Peggy Biga

Associate Professor; Associate Chair This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Campbell Hall 371
(205) 934-8340

Research and Teaching Interests: Plant Molecular Biology, Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), Pro- and Anti-apoptotic Signaling in Plant Immunity, Plant Hormonal Cross-talk, Service Learning, Sustainability, Instructional Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities

Office Hours: By appointment


  • Joint B.S./MSc, University of Szczecin, Poland, Biology (Environmental Protection and Laboratory Diagnostics)
  • Ph.D., Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne, Germany, Genetics
  • Postdoctoral, Duke University, Plant Immunity

Dr. Karolina Mukhtar is a broadly trained molecular plant biologist with over ten years of experience studying various aspects of plant-microbe interactions using genetic and biochemical approaches. After obtaining her Biology degree she worked as a teaching assistant for Cell Biology and then became an IMPRS doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute. Her dissertation described the quantitative basis of plant resistance to two deadly phytopathogens. She graduated summa cum laude and was nominated for the Otto Hahn Medal, the highest academic honor for young scientists awarded by the Max-Planck Society.

Research Opportunities
I am currently accepting Ph.D. students. If you are interested in joining my lab, please send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. that outlines your research interests, as well as your curriculum vitae.

Subsequently Dr. Mukhtar conducted post-doc research in the laboratory of Dr. Xinnian Dong (a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator) at Duke University, where she studied the molecular basis of plant immunity to a bacterial phytopathogen Pseudomonas syringae. Her projects were focused on transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of plant immunity as well as pathogen-triggered manipulation of plant hormone signaling. This work uncovered the existence of a previously unknown transcriptional growth-to-defense molecular switch in plants; the research resulted in a number of publications in high impact journals including Science, Current Biology, the EMBO Journal, and Genes and Development.

Research in Dr. Mukhtar's lab at UAB focuses on the interface between the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and several of its most devastating pathogens, including fungi and bacteria. At the center of her research program is the Unfolded Protein Response (see her Research Interests below). Dr. Mukhtar is also highly committed to teaching at K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. In 2013, she was named one of the 11 inaugural UAB Faculty Fellows in Service Learning. In addition, she pursues a very active educational outreach program directed to K-12 teachers and students as well as minority students of Miles College funded through her NSF-CAREER award and in the framework of the UAB-CORD and ASIM/AMSTI programs. Dr. Mukhtar is also implementing sustainability in her classroom curricula through her participation in the UAB Red Mountain Project.

Classes taught by Dr. Mukhtar utilize the i>clicker 2 Classroom Response System that helps monitor real-time learning outcomes, and implement the C.R.E.A.T.E. technique (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze the data, Think of the next Experiment) — a novel way to use the real language of science, the journal article, to empower students to think like scientists. All course materials are available online through Canvas.

Dr. Mukhtar puts a special emphasis on development and implementation of instructional strategies for teaching students with various learning disabilities. In Spring 2015, Dr. Mukhtar was named the Outstanding Faculty Mentor by the Office of Disability Support Services.

Research Interests

Plants, while lacking adaptive immunity observed in animals, have instead evolved complex innate immune systems that effectively defend them from versatile potential pathogens. Successful defense against pathogenic microbes requires host’s abilities to mount specific, fine-tuned, and temporally as well as spatially regulated responses to various biotic stresses. The research in my laboratory is focused on molecular mechanisms of cellular stress responses in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), an evolutionarily conserved cellular stress response, activates upon accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) resulting from biotic/abiotic stresses. Initially UPR transduces signals to reinstate ER homeostasis. However, prolonged or acute ER stress may lead to a transition that initiates programmed cell death. The action of UPR in plants is almost unknown. A long-term goal of my laboratory is to advance our understanding of the genetic and molecular basis of UPR in Arabidopsis as well as its role in defense against diverse pathogens. We are expecting to uncover the differences between the animal and plant UPR responses that make it a unique adaptive process in plant immunity. Our primary objective is to identify how the key ER stress sensor IRE1 kinase/endonuclease is mechanistically involved during plant UPR. We are working on identification of additional regulatory factors required for both the activation and the attenuation of ER-stress response and studying the molecular signal transduction pathways that enable cells to activate the stress-adaptive (pro-survival) or apoptotic (pro-death) signaling pathways under mild or acute ER stress conditions, respectively. This research is supported by a recent $1.1 million NSF-CAREER Faculty Early Career Development grant (IOS‐1350244), one of the most prestigious awards supported by the NSF. You can read more about Dr. Mukhtar’s CAREER award in the UAB Reporter.

Recent Courses

  • Genetics
  • Introduction to Botany
  • Plant Physiology
  • Plant Pathology

Graduate Students

Current Lab Personnel
  • Taiaba Afrin (graduate student)
  • Danish Diwan (graduate student)
  • Katrina Sahawneh (graduate student)
  • Minye Seok (Sci-Tech Honors undergraduate student)

Download a list of past graduate students.

Select Publications

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • American Phytopathological Society
  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • International Society of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • UAB Center for Free Radicals Biology

Student Groups

  • Phi Sigma
  • Alpha Epsilon Delta
  • Sigma Xi