Genetics and Biochemistry

Dr. Hong Luo

Hong Luo


Ph.D. Molecular Biology
1995, Catholic University of Louvain

Contact Information
Office: 110 Biosystems Research Complex
Phone: (864) 656-1746

Research Focus Areas
Transgenic Plants


Research Activities

Site-specific DNA recombinases are enzymes that recognize specific DNA sequences, and in the presence of two such recombination sites they catalyze the recombination of DNA strands. Recombination between directly oriented sites leads to excision/integration of the DNA between them, whereas recombination between inverted target sites causes inversion of the DNA between them. Some site-specific recombination systems do not require additional factors for their function and are capable of functioning accurately and efficiently in various heterologous organisms. We are interested in the great potentials of site-specific recombination systems for use as genetic tools for precise and predictable engineering of plant genomes. Using recombinant DNA and transgenic technologies, we are investigating the in vivo functionality of various recombination systems for use in agriculturally and economically important crops species. We are also evaluating site-specific recombination systems for use in developing molecular strategies for gene containment in plants, especially in perennial species.

Abiotic stress has been a major limiting factor in plant growth and will soon become even more acute as desertification covers more and more of the world's terrestrial area. Drought and salinity are already widespread in many regions, and are expected to cause serious salinization of more than 50% of all arable lands by the year 2050. They are therefore among the most important targets for improvement in plants. Using forward and reverse genetics approaches, we have been conducting research to identify and functionally characterize genes involved in various aspects of plant response to adverse environmental conditions. This allows the development of novel molecular strategies for use in genetically improving crop species for enhanced agricultural production. We have established, in our lab, reliable genetic transformation systems for large-scale production of transgenic plants in several important crop species, including perennials, and currently, multiple research projects employing transgenic technologies are being conducted to genetically engineer perennial crops for improved plant performance under adverse environmental conditions.

Perennial grasses are essential components of agriculture and environment, among which turfgrass, forages and biofuel plants play increasingly important roles in modern agriculture practice, significantly impacting agriculture structure, agriculture production, agriculture economy, environment, ecology and global climate. Genetic improvement of perennials using biotechnology approaches is important to the turfgrass industry, biofuel production and the environment. With the development of various gene containment strategies, it is expected that a combination of approaches stacking different containment measures could provide effective way to prevent transgene escape from transgenic perennials. Next step would be to genetically engineer perennial species with genes of interest for trait modifications. However, considering the ‘invasiveness’ of perennial grasses, the use of genetically modified cultivars, despite of the implementation of gene containment scheme, raises additional concerns about the potential greater ecological impact relative to the more domesticated food crop plants. It remains to see what the direct or indirect effects of the transgenes on host biochemistry, physiology, and consequently the potential impacts on non-target organisms and environmental and ecological systems would be? To address these questions, we are conducting research to genetically engineer creeping bentgrass for enhanced abiotic stress resistance using different mechanisms, Greenhouse and field trial evaluation of transgenic plants will allow to assess how transgenic perennials interact with other plant species, such as weeds and forages, how transgene expression impact weediness and invasiveness of genetically engineered perennials compared to unmodified parent organisms as well as what the effects of transgenic perennials on non-target soil chemistry would be. Improved environmental stress resistance in crops is one of the major goals in agricultural biotechnology. Data obtained from this project will help better evaluate environmental safety and appropriate use of transgenes to facilitate perennial species plantation in stressful environments, and provide guidelines to genetically engineer perennials for other target traits of interest.

The global use of energy crops as renewable fuels and alternative sources of farm income are of great importance to current ecological and economic issues. Switchgrass, a C4 species and a warm-season grass native to the prairies of North America, has been identified for development into an herbaceous biomass fuel crop because of its many advantageous agricultural characteristics. Genetic improvement of switchgrass feedstock traits through marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology approaches for more cost-effective biofuel conversion calls for genomic tools development. One of our research foci is to construct genomic platform for switchgrass. We are developing public resources that will be used to create integrated physical maps, which should provide the basis for targeted sequencing and identification of genes for improvement of traits associated with biofuel production.

Grant Support

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Environmental Risk Assessment of Perennial Grasses Genetically Engineered for Abiotic Stress Tolerance

SC Cotton Board
Bioengineering Cotton for Enhanced Multiple Abiotic Stress Tolerance

SC Soybean Board
Bioengineering Soybean for Enhanced Abiotic Stress Tolerance

Wyatt Farm LLC.
Genetic Engineering of Ornamental Plants for Resistance to Deer Damage


2013 Clemson University Godley-Snell Agricultural Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research


Research Associates


Graduate Students


Undergraduate Students

Jennifer Wilson


Courses Taught

BCHM 4930
Biochemistry Senior Seminar

GEN 4500/6500
Comparative Genomics

GEN 8140
Advanced Genetics



Recent Publications

Yuan, S., Li, Z., Li, D., Hu, Q., Luo, H.* (2015) Constitutive expression of Osa-miR528 alters plant development and enhances plant tolerance to salinity stress and nitrogen starvation in transgenic creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.). Plant Physiology 169:576-593.

Yuan, N., Cogill, S., Luo, H.* (2015) Development of molecular strategies for gene containment and marker-free genetically modified organisms. In: Genetically Modified Organisms in Food. Watson, R., Stevens, B. (eds), Elservier B.V., pp223-236.

Yuan, S., Luo, H.* (2015) Negative regulators of messenger RNA and the role of microRNA for plant genetic engineering. In: Genetically Modified Organisms in Food. Watson, R., Stevens, B. (eds), Elservier B.V., pp237-255.

San B., Li Z., Hu Q., Reighard G., Luo H.* (2015) Adventitious shoot regeneration from in vitro cultured leaf explants of peach is significantly enhanced by silver thiosulfate. Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture 120:757-765.

Zhou, M., Luo, H. (2014) Role of microRNA319 in creeping bentgrass salinity and drought stress respons. Plant signaling & Behavior 9:e28700.

Saski, C., Luo, H. (2014) Switchgrass genomic resources development and genome sequencing initiatives. In: Compendium of Bioenergy Plants – Switchgrass. Luo, H., and Wu, Y. (eds), CRC Press, Tailor & Francis Group, pp214-227.

Li, D., Zhou, M., Li, Z., Luo, H. (2014) MicroRNAs and their potential applications in switchgrass improvements. In: Compendium of Bioenergy Plants – Switchgrass. Luo, H., and Wu, Y. (eds), CRC Press, Tailor & Francis Group, pp228-252.

Zhou, M., Li, D., Li, Z., Hu, Q., Yang, C., Zhu, L., Luo, H. (2013) Constitutive expression of a miR319 gene alters plant development and enhances salt and drought tolerance in transgenic creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.). Plant Physiology 16:1375-1391.

Zhou, M., Luo, H. (2013) MicroRNA-mediated gene regulation: potential applications for plant genetic engineering. Plant Molecular Biology 83:59-75.

Li, Z., Hu, Q., Zhou, M., Vandenbrink, J., Li, D., Menchyk, N., Reighard, S.R., Norris, A., Liu, H., Sun, D., Luo, H. (2013) Heterologous expression of OsSIZ1, a rice SUMO E3 ligase enhances broad abiotic stress tolerance in transgenic creeping bentgrass. Plant Biotechnology Journal 11:432-445.