Li Tian

Li Tian

Position Title
Associate Professor

Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Asmundson Hall room 116

Research Interests

Phytonutrient biochemistry and physiology; Biosynthesis, accumulation and function of carotenoids and polyphenols in plants; Targeted improvement of crop phytonutrient composition and content for enhanced nutritional and medicinal values.

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology 
  • Plant Biology

Specialties / Focus

  • Biochemistry
  • Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics
  • Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Genomics
  • Plant Molecular Biology


  • SAS/PLS12 Plants and Society (Fall quarter)
  • MCB/PLB126 Plant Biochemistry (Winter quarter)

Professional Societies

  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Phytochemical Society of North America
  • International Carotenoid Society


  • Ph.D. in Plant Biology Michigan State University


Bekkering, C. and Tian, L. (2019) Thinking outside of the cereal box: Breeding underutilized (pseudo)cereals for improved human nutrition. Frontiers in Genetics 10:1289.

Wilson, A.E. and Tian, L. (2019) Phylogenomic analysis of UDP-dependent glycosyltransferases provides insights into the evolutionary landscape of glycosylation in plant metabolism. Plant Journal 100: 1273-1288.

Habashi, R., Hacham, Y., Dhakarey, R., Matityahu, I., Holland, D., Tian, L. and Amir, R. (2019) Elucidating the role of shikimate dehydrogenase in controlling the production of anthocyanins and hydrolysable tannins in the outer peels of pomegranate. BMC Plant Biology 19: 476.

Chang, L.J., Wu, S. and Tian, L. (2019) Effective genome editing and identification of a regiospecific gallic acid 4-O-glycosyltransferase in pomegranate (Punica granatum L.). Horticulture Research 6:123.

Wu, S., Wilson, A.E., Chang, L. and Tian, L. (2019) Exploring the phytochemical landscape of the early-diverging flowering plant Amborella trichopoda Baill. Molecules 24: 3814.

Bar-Ya'akov, I., Tian, L., Amir, R. and Holland, D. (2019) Primary metabolites, anthocyanins and hydrolyzable tannins in the pomegranate fruit. Frontiers in Plant Science 10:620.

Beja, R.H., Tian, L., Freilich, S., Habashi, R., Borochov-Neori, H., Lahav, T., Trainin, T., Doron-Faigenboim, A., Ophir, R., Bar-Ya’akov, I., Amir, R. and Holland, D. (2019) Gene expression and metabolite profiling analyses of developing pomegranate fruit peel reveal interactions between anthocyanin and punicalagin production. Tree Genetics and Genomes 15:22.

Wu, S. and Tian, L. (2019) A new flavone glucoside together with known ellagitannins and flavones with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity activities from the flowers of pomegranate (Punica granatum). Natural Product Research 33: 252-257.

Amir, R., Borochov-Neori, H., Tian, L. and Holland, D. (2019) The biodiversity of different traits of pomegranate fruit peels from a broad collection of diverse cultivars. Scientia Horticulturae 246: 842-848.

Wilson, A.E., Wu, S. and Tian, L. (2019) PgUGT95B2 preferentially metabolizes flavones/flavonols and has evolved independently from flavone/flavonol UGTs identified in Arabidopsis thaliana. Phytochemistry 157: 184-193.

Amir, R., Holland, D. and Tian, L. (2018) What can we learn about the traits of aril juice by studying wide collections of diverse pomegranate fruits? in: Siddiqui, R.A., Akbar, M. (Eds.), Pomegranate: Cultivation, Composition, Antioxidant Properties, and Health Benefits. Nova, New York, pp. 203-230.

Gifford, I., Battenberg, K., Vaniya, A., Wilson, A., Tian, L., Fiehn, O. and Berry, A. (2018) Distinctive patterns of flavonoid biosynthesis in roots and nodules of Datisca glomerata and Medicago spp. revealed by metabolomic and gene expression profiles. Frontiers in Plant Science 9: 1463.

Knollenberg, B.J., Liu, J.J., Yu, S., Lin, H. and Tian, L. (2018) Cloning and functional characterization of a p-coumaroyl quinate/shikimate 3’-hydroxylase from potato (Solanum tuberosum). Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 496: 462-467.

Yu, S. and Tian, L. (2018) Breeding major cereal grains through the lens of nutrition sensitivity. Molecular Plant 11: 23-30.

Wu, S. and Tian, L. (2017) Diverse phytochemicals and bioactivities in the ancient fruit and modern functional food pomegranate (Punica granatum). Molecules 22: 1606.

Wilson, A.E., Feng, X., Ono, N.N., Holland, D., Amir, R. and Tian, L. (2017) Characterization of a UGT84 family glycosyltransferase provides new insights into substrate binding and reactivity of galloylglucose ester-forming UGTs. Biochemistry 56: 6389-6400.

Nwugo, C.C., Sengoda, V.G., Tian, L. and Lin, H. (2017) Characterization of physiological and molecular processes associated with potato response to Zebra chip disease. Horticulture Research 4: 17069.

Tian, L., Hu, Y.H. and Chen, X.-Y. (2017) Advancing human health through exploration of plant metabolism and reaping the benefits of edible medicinal plants. Molecular Plant 10, 533-536,

Qin, X., Fischer, K., Dubcovsky, J. and Tian, L. (2016) Endosperm carotenoid content in tetraploid and hexaploid wheat is better correlated with PSY1 transcript levels than enzyme activities. Crop Science 56, 3173-3184.

Wilson, A.E., Matel, H. and Tian, L. (2016) Glucose ester enabled acylation in plant specialized metabolism. Phytochemistry Reviews 15, 1057-1074.

Qin, X., Fischer, K., Yu, S., Dubcovsky, J. and Tian, L. (2016) Distinct expression and function of carotenoid metabolic genes and homoeologs in developing wheat grains. BMC Plant Biology 16:155

Ono, N.N., Qin, X., Wilson, A.E., Li, G. and Tian, L. (2016) Two UGT84 family glycosyltransferases catalyze a critical reaction of hydrolyzable tannin biosynthesis in pomegranate (Punica granatum). PLOS ONE 11(5): e0156319.

Novillo, P., Besada, C., Tian, L., Bermajo, A. and Salvador, A. (2015) Nutritional composition of ten persimmon cultivars in the “ready-to-eat crisp” stage. Effect of deastringency treatment. Food and Nutrition Sciences 6, 1296-1306.

Tian, L. (2015a) Recent advances in understanding carotenoid-derived signaling molecules in regulating plant growth and development. Frontiers in Plant Science 6:790.

Tian, L. (2015b) Carotenoids, genetically modified foods, and vitamin A nutrition, in: Watson, R., Preedy, V. (Eds.), Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Foods: Production, Safety, Regulation and Public Health. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 353-360.

Tian, L. (2015c) Using hairy roots for production of valuable plant secondary metabolites. Advances in Biochemical Engineering Biotechnology 149, 275-324.

Qi, J., Liu, X., Shen, D., Miao, H., Xie, B., Li, X., Zeng, P., Wang, S., Shang, Y., Yang, X., Chen, J., Chen, H., Fei, Z., Mao, L., Tian, L., Städler, T., Renner, S.S., Kamoun, S., Lucas, W.J., Zhang, Z. and Huang, S. (2013) A cucumber genomic variation map reveals the genetic basis of domestication and diversity of a major vegetable. Nature Genetics 45, 1510-1515.

Qin, X., Zhang, W., Dubcovsky, J. and Tian, L. (2012) Cloning and comparative analysis of carotenoid b-hydroxylase genes provides new insights into carotenoid metabolism in tetraploid (Triticum turgidum ssp. durum) and hexaploid (Triticum aestivum) wheat grains. Plant Molecular Biology 80, 631-646.

Ono, N.N., Bandaranayake, P.C.G. and Tian, L. (2012) Establishment of pomegranate (Punica granatum) hairy root cultures for genetic interrogation of the hydrolyzable tannin biosynthetic pathway.  Planta 236, 931-941.

Ono, N.N., Britton, M.T., Fass, J.N., Nicolet, C.M., Lin, D.W. and Tian, L. (2011) Exploring the transcriptome landscape of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit peel for natural product biosynthetic gene and SSR marker discovery.  Journal of Integrative Plant Biology 53, 800-813.

Qin, X., Coku, A., Inoue, K. and Tian, L. (2011) Expression, subcellular localization, and regulatory structure of duplicated phytoene synthase genes in melon (Cucumis melo L.). Planta 234, 737-748.

Cantin, C., Tian, L., Qin, X. and Crisosto, C. (2011) Co-pigmentation triggers the development of skin burning discoloration on peach and nectarine fruit [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch]. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 59, 2393-2402.

Ono, N.N. and Tian, L. (2011) The multiplicity of hairy root cultures: prolific possibilities. Plant Science 180, 439-446.

Laur, L.M. and Tian, L. (2011) Provitamin A and vitamin C contents in selected California-grown cantaloupe and honeydew melons and imported melons. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 24, 194-201.

Maddox, C.E., Laur, L.M. and Tian, L. (2010) Antibacterial activity of phenolic compounds against the phytopathogen Xylella fastidiosa. Current Microbiology 60, 53-58.

Marks, M.D., Tian, L., Wenger, J.P., Omburo, S.N., Soto-Fuentes, W., He, J., Gang, D.R., Weiblen, G.D. and Dixon, R.A. (2009) Identification of candidate genes affecting D9-tetrahydrocannabinol biosynthesis in Cannabis sativa.  Journal of Experimental Botany 60, 3715-3726.

Tian, L., Peel, G.J. †, Lei, Z., Aziz, N., Dai, X., He, J., Watson, B., Zhao, P.X., Sumner, L.W. and Dixon, R.A. (2009) Transcript and proteomic analysis of developing white lupin (Lupinus albus L.) roots. BMC Plant Biology 9:1.   †Co-first authors.

Kim, J.Y., Smith, J.J., Tian, L. and DellaPenna, D. (2009) The evolution and function of carotenoid hydroxylases in Arabidopsis. Plant and Cell Physiology 50, 463-479.

Tian, L., Pang, Y. and Dixon, R.A. (2008) Biosynthesis and genetic engineering of proanthocyanidins and (iso) flavonoids. Phytochemistry Reviews 7, 445-465.

Wang, G. †, Tian, L. †, Aziz, N., Broun, P., Dai, X., He, J., King, A., Zhao, P.X. and Dixon, R.A. (2008) Terpene biosynthesis in glandular trichomes of hop (Humulus lupulus L.). Plant Physiology 148, 1254-1266.      †Co-first authors.

Modolo, L.V., Pang, Y., Tian, L. and Dixon, R.A. (2008) Gene discovery and metabolic engineering in the phenylpropanoid pathway. Recent Advances in Polyphenols Research 1, 113-138.

Tian, L., DellaPenna D. and Dixon, R.A. (2007) The pds2 mutation is a lesion in the Arabidopsis homogentisate solanesyltransferase gene involved in plastoquinone biosynthesis. Planta 226, 1067-1073.

Tian, L., Blount, J.W. and Dixon, R.A. (2006) Phenylpropanoid glycosyltransferases from osage orange (Maclura Pomifera) fruit.  FEBS Letters 580, 6915-6920.

Tian, L. and Dixon, R.A. (2006) Engineering isoflavone metabolism with an artificial bifunctional enzyme.  Planta 224, 496-507.

Tian, L., Musetti, V., Kim, J.Y., Magallanes-Lundback, M. and DellaPenna, D. (2004) The Arabidopsis LUT1 locus encodes a member of the cytochrome P450 family that is required for carotenoid ε-ring hydroxylation activity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101, 402-407.

Tian, L., DellaPenna, D. and Zeevaart, J.A.D. (2004) Effect of hydroxylated carotenoid deficiency on ABA accumulation in Arabidopsis.  Physiol Planta 122, 314-320.

Tian, L. and DellaPenna, D. (2004) Progress in understanding the origin and functions of carotenoid hydroxylases in plants.  Arch Biochem Biophys 430, 22-29.

Tian, L., Magallanes-Lundback, M., Musetti, V. and DellaPenna, D. (2003) Functional analysis of β- and ε-ring carotenoid hydroxylases in Arabidopsis thaliana.  Plant Cell 15, 1320-1332.

Lokstein, H., Tian, L., Polle, J.E.W. and DellaPenna, D. (2002) Xanthophyll biosynthetic mutants of Arabidopsis thaliana:  altered nonphotochemical quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence is due to changes in photosystem II antenna size and stability. Biochim Biophys Acta 1553, 309-319.

Tian, L. and DellaPenna, D. (2001) Characterization of a second carotenoid β-hydroxylase gene from Arabidopsis and its relationships to the LUT1 locus.  Plant Molecular Biology 47, 379-388.

Moehs, C.P., Tian, L., Osteryoung, K.W. and DellaPenna, D. (2001) Analysis of carotenoid biosynthetic gene expression during marigold petal development. Plant Molecular Biology 45, 281-293.

Tian, L. and DellaPenna, D. (2001) The promise of agricultural technology for human health.  British Food Journal 103, 777-779.