Z. Jeffrey Chen

  • Professor
  • Molecular Biosciences
  • Integrative Biology
Profile image of Z. Jeffrey Chen

Contact Information


Zengjian Jeffrey Chen is the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics at The University of Texas at Austin. Chen received his B.S. at Zhejiang Agricultural University (now Zhejiang University), M.S. at Nanjing Agricultural University, and Ph.D. in Genetics at Texas A&M University. Following a postdoctoral position at University of Minnesota and as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postdoctoral Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, he joined the faculty at Texas A&M in 1999, where he was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure. In 2005, he moved to The University of Texas at Austin, holding the D. J. Sibley Centennial Professorship in Plant Molecular Genetics, and was promoted to Full Professor in 2008 in the Section of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology (now Department of Molecular Biosciences) and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology. From 2011 to February 2021, Chen was an Adjunct Professor and served an advisory role at Nanjing Agricultural University. Chen is an elected fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2011) and has received NIH National Research Service Award (1997-1999), Fulbright US-UK Scholar Award (2011), and Cotton Biotechnology Award (2016). Chen is known for his pioneering work on defining genomic and epigenetic changes in plant hybrids and polyploids with an emphasis on linking gene expression variation with phenotypic traits using Arabidopsis, cotton and corn as experimental systems.


Chen has developed an innovative research program to study molecular mechanisms for gene expression changes and evolutionary consequences in hybrids (formed between strains of the same or different species) and allopolyploids (formed between two or more related species) relative to the parents. His research employs Arabidopsis (a weedy plant in the mustard family) and cotton as experimental systems and uses genomic, proteomic, and systems biology approaches, as well as molecular biology and genetic methodologies. Dosage changes and novel interactions between parental genomes and alleles in hybrids and polyploids may induce epigenetic and epigenomic changes, leading to hybrid incompatibility, heterosis in plants, and diseases and cancers in animals. He and his colleagues have found that epigenetic changes in gene expression in plant hybrids and allopolyploids are associated with altered circadian rhythms and hybrid vigor, seed size, enhanced resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and fiber cell and trichome development. Moreover, the results have significant implications, not only for the field of genetics and epigenetics, but also for the ultimate success of biotechnological efforts to safely and effectively manipulate gene expression associated with growth vigor in plants and crops that produce food, feed and biofuels.

Research Areas

  • Molecular Biology or Genetics
  • Evolution
  • Statistics, Big Data or Machine Learning

Fields of Interest

  • Plant Biology
  • Molecular Biology, Genetics & Genomics

Centers and Institutes

  • Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Graduate Programs
  • Biodiversity Center


  • NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Postdoctoral Training, University of Minnesota
  • Ph.D. in Genetics, Texas A&M University
  • M.S. in Plant Genetics and Breeding, Nanjing Agricultural University
  • B.S., Zhejiang University



  • 2023 Fellow, American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB)
  • 2016 Cotton Biotechnology Award
  • 2011 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Lent 2011 Visiting Fellow Commoner, Trinity College, University of Cambridge
  • 2010-2011 Fulbright US-UK Scholar Award
  • 2010-2011 Faculty Development Program Award
  • 2008-present D. J. Sibley Centennial Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics
  • 2005-2007 D. J. Sibley Centennial Professorship Fellow
  • 1997-1999 National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Research Service Award
  • 1995-1997 Monsanto Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Monsanto Company
  • 1989-1990 Graduate Scholarship, K. C. Wong Foundation in Hong Kong