Li Tian

Li Tian

Position Title
Associate Professor

Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Asmundson 116

Profile Introduction

Phytochemical biochemistry

Research Interests

Phytonutrient Biochemistry and Physiology

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
  • Horticulture and Agronomy
  • International Agricultural Development
  • Plant Biology

Specialties / Focus

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


  • SAS/PLS 012 Plants and Society, fall
  • MCB/PLB 126 Plant Biochemistry, winter


  • Tian Lab
    • Shu Yu (GGHA graduate student), Alex Wilson (PBGG graduate student),  Alex Cain (PBGG graduate student)

Professional Societies

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


  • 2003 PhD Plant Biology Michigan State University


Harel-Beja, R., 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.

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., 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 concentrations in wheat are better correlated with PSY1 transcript levels than enzyme activities. Crop Science 56: 3173-3184.

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

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

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. Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol 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 beta-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. †Co-first author

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) Antimicrobial activity of phenolic compounds against the phytopathogen Xylella fastidiosa. Current Microbiology 60, 53-58.

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.

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 delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol biosynthesis in Cannabis sativa. J. Exp. Bot. 60, 3715-3726.

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

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

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 Physiol. 148, 1254-1266. † Co-first authors.

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 Lett. 580, 6915-6920.

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

Tian, L., DellaPenna, D., and Zeevaart, J.A.D. (2004) Effect of hydroxylated carotenoid deficiency on ABA accumulation in Arabidopsis. Physiol. Plant.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., 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 epsilon-ring hydroxylation activity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 402-407.

Tian, L., Magallanes-Lundback, M., Musetti, V., and DellaPenna, D. (2003) Functional analysis of beta- and epsilon- 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 ?-hydroxylase gene from Arabidopsis and its relationship to the LUT1 locus. Plant Mol. Biol. 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 Mol. Biol. 45, 281-293.

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