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

Education:

  • 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 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.

Research in Dr. Mukhtar's lab at UAB 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 was awarded the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for her study to uncover how plants recognize an important signature of infection – toxic unfolded proteins – and mount appropriate responses with potential in crop improvement, and her deeply involved in outreach, notably a citizen-science based community garden.

Dr. Mukhtar has been recognized with a number of teaching awards, including 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 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”. Dr. Mukhtar is also implementing sustainability in her classroom curricula through her participation in the UAB Red Mountain Project. In addition, she pursues a very active educational outreach program directed to K-12 science teachers as well as minority students from local community colleges, funded through her NSF-CAREER award and in the framework of the UAB-CORD and ASIM/AMSTI programs.

Dr. Mukhtar is the Chair of UAB’s Graduate Curriculum Committee and member of UAB Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee.

Download CV

Research Interests

The sessile lifestyle of plants requires them to cope with multitude of stresses in situ. In response to diverse environmental and intracellular cues, plant cell responds by massive reprograming 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 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 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 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 ever-growing human population. This research is supported by a $1.1 million NSF-CAREER Faculty Early Career Development grant, one of the most prestigious awards supported by the NSF. You can read more about Dr. Mukhtar’s work in the UAB Reporter and the UAB Magazine.

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)
  • Katrina Sahawneh (graduate student)

Past Karolina Mukhtar Lab Members

  • 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.)

Select Publications

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • 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