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Chung-Jui (CJ) Tsai

Blurred image of the arch used as background for stylistic purposes.
Winfred N. "Hank" Haynes Professor
Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar
Ph.D. (1995) Michigan Technological University

I am a plant biologist with a special passion for large organisms - trees! Trees are 'large' not merely by their physical or genome size, but primarily by their longevity. Longevity depends on a perennial growth habit, which can mean added functionalities for genes, proteins, and metabolites compared to herbaceous annuals. The quest for 'what makes a tree a tree' has led to various projects ranging from gene family evolution and functional diversification to transgenic manipulation of traits important to growth and development. We use a variety of experimental approaches in our investigations, ranging from transcriptomics, metabolomics, and CRISPR genome editing, to the more traditional tools of genetics, biochemistry and plant physiology. Needless to say, our research has industrial relevance due to the importance of forest trees as renewable feedstock. Our work is also of ecological relevance, because many of the traits we investigate are important in tree interactions with herbivores and pathogens.


Tsai C-J, Muchero W, Ranjan P, WINTR: Winter transcriptome regulation in poplar. DOE (2022-2025)

Buell CR, Dardick C, Parrott W, Schmitz R, Shih P, Tsai C-J, Urbanowicz B, BioPoplar: a tunable chassis for diversified bioproduct production. DOE (2022-2027)

Tuskan GA et al., The Center for Bioenergy Innovation II. DOE Bioenergy Research Center (2022-2027)

Yang L, Tsai C-J, Investigate the roles of endogenous salicylic acid in de novo organogenesis. NSF (2021-2024)

Tsai C-J, Brewer MT, McGregor CE, Smith SM, van der Knaap E, Crop Genetics and Genomics II: Promoting diversity in agriscience through undergraduate mentoring in research and extension. USDA-AFRI (2022-2027)

Tsai C-J, Donovan LA, Harding SA, Li Z, Mitchum MG, Villari C, Yang L, ultrahigh performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for metabolite profiling in crop and forestry research. USDA-AFRI (2021-2023)

Selected Publications:

Ortega MA, Zhou R, Chen MSS, Bewg WP, Simon B, Tsai C-J (2023) In vitro floral development in poplar: insights into seed trichome regulation and trimonoecy. New Phytologist 237: 1078-1081. Reprint  

Harding SA, Tuma TT, Aulakh K, Ortega MA, Ci D, Ou Y, Tsai C-J (2022) Tonoplast sucrose trafficking modulates starch utilization and water deficit behavior in poplar leaves. Plant Cell Physiology 63: 1117–1129. Reprint

Ullah C, Schmidt A, Reichelt M, Tsai C-J, Gershenzon J (2022) Lack of antagonism between salicylic acid and jasmonate signaling pathways in poplar. New Phytologist 235: 701-717. Reprint

Bewg WP, Harding SA, Engle N, Vaidya BN, Zhou R, Reeves J, Horn TW, Joshee N, Jenkins J, Shu S, Barry KW, Yoshinaga Y, Grimwood J, Schmitz RJ, Schmutz J, Tschaplinski TJ, Tsai C-J (2022) Multiplex knockout of trichome-regulating MYB duplicates in hybrid poplar using a single gRNA. Plant Physiology 189: 516–526. Reprint

Gu X, Chen I-G, Tsai C-J (2021) How do holoparasitic plants exploit vitamin K1? Plant Signaling & Behavior 16: 11. Reprint

Gu X, Chen I-G, Harding SA, Nyamdari B, Ortega MA, Clermont K, Westwood JH, Tsai C-J (2021) Plasma membrane phylloquinone biosynthesis in nonphotosynthetic parasitic plants. Plant Physiology (2021 Focus Issue on Parasitic Plants). Full text.

Tsai C-J (2021) genome editing of woody perennial trees. In: M. Willmann (ed), Genome Editing for Precision Crop breeding. Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, Cambridge, UK. 

Harding SA, Frost CJ, Tsai CJ (2020) Defoliation‐induced compensatory transpiration is compromised in SUT4‐RNAi Populus. Plant Direct 4: 1-13. Full text

Tsai C-J, Xu P, Xue L-J, Hu H, Nyamdari B, Naran R, Zhou X, Goeminne G, Gao R, Gjersing E, Dahlen J, Pattathil S, Hahn MG, Davis MF, Ralph J, Boerjan W, Harding SA (2020) Compensatory guaiacyl lignin biosynthesis at the expense of syringyl lignin in 4CL1-knockout poplar. Plant Physiology 183: 123-136. Full text

Ullah C, Tsai C-J, Unsicker S, Xue L-J, Reichelt M, Gershenzon J, Hammerbacher A (2019) Salicylic acid activates poplar defense against the biotrophic rust fungus Melampsora larici-populina via increased accumulation of catechin and proanthocyanidins. New Phytologist. 221: 960-975. Full text 

Harding SA, Tsai CJ (2019) Cell wall pectins in tree growth and woody biomass utilization. In: Canovas FM (ed.), Advances in Botanical Research Vol 89: Molecular Physiology and Biotechnology of Trees. Academic Press, pp. 235-256. 

Bewg WP, Ci D, Tsai C-J (2018) Genome editing in trees: From multiple repair pathways to long-term stability. Frontiers in Plant Science 9:1732.  Full text

Harding SA, Hu H, Nyamdari B, Xue L-J, Naran R, Tsai C-J (2018) Tubulins, rhythms and cell walls in poplar leaves: it’s all in the timing. Tree Physiology 38: 397-408.  Full text

Hu H, Gu X, Xue L-J, Swamy PS, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2016) Tubulin C-terminal post-translational modifications do not occur in wood forming tissue of PopulusFrontiers in Plant Science 7, 1493. Full text


Xue L-J, Frost CJ, Tsai C-J, Harding SA (2016) Drought response transcriptomes are altered in poplar with reduced tonoplast sucrose transporter expression. Scientific Reports 6, 33655. Full text

Tsai C-J, Xue L-J (2015) CRISPRing into the woods. GM Crops & Food 6: 206-215. Full text

Swamy PS, Hu H, Pattathil S, Maloney VJ, Xiao H, Xue L-J, Chung J-D, Johnson VE, Zhu Y, Peter GF, Hahn MG,  Mansfield SD, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2015) Tubulin perturbation leads to unexpected cell wall modifications and affects stomatal behavior in Populus. Journal of Experimental Botany 66: 6507-6518.  Full text

Xue L-J, Alabady MS, Mohebbi M, Tsai C-J (2015) Exploiting genome variation to improve next-generation sequencing data analysis and genome editing efficiency inPopulus tremula x alba 717-1B4.  ree Genetics & Genomes 11: 82. Full text

Xue L-J, Tsai C-J (2015) AGEseq: Analysis of genome editing by sequencing. Molecular Plant 8: 1428-1430. Full text

Zhou X, Jacobs TB, Xue L-J, Harding S, Tsai C-J (2015) Exploiting SNPs for biallelic CRISPR mutations in the outcrossing woody perennial Populus reveals 4-coumrate:CoA ligase specificity and redundancy. New Phytologist 208: 298-301. Full text

Harding SA, Xue L-J, Du L, Nyamdari B, Lindroth RL, Sykes R, Davis MF, Tsai C-J (2014) Condensed tannin biosynthesis and polymerization synergistically condition carbon use, defense, sink strength and growth in PopulusTree Physiology 34: 1240-1251. Full text

Peng D, Gu X, Xue L-J, Leebens-Mack JH, Tsai C-J (2014) Bayesian phylogeny of sucrose transporters: Ancient origins, differential expansion and convergent evolution in monocots and dicots.  Frontiers in Plant Science 5: 615.  Full text

Chen H-Y, Babst BA, Nyamdari B, Sykes R, Davis MF, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2014) Loblolly pine contains phylogenetically divergent 4-coumarate:CoA ligases that confer distinct metabolic phenotypes when over-expressed in PopulusPlant Cell Physiology 55: 1669-1678Full text

Babst BA, Chen H-Y, Wang H-Q, Payyavula RS, Thomas TP, Harding SA, Tsai C-J (2014) Stress responsive Populus hydroxycinnamate glycosyltransferase modulates phenylpropanoid homeostasis.  Journal of Experimental Botany 65: 4191-4200. Full text

Xue L-J, Guo W, Yuan Y, Anino EO, Nyamdari B, Wilson MC, Frost CJ, Chen H-Y, Babst BA, Harding SA, Tsai CJ (2013) Constitutively elevated salicylic acid levels alter photosynthesis and oxidative state but not growth in transgenic PopulusPlant Cell 25: 2714-2730.  Full text Image removed.

Of note:
  • Editor, Tree Physiology
  • Review Editor, Frontiers in Plant Biotechnology
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Fellow, International Academy of Wood Science (IAWS)
  • UGA Plant Center Director (2014-2017, 2019-2020) 
Articles Featuring Chung-Jui (CJ) Tsai

Using the CRISPR gene-editing tool, C.J. Tsai of the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences has developed a method that shortens the time it takes a poplar tree to flower, from about seven to 10 years to…

A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Georgia and two partner institutions have been awarded a $15.8 million grant over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy to reengineer poplar trees (Populus sp. and hybrids) to be…

A new federally funded project will take a closer look at how tree cells—especially the wood-forming cells known as xylem—function during colder months and lay the groundwork for greater understanding of tree genetics and productivity.

Genetics scientist featured in the Columns: "UGA researchers think they've come up with a system to identify the genes in trees responsible for stress tolerance, which includes everything from extreme temperatures to disease. Now they're using a new $490,000…

Genetics scientist highlighted as Focus on Faculty: CJ Tsai, the Winfred N. Haynes Professor in Forest Biotechnology and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, helps her students gain the confidence that they can work outside of their comfort zone and…

Genetics scientist was featured in the Columns:

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten has appointed a committee to begin a national search to fill the position of dean of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural…

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