Current Members


C-J Tsai

Professor and Eminent Scholar

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 (RNA-Seq, sRNA-Seq and degradome), metabolomics (GC-MS and HPLC-MS) 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.


Scott Harding

Senior Research Scientist

We live in a day and age of data-processing capabilities that enable us to piece just about anything new we can learn into a holistic understanding by the research community of how trees function. This means we can run a drought experiment and learn something new about tubulins, light signaling and biotic stress responses. I am basically a physiologist with a background in cellular biology that is serviceable enough to find synergies in such data.

When I put work aside, I relax with the occasional movie or televised sporting event, and I read purportedly non-fictional work, especially history.

Research Staff

Kavita Aulakh

Lab Coordinator and Research Professional II

Kavita Aulakh is a research professional and the head coordinator of the Tsai lab. Outside of molecular biology, Kavita is a passionate and talented teacher and taught school in addition to earning a degree in Multimedia. Outside of the lab, Kavita enjoys cooking, walking and hiking, and practicing yoga. She is a music-lover and able to dance her Indian State Dance, the Gidda. Kavita loves spending time with her son, and is inspired by her own mother who taught her to “live simply but think deeply."

Margot Chen

Research II Technician

A technician with a bachelor's degree in entomology, I started as a volunteer working on tissue culture and transformation at Tsai's lab, having found new love in plant care, propagation and observation: explants-handling is very inspiring and artistic!

I am a mother to an angelic child, and a devoted aunt to my niece and nephew. My wish is that all of us would have the opportunity to live in freedom and kindness.


Eli McKinney

Research II Technician


Batbayar (Baggi) Nyamdari

Research Professional III


Maria Ortega

Postdoctoral Associate

Liangjiao Xue

Senior Research Associate and Bioinformatician

Liangjiao Xue has been a Senior Research Associate for the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at UGA since 2014, where he had been a Postdoctoral Research Associate since 2010. He applies functional genomic approaches, such as next generation sequencing and gene network modeling, to characterize transcriptional dynamics, signaling pathway interactions, and genotype–phenotype associations involved in resource partitioning in plants. Liangjiao earned his BS in Biology from Nanjing Normal University in China, and a PhD in Genetics from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Outside of his research, Liangjiao enjoys playing keyboard instruments.

Graduate Students


Shawn Queen

(Ph.D.), Bioinformatics

Shakuntala Sharma

(Ph.D.), Forestry

Shakuntala “Shakun” Sharma is currently working on receiving her PhD from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at UGA, with an interest in identifying and understanding the function of stress-resistant/tolerant genes in trees. She received her MS in Forest Resource Management from the School of Forest Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello and her BS in Forestry from the Institute of Forestry Pokhara at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Visiting Scholars

Dong Ci

Visiting Graduate Student

Dong Ci, male, is a visiting scholar in UGA and a fourth grade PhD candidate in Beijing Forestry University. I major in forestry population epigenetics.

Murilo Tosta

Visiting Graduate Student

Agricultural Engineer from the Federal University of Lavras (2010). Master of Agricultural Engineering from the Federal University of Lavras (2014). He is currently a Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering and is visiting students at the University of Georgia (UGA). He has experience in Agronomics and Agricultural Engineering, with emphasis on Agricultural Products Processing, working mainly on the following topics: Processing, Drying, Storage, Coffee Quality, Biochemical Analysis and New Processing and Technologies for coffee.

Undergraduate Students

Stuart Hentz


Casey Morrow


Victoria Meneses Pimentel

Environmental Economics and Management


Hungduyen Pham


Jake Reeves

Computer Science

Slisha Shrestha

Intended Health Promotions Lab Members

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