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University of Texas at Austin Plant Geneticist Receives Fulbright Award

Plant geneticist Z. Jeff Chen has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to work at the University of Cambridge beginning January 2011.

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Plant geneticist Z. Jeff Chen has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship to work at the University of Cambridge beginning January 2011.

Dr. Z. Jeff Chen

Plant geneticist Dr. Z. Jeff Chen will spend a semester at the University of Cambridge as a Fulbright scholar. Photo by Marsha Miller. 

He will also be a visiting fellow commoner at Trinity College of Cambridge.

As a Fulbright scholar and fellow, Chen, the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics, will work with Cambridge’s David Baulcombe to study the roles of small ribonucleic acids (RNAs) in hybrid vigor and hybrid incompatibility in plant hybrids and allopolyploids that contain two or more sets of chromosomes. Chen will also co-teach an epigenetics class for senior undergraduate students and interact with world-class scientists in epigenetics, circadian biology and plant science.

Chen studies epigenetics, polyploidy and hybrid vigor in plants, such as Arabidopsis and cotton, through the research projects funded by the agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

His group discovered a direct link between altered internal clock rhythms and growth vigor in hybrid and allopolyploid plants. He led a consortium team to study the genomics of fiber production in cotton in a project that recently received a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. One of the goals of the project is to improve cotton fiber yield and quality.

“As a Fulbright scholar, I look forward to developing a cutting-edge and collaborative research project in the U.K. and serving as an ambassador for scholarly and research exchanges between the University of Cambridge and The University of Texas at Austin,” says Chen. “We also hope to bring some ‘hybrid vigor’ between our cultures into our research programs.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the United States Department of State and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” The Fulbright Program has provided almost 300,000 participants-chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential-with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, cabinet ministers, university presidents, professors and teachers, including more than 40 Nobel Prize winners.