that are being explored as tools for mitigating the effects of drought stress. Recently, his laboratory has been developing synthetic biology tools to enable programming of chemically controlled traits in crops.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 62: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences