Plant Biology

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Graduate Program in Plant Biology is designed to train students in modern research areas of plant biology. Students' courses of study are designed individually, in light of their interests and career goals. The graduate program features an introductory seminar (Faculty Research Review), six five-week core course modules, and additional special topic courses and seminars in areas of faculty specialties. The department has research expertise in the following areas: molecular, cellular, genetic, biochemical, physiological, developmental, and structural biology, and plant-microbe interactions. The core courses cover plant developmental genetics, genomics and computational biology, plant diversity and evolution, plant cell biology, plant biochemistry, and plant systems biology.

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Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant has completed a basic degree from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 on a 9-point scale (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without the need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. Unofficial transcripts must contain specific information including the name of the applicant, name of the school, all courses, grades, units, & degree conferral (if applicable). 
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, by the recommender, not the Graduate Admissions.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants who have completed a basic degree from a country or political entity in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to institutions from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:

    • courses in English as a Second Language,

    • courses conducted in a language other than English,

    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and

    • courses of a non-academic nature.

Applicants who have previously applied to Berkeley must also submit new test scores that meet the current minimum requirement from one of the standardized tests. Official TOEFL score reports must be sent directly from Educational Test Services (ETS). The institution code for Berkeley is 4833 for Graduate Organizations. Official IELTS score reports must be sent electronically from the testing center to University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Division, Sproul Hall, Rm 318 MC 5900, Berkeley, CA 94720. TOEFL and IELTS score reports are only valid for two years prior to beginning the graduate program at UC Berkeley. Note: score reports can not expire before the month of June.


Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

Prospective students for the graduate program in plant biology are expected to demonstrate academic excellence and potential for independent scientific research. Students are expected to have a basic background in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and biology equivalent to those in the undergraduate program. An admissions committee composed of nine to ten members of the department will review applications and make recommendations to the full department on admissions matters. Recommendations for admission will be based on a demonstration of academic excellence and potential for independent scientific research as shown by grades in university-level undergraduate and graduate courses, letters of recommendation, written statements of academic and professional goals, and other evidence of academic accomplishment. 

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

Normative Time to Advancement

Normative time to advancement to PhD candidacy is two years.

Year 1
Students perform three laboratory rotations in order to explore areas of research interest and identify a faculty mentor, dissertation project, and laboratory. Students undertake required core classes and attend seminars of interest.

Year 2
Students attend seminars, enroll in core courses, perform their first teaching assignment, and prepare for the PhD qualifying exam which consists of two research proposals and an oral examination. With the successful passing of the qualifying exam, students select a dissertation committee and advance to candidacy for the PhD degree prior to the start of the fifth semester.

Normative Time in Candidacy 

Years 3–5/5.5
Students attend seminars of interest and perform their second teaching assignment. Students conduct original laboratory research for the PhD dissertation with the guidance of their faculty mentor and a self-selected 3 to 4 person dissertation committee. Students are required to meet annually with the dissertation committee. Students write the dissertation based on the results of their research. Upon approval of the dissertation by the dissertation committee and Graduate Division, students are awarded the doctorate. There is no formal defense of the completed dissertation; however, students are required to publicly present a talk about their research in the final year.

Total Normative Time

Total normative time to degree is 5–5.5 years.

Time to Advancement


Courses Required
PLANTBI 200APlant Developmental Genetics1.5
PLANTBI 200BGenomics and Computational Biology1.5
PLANTBI 200CPlant Diversity and Evolution1.5
PLANTBI 200DPlant Cell Biology1.5
PLANTBI 200EPlant Biochemistry1.5
PLANTBI 200FPlant-Environment Interactions1.5
PLANTBI 201Faculty Research Review2
PLANTBI 205AIntroduction to Research2-12
PLANTBI 205BIntroduction to Research2-12
PLANTBI 210Scientific Reasoning and Logic1
PLANTBI 292Research Review in Plant and Microbial Biology1
PLANTBI 290Seminar (or equivalent)2
PLANTBI 298Plant Biology Group Studies1-6
PLANTBI 299Graduate Research (multiple)1-12
PLANTBI 375Workshop on Teaching2
PLANTBI 602Individual Study for Graduate Students1-2
Total Units24-61

Professional Development

Research Presentations

All plant biology graduate students are strongly encouraged to present their research annually from the third year and beyond in a public forum. Graduate students attend the Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB) department retreat at least once during their graduate studies. Students are encouraged to attend both the Plant and Microbial Biology department retreat and the Graduate Group in Microbiology retreat and present their research. Students are highly encouraged to present during the PMB department student/post-doc seminar series. They are also encouraged to attend national and international conferences to present research. 


Plant biology graduate students are required to teach two semesters. Students are required to teach in two distinctly different classroom settings; specifically, teaching in a large enrollment course (100+) and a small upper division, lab, or low enrollment (< 100) course.

Grant Writing

Students are encouraged to take PLANTBI 297, Grant Writing and Research Presentation.


Plant Biology

Faculty and Instructors

* Indicates this faculty member is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.


Barbara Baker, Adjunct Professor. Biochemistry, genetics, signal transduction, plant and microbial biology, biolomolecular mechanisms of plant resistance to microbial disease, plant pathogen recognition, plant resistance to pathogen diseases, tobacco mosaic virus, agriculture and crops.
Research Profile

Benjamin Blackman, Assistant Professor. Evolution, adaptation, domestication, phenotypic plasticity, flowering time, evo-devo, genomics, plant biology.

Rachel B. Brem, Associate Professor. Genetics of regulatory variation.
Research Profile

Steven Brenner, Professor. Molecular biology, computational biology, evolutionary biology, bioengineering, structural genomics, computational genomics, cellular activity, cellular functions, personal genomics.
Research Profile

Thomas D. Bruns, Professor. Microbial biology, plant biology, fungi, nucleic acid sequences, basidomycetes, ectomycorrhizal fungi communities.
Research Profile

John Coates, Professor. Environmental microbiology, Bioremediation, alternative energy production, biogeochemistry.
Research Profile

Devin Coleman-Derr, Assistant Adjunct Professor. Plant, Microbiome, Environmental Stress, Drought, Sorghum.
Research Profile

* Lewis J. Feldman, Professor. Microbial biology, plant biology.
Research Profile

Robert L. Fischer, Professor. Plant and microbial biology.
Research Profile

Jennifer C. Fletcher, Adjunct Professor. Molecular biology, genetics, gene regulation, stem cells, plant development.
Research Profile

Michael Freeling, Professor. Genetics, genomics, plants, trends in evolution.
Research Profile

Karine Gibbs, Associate Professor. Microbial genetics and development, identity in social bacteria.

N. Louise Glass, Professor. Biofuels, biotechnology, fungal genetics, fungal cell biology.
Research Profile

Britt Glaunsinger, Associate Professor. Virology, gene expression, herpesvirus.
Research Profile

Igor V. Grigoriev, Adjunct Professor. Genomics, fungi, algae, eukaryotes, computational biology, bioinformatics, genome annotation.
Research Profile

Yangnan Gu, Assistant Professor. Plant immunity and cell biology.

Sarah Hake, Adjunct Professor.

Frank Harmon, Associate Adjunct Professor.

Russell L. Jones, Professor. Plant and microbial biology.
Research Profile

Arash Komeili, Professor. Microbiology, Biomineralization, bacterial organelles, Magnetic Nanoparticles.
Research Profile

Ksenia Krasileva, Assistant Professor. Plant immunity, genomics and innate immune systems.

Peggy G. Lemaux, Cooperative Extension Specialist.

Jennifer Lewis, Assistant Adjunct Professor. Plant-pathogen interactions, plant immunity, type III effector proteins.
Research Profile

Steven E. Lindow, Professor. Microbial ecology, microbial biology, plant biology, plant frost control, bacterial plant diseases, plant disease epidemiology.
Research Profile

Sheng Luan, Professor. Microbial biology, plant biology.
Research Profile

Ceci Martinez-Gomez, Assistant Professor. Lanthanide-biochemistry and metabolism. Microbial Physiology, Metabolic Engineering, Plant-microbe interactions, bioremediation and biometallurgy.

Sheila Mccormick, Adjunct Professor. Molecular biology, genetics, pollen, plant reproduction.
Research Profile

Anastasios Melis, Professor. Photosynthesis, Metabolic Engineering, bioenergy.
Research Profile

Sabeeha Merchant, Professor. Elemental economy, photosynthesis and comparative algal genomics.

Krishna K. Niyogi, Professor. Genetics, plant and microbial biology, algae, photosynthesis, antioxidants.
Research Profile

Daniel A. Portnoy, Professor. Mammalian cells, molecular and cellular basis of microbial pathogenesis, defense against infection, listeria monocytogenes, cell biology of infection, mechanisms of secretion.
Research Profile

Peter Quail, Professor. Plant biology, plant and microbial biology.
Research Profile

Kathleen Ryan, Associate Professor. Bacterial cell cycle regulation, signal transduction, and regulated proteolysis.
Research Profile

Henrik Scheller, Adjunct Professor. Biofuels, polysaccharides, plant cell walls, biochemistry, plant biotechnology, glycosylation.
Research Profile

Kimberly Seed, Assistant Professor. Interactions between bacteria and their viral predators (bacteriophages).
Research Profile

Patrick Shih, Assistant Professor. Synthetic biology, plant metabolism, microbial evolution. .

Chris Somerville, Professor. Biochemistry, biotechnology, bioenergy, cell biology, biofuels, cell walls, polysaccharides, cellulose, arabidopsis, cellulose synthase.
Research Profile

Shauna Somerville, Professor. Powdery mildew disease, cell wall integrity sensing, plant-fungal interactions, plant cell walls.
Research Profile

Brian J. Staskawicz, Professor. Biotechnology, plant and microbial biology.
Research Profile

Zinmay Sung, Professor. Plant biology, plant and microbial biology.
Research Profile

Michiko Taga, Assistant Professor. Molecular biology, genetics, microbial biology, chemical biology, cofactors, nutrient exchange, microbial communities.
Research Profile

John Taylor, Professor. Evolution, fungi, phylogenomics, mycology, population genomics.
Research Profile

Norman Terry, Professor. Phytoremediation, Bioremediation, environmental cleanup, soil and water, plant biology, microbial biology.
Research Profile

Matthew Traxler, Assistant Professor.

John Vogel, Adjunct Professor.

Mary Wildermuth, Associate Professor. Plant-pathogen interactions.
Research Profile

Ben Williams, Assistant Professor. Plant epigenetics and cell identity.

Patricia Zambryski, Professor. Microbial biology, plant biology, plant intercellular communication via plasmodesmata, Agrobacterium, bacterial type IV secretion.
Research Profile

Daniel Zilberman, Associate Professor. Developing science and tech solutions at the food, energy, and water nexus for under-resourced communities.

Emeritus Faculty

Bob B. Buchanan, Professor Emeritus. Biotechnology, environmental policy, plant biology, thioredoxin.
Research Profile

Andrew Jackson, Professor Emeritus.

Contact Information

Department of Plant and Microbial Biology

111 Koshland Hall

Phone: 510-642-9999

Visit Department Website

Chair, Plant & Microbial Biology

Sheng Luan, PhD

Phone: 510-642-6306

Associate Chair

Britt Glaunsinger, PhD

Head Graduate Advisor

Arash Komeili

Phone: 642-4995

Graduate Adviser

Lyn Rivera

Phone: 510-642-5167

Department Manager

Joanne Straley

Phone: 510-642-4080

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