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

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."


Batbayar (Baggi) Nyamdari

Postdoctoral Research Associate


Maria Ortega

Postdoctoral Associate

Naomi Rodman

Research Technician II

Naomi Rodman has been working in the lab since September 2016, after she graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Biochemistry and Chemistry. She previously worked in a Poplar research lab at VT for two years as an undergraduate researcher before joining the Tsai lab as a full time laboratory technician. Eventually, Naomi intends to pursue higher education for her biggest passions: plants and sustainability.

In her free time Naomi enjoys food, the outdoors, traveling, and physical activities such as dance, hiking/camping, and biking. She likes learning, getting involved, and supporting local communities. She lives by Maori proverbs such as, "What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people", and "The bird that eats the miro berry owns the forest. The bird that feasts on knowledge owns the world."

Peng Xu

Postdoctoral Associate

Peng Xu joined Tsai lab in Sept, 2016 when he received a postdoc researcher scholarship from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the University of Georgia. His focus is to understand metabolic reflux of lignin biosynthesis pathway upon disturbance of upstream biosynthesis steps. He will also endeavor to develop new gene editing tools which are valuable to accelerate genetic engineering programs in perennial trees. Peng received bachelor degree of Biological Science in Shandong University and doctorate degree of Botany in the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Outside of the lab, Peng enjoys traveling and outdoor activities.

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

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.

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim.”

Graduate Students


Xi (Cicy) Gu

(Ph.D.), Institute of 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


Dr. Yanwei Wang

Beijing Forestry University

Undergraduate Students


Stuart Hentz

Biological Engineering


Chandler Johnson

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Chandler Elizabeth Johnson, from Rome, Georgia, is a third year student of the Franklin College at the University of Georgia. Based in Athens, Georgia during the academic year, she spends her time pursuing degrees in Biochemistry and Spanish, while conducting research. Her interest in the sciences is deeply rooted in her passion for the outdoors; skiing, hiking, and kayaking are her favorite hobbies. When not engaged in academic endeavors, she works to promote the stewardship of the National Parks.

Jake Reeves

Applied Mathematics

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