Zamir Punja

Professor, Plant Biotechnology

Areas of interest

The two major disciplines in our research program are plant pathology, involving studies on the etiology and control of various fungal diseases on vegetable and horticultural crops, and plant biotechnology, where we aim to improve plant resistance to disease using techniques in plant tissue culture, molecular biology, and through genetic engineering.

Our studies on the ecology and control of fungal pathogens, particularly those that are soilborne, has emphasized elucidating how these pathogens infect plants, the biochemical and structural changes that occur in the host as a result of infection, and establishing strategies for disease control. These include chemical, biological, and cultural approaches to reducing the impact of disease. Most of the research emphasis to date has been directed toward cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.), carrot (Daucus carota L.), and ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.). Specific research areas include microscopic investigations of host-pathogen interactions, development of novel chemical methods for disease control, and elucidating the efficacy and mode of action of biological control agents against fungal pathogens.

In the area of plant biotechnology, protocols for the regeneration from explants in tissue culture of vegetable and horticultural crop species are being developed. The availability of these protocols is a step toward introgressing genetic traits from different species through genetic engineering, with the ultimate goal of transferring disease resistance traits. In the area of genetic transformation, the introduction of novel traits through Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer systems should allow us to elucidate the function and stability of novel proteins in plants, and how they could impact on the host-pathogen interaction.

Several other complementary research interests in our laboratory are: restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of intraspecific variation in plant pathogenic fungi; stress and hormonal regulation of plant defense mechanisms; application of tissue culture to host-fungal interactions, and the study of double-stranded RNA's in fungi and their role in pathogenicity.

Transgenic plants with enhanced disease resistance have been engineered to express gene products to counter-attack fungal virulence products (from hypha on left), enhanced expression of plant-derived gene products (inside of cell), or gene products from nonplant sources (outside of cell).


  • BSc, University of British Columbia
  • MSc, University of California
  • PhD, University of California


Future courses may be subject to change.