Dr. Tai received his Ph.D. in Plant Biology from UC Berkeley in 1995. His dissertation research involved the molecular genetic characterization of the Bs2 locus in pepper which confers resistance to bacterial spot disease of pepper and tomato. Following a brief postdoc in the Staskawicz lab, Dr. Tai went on to postdoc positions in the Sainsbury Laboratory with Dr. Jonathan Jones, working on fungal disease resistance in tomato, and Cornell University with Dr. Susan McCouch, working on QTL mapping in rice. In 1999, Dr. Tai joined the USDA-ARS as a research geneticist at the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas where he conducted research on rice molecular genetics with emphasis on genomics-based characterization of rice germplasm. In 2002, Dr. Tai transferred USDA-ARS in Davis, CA.
The goal of Dr. Tai’s research program is to develop improved rice germplasm for temperate environments and solve problems facing the U.S. rice industry through the application of molecular genetics and genomics approaches. California’s temperate climate is unique among U.S. rice growing states and presents distinct challenges to the rice industry here. Environmental concerns have also resulted in changes in production practices that threaten the long-term sustainability of rice farming. To address these problems, a better understanding of the genetic basis of important agronomic traits is needed and new sources of genetic material for incorporation into adapted cultivars must be identified. Research topics include seedling and reproductive stage cold tolerance, resistance to stem rot disease, nutritional quality of rice, and development of enhanced germplasm for use in breeding improved temperate rice varieties. This research contributes to the development of new cultivars by state breeding programs to ensure that the rice industry in California continues to be competitive.