Research – Varala Lab @ Purdue


The Varala lab focuses on how plants perceive abiotic stress and alter their transcriptional programs as a response to the specific stress. We aim to capture natural genetic variation and the resultant transcriptional states leading to plant resilience by using a combination of genomic, systems biology and phylogenetic tools. Specifically, the research aims to understand how plants alter their transcriptional program immediately in response to thermal stress in the short term. In the long terms we want to understand how plants change their overall gene expression regime on evolutionary scales to adapt to colder and warmer climates.

A crucial aspect of understanding systems level responses to external stresses is to first understand the regulatory complexity of the plant Transcription Factor network. We are developing a gene function prediction platform using public RNA-Seq data from model and crop species and gene network inference tools (e.g., GENIE3). As part of this research, the Varala lab is involved in the DoE funded InferNet project ( which aims to predict and validate TF function for previously uncharacterized genes. This project is focused on predicting novel regulators of seed lipid metabolism as a proof-of-concept, but the approach has broader applications.

Our lab is also interested in uncovering the genetic basis of adaptive traits. As part of this research, the Varala lab is involved in the DoE funded EvoNet project ( which aims to uncover the genetic basis of plant adaptations to survive in low-N marginal soils.