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Karolina M. Mukhtar

Professor and Department Chair This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
3155 East Science Hall, Science & Engineering Complex
(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, Biology Education Research

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 twenty years of experience studying various aspects of plant genetics and stress biology 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, Genes and Development and Communications Biology.

Dr. Mukhtar began her faculty position in UAB’s Department of Biology in 2010. Research in her lab focuses on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) stress caused by abiotic and biotic stresses, such as heat and pathogen infection. At the center of her research program is the Unfolded Protein Response, IRE1 ER stress receptors and GCN2-mediated translational regulation (see her Research Interests below). Dr. Mukhtar received the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers, for her research into how plants recognize an important signature of infection – toxic unfolded proteins – and mount appropriate responses with potential in crop improvement, as well as her extensive involvement in outreach, notably a citizen-science based community garden. She was the first UAB faculty member to receive the PECASE distinction.

Dr. Mukhtar has been recognized with a number of teaching awards, including the 2022 UAB Graduate Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentorship, the 2019 UAB President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, the 2019 CAS Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the 2015 Outstanding Faculty Mentor by the Office of Disability Support Services for development and implementation of instructional strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities.

Dr. Mukhtar has held numerous leadership positions at UAB. She has served as chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate Caucus, and she has been a member of the UAB Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee, the UAB Commission on the Status of Women, and the Blazer Core Committee. She has also served in many roles for the Department of Biology, including Associate Director of Graduate Programs (2017-2018), Associate Department Chair and Undergraduate Program Director (2018-2022), and Interim Department Chair (2022-2023).

Dr. Mukhtar is also highly committed to teaching at K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels. She has completed UAB Faculty Fellowship in Service Learning, through which she developed a Service Learning CURE summer course in Plant Pathology “OUTPACE”, offered between 2014-2019. Currently, Dr. Mukhtar is involved in an NSF-funded PlantGIFT project (2022-2025) that provides professional development workshops in plant genomics to local middle and high school teachers.

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  • Research Interests

    The sessile lifestyle of plants requires them to cope with a multitude of stresses in situ. In response to diverse environmental and intracellular cues, plant cell responds by massive reprogramming of transcription and translation of stress response regulators, of which many rely on endoplasmic reticulum (ER) processing. This increased protein synthesis could exceed the capacity of precise protein quality control, leading to the accumulation of unfolded and/or misfolded proteins that triggers the unfolded protein response (UPR). The research in our 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 our 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 abiotic and biotic stress factors. We are expecting to uncover the differences between the animal and plant UPR responses that make it a unique adaptive process in plant stress biology. 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 the 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. Plant stress biology research will have a profound impact on our future ability to solve real-life problems as we face ongoing changes in the climate, ecological imbalances, and an ever-growing human population. This research has been supported by the NSF since 2014. You can read more about this work in the UAB Reporter and the UAB Magazine.

    Another recent expansion of our research program focuses on the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning as tools to predict the novel stress and immune functions of previously unknown proteins This new scientific endeavor has resulted in a 2021 NSF award as a Co-Principal Investigator. The new undertaking employs our expertise in the wet lab characterization of various plant stress responses as we discover the next frontier in the –omics of global regulation of stress responses in plants with a special emphasis on the biological roles of sulfur and nutritional immunity. Collectively, plant stress biology research has a profound impact on our future ability to solve real-life problems as we face ongoing changes in the climate, ecological imbalances, and the ever-growing human population.

  • Recent Courses
    • Genetics
    • Principles of Botany
    • Plant Physiology
    • Plant Pathology
  • Graduate Students

    Current Lab Personnel

    • Taiaba Afrin (Ph.D. student)
    • Danish Diwan (Ph.D. student)
    • Jinbao Liu (Ph.D. student)
    • Regina Bedgood (M.S. student)

    Past Karolina Mukhtar Lab Members

    • Katrina Sahawneh (M.S.)
    • Brenna Terry (M.S.)
    • Kristin Rockett (M.S.)
    • Paul F Sauer (M.S.)
    • Lucas Boatwright (M.S.)
    • Benjamin Marsella (M.S.)
    • Marie Vollmer Alexander (M.S.)
    • Xiaoyu Liu (Ph.D.)
    • Camilla Koerner (postdoc)
    • Xinran Du (postdoc)
    • Ahmer Amer (postdoc)
  • Select Publications
    • Fakhar AZ, Liu J, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM and Mukhtar MS (2023) The ORFans’ Tale: New Insights in Plant Biology. Trends in Plant Science, doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2023.06.011.
    • Kumar N, Mishra B, Liu J, Mohan B, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM, Mukhtar SM (2023) Network Biology Analyses and Dynamic Modeling of Gene Regulatory Networks Under Drought Stress Reveal Major Transcriptional Regulators in Arabidopsis. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, doi: 10.3390/ijms24087349.
    • Hussain A, Liu J, Mohan B, Burhan A, Nasim Z, Bano R, Ameen A, Zaynab M, Mukhtar MS and Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2022) A genome-wide comparative evolutionary analysis of zinc finger-BED transcription factor genes in land plants. Scientific Reports, 12:12328, doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-16602-8.
    • Liu J, Fakhar AZ, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM and Mukhtar MS (2022) A TIReless battle: TIR domains in plant-pathogen interactions. Trends in Plant Science, 27(5):426-429, doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2022.01.011.
    • Afrin T, Costello CN, Monella AN, Kørner CJ and Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2022) The interplay of GTP-binding protein AGB1 with ER stress sensors IRE1a and IRE1b modulates Arabidopsis unfolded protein response and bacterial immunity. Plant Signaling and Behavior, 17:1, 2018857, doi: 10.1080/15592324.2021.2018857.
    • Mishra B, Kumar N, Liu J, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2021) Dynamic regulatory event mining by iDREM in large scale multi-omics datasets during biotic and abiotic stress in plants (book chapter). Modeling Transcriptional Regulation: Methods and Protocols, Springer Methods in Molecular Biology, 2328:191-202, doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-1534-8_12
    • Diwan D, Liu X, Andrews CF and Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2021) A Quantitative Arabidopsis IRE1a Ribonuclease-dependent in vitro mRNA Cleavage Assay for Functional Studies of Substrate Splicing and Decay Activities. Frontiers in Plant Science – Plant Cell Biology, 12:1510.
    • Davis JE, Kolozsvary MB, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM, Zhang B (2021) Towards a universal theoretical framework to understand robustness and resilience: from cells to systems. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution – Models in Ecology and Evolution, 8:495.
    • Verchot J and Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2021) Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress Signaling at the Nexus of Plant Viral, Bacterial, and Fungal Defenses. Curr Opinion in Virology, 47:9-17.
    • Afrin T, Seok M, Terry B, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2020) Probing natural variation of IRE1 expression and endoplasmic reticulum stress responses in Arabidopsis accessions. Scientific Reports, 10:19154
    • Liu X, Afrin T, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2019) Arabidopsis GCN2 kinase contributes to ABA homeostasis and stomatal immunity. Communications Biology 2:302
    • Sun Y, Detchemendy TW, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM, Mukhtar MS (2018) NPR1 in JazzSet with pathogen effectors. Trends in Plant Science, TRPLSC 1680 1-4
    • Mukhtar MS, McCormack ME, Argueso C, Pajerowska-Mukhtar KM (2016) Pathogen Tactics to Manipulate Plant Cell Death. Current Biology, 26(13):R608-619
  • Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies
    • 2022 Graduate Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentorship
    • 2021-2022 Blaze Leadership Academy
    • 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)
    • 2019 UAB President's Award for Excellence in Teaching
    • 2019 CAS Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching
    • 2019 UAB Graduate Commencement – Mace Carrier
    • 2018 – to date Associate Chair, Dept. of Biology
    • 2018 – to date Chair, UAB Graduate Curriculum Committee
    • 2017-2018 – Associate Director, Biology Graduate Program
    • 2015 Outstanding Faculty Award (UAB Office of Disability Support Services)
    • 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