Venkatesan “Sundar” Sundaresan originally majored in Physics, receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pune, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur and Carnegie-Mellon University. He switched to life sciences for his doctoral studies, and obtained his Ph.D. in Biophyics from Harvard University for work on bacterial genes under the guidance of Fred Ausubel. This was followed by postdoctoral research in plant genetics in the lab of Mike Freeling at the University of California-Berkeley. His first faculty appointment was at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York. He subsequently became the founding Director of the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology (now the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratories) at the National University of Singapore. Since 2001, he has served on the faculty of the University of California-Davis, where he has continued his research on plant biology. During this period, he has also held appointments as Chair of the Department of Plant Biology, and as Program Director of the BREAD program, a collaboration between the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has served on the editorial boards of Genetics, Plant Reproduction, The Plant Cell and Trends in Plant Science.

Research Interests

A major research interest is plant reproduction, specifically the zygotic transition. In both plants and animals, the transition of a fertilized egg cell into a zygote is a critical step in sexual reproduction. In animals, early embryonic divisions rely on maternally provided gene products, whereas in plants, zygotic genome activation occurs before the first embryonic division. Using a rice model, transcription factors encoded by the paternal genome can be shown to play a key role in this triggering this transition. Manipulation of the corresponding genes in eggs bypasses fertilization, resulting in parthenogenesis. When combined with editing of meiosis genes, plants that reproduce stably as genetic clones can be generated. With these gene alterations, hybrid rice propagated through seeds maintains uniform hybrid vigour in subsequent generations. Fixation of hybrid vigour in crop plants has broad implications for the availability of high-yielding hybrid seeds at low cost to subsistence farmers. A second area of interest is unraveling the complexity of host-microbiome interactions in plants. The composition of root microbiomes undergo major and reproducible changes during developmental transitions and environmental stresses like drought. Exploring the potential benefits to the plant that arise from such microbiome restructuring can provide new routes for increasing crop yields beyond those available through conventional plant breeding.

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Primary Section

Section 25: Plant Biology