Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Chen, Xuemei
Location University of California, Riverside
Primary Field Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences
Secondary Field Plant Biology
 Election Citation
Chen's groundbreaking discoveries have shaped our understanding of small RNA metabolism and development in plants. She established a biochemical framework for small RNA stabilization and degradation, identified key enzymes that modulate small RNA accumulation and function, and provided pioneering insight into the function of small RNAs during development.
 Research Interests
Using Arabidopsis as the model, studies in the Chen lab investigate the biology of small RNAs, which are classified into microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) in plants. With genetic, biochemical, and genomic approaches, they have been studying the molecular mechanisms that govern the biogenesis, degradation, and mode of action of small RNAs. They are best known for the discovery of an essential step in small RNA biogenesis - the methylation of plant miRNAs and siRNAs on their 3' terminal ribose by the small RNA methyltransferase HEN1. Subsequent studies from others show that piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are similarly methylated by HEN1 homologs in animals. Efforts to uncover the role of methylation in small RNA metabolism have led to further pioneering studies on the molecular mechanisms of small RNA degradation. They have discovered two molecular processes that degrade small RNAs and the major players carrying out these processes. These processes of small RNA turnover have also been shown to be conserved in animals. The Chen lab also studies the mechanisms of cell fate specification in plant development, and has uncovered critical roles of miRNAs in the patterning of floral organs. Recent studies have revealed subcellular partitioning of small RNAs between the cytosol and membrane compartments, and begun to implicate the endomembrane system in the activity and cell-to-cell movement of small RNAs.

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