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Tzung Fu Hsieh

Associate Professor - Systems Biologist, Epigenetics

Plants for Human Health Institute


Dr. Tzung-Fu Hsieh joined the institute in August 2012 and coordinates a research program centered on the biological systems of flowering plants, including fruits and vegetables. Hsieh specializes in systems biology, a relatively new field of research that studies the interactions between the components of biological systems, and how those relationships impact the functions and behaviors of the systems. His area of focus is epigenetics, which aims to understand changes in gene behaviors that are caused by factors other than mutations in DNA.

Hsieh studies the development of endosperms, which play a critical role in human nutrition and health, accounting for more than 75 percent of the world’s food supply, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Cereal crops like corn, rice and wheat – some of the most widely produced crops in the world – are harvested for their grains, which are mostly endosperm. Hsieh is working to better understand endosperm development, including the role imprinted genes play.

Using systems biology approaches, Hsieh and colleagues have already identified certain epigenetics processes as critical regulators for plant reproduction and endosperm development. His studies will provide new opportunities for investigating how the environment can exert influences on plants through epigenetic changes. Ultimately, Hsieh would like to collaborate with N.C. Research Campus partners using the techniques he and colleagues have developed to decipher how plant epigenetics may impact human health. He also researches how epigenetics regulates the production of plant secondary metabolites.

Watch a video introduction of Dr. Hsieh and his research.

Lab Personnel:

Changqing Zhang, Senior Researcher

Mingzhuo Li, Postdoctoral Associate

Qirui (Cary) Cui, Graduate Student

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Ph.D. Texas A and M University

B.S. National Tsing-Hua University, Taiwan

Area(s) of Expertise

Systems Biology, Epigenetics, Endosperm Development


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Date: 08/01/17 - 7/31/22
Amount: $557,461.00
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation (NSF)

DNA methylation is critical for processes including genomic imprinting, X-inactivation, transposonsilencing, and genome stability. Maintaining DNA methylation patterns is a result of active DNAmethylation and demethylation processes. Compared to pathways that promote and maintain DNAmethylation, much less is known about the function and regulation of DNA demethylation. In plants,genomic imprinting is established in the gametes by DEMETER (DME) mediated active DNAdemethylation, which is required for seed viability in Arabidopsis. The DME-like 5-methylcytosine(5mC) DNA glycosylases are active DNA demethylases that mediate the remove of 5-mC via baseexcision repair pathway. DME encodes a large polypeptide with multiple conserved domains, and exceptfor the well-characterized glycosylase domain, almost nothing is known about the functions of thesedomains. The proposed research focuses on understanding the function and regulation of the conserveddomains of DME. A novel bipartite model for structural and functional regulation for DME activity isproposed. Understanding how DME evolved to contain modular catalytic and regulatory domains, andelucidating how linker histone H1 assists DME active demethylation will significantly increase ourunderstanding of the active DNA demethylation pathway that has been adopted for reproductive successin plants. The knowledge learned in this application will provide vital information on how epigeneticinformation is established and maintained.

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