Doctor Chris Cazzonelli

Doctor Chris Cazzonelli

Senior Lecturer In Plant Molecular Biology,
Hawkesbury Institute For The Environment


Dr Christopher Cazzonelli completed his Bachelor of Science (Honours Class I) at the University of Queensland. Next he won an Australian Postgraduate Award to study plant molecular biology and plant genetic engineering under the supervision of Prof. Jimmy Botella. He enhanced our knowledge of mechanosensitive (touch) gene regulation and completed his PhD at the University of Queensland in 2002.

He subsequently won a prestigious United States Department of Agriculture Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Dr. Jeff Velten (USDA-ARS, Cropping Systems Research Laboratory, USA) and investigate the molecular nature of gene activation, gene silencing and remote sensing of plant stress events.

In 2006, Dr. Cazzonelli was recruited by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (Australian National University) to work with Prof. Barry Pogson and investigate what regulates the production of health promoting secondary metabolites in plants. Dr. Cazzonelli discovered epigenetic regulatory mechanisms controlling carotenoid accumulation as well as plant development, and established a new wave in carotenoid regulatory biology that won him the prestigious Goldacre Medal in 2010. 

Dr. Cazzonelli now joins the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment as a Senior Lecturer in Plant Molecular Biology. His team will establish an Environmental Epigenetics Laboratory (EEL) to discover molecular mechanisms underpinning plant acclimation and adaptation to changing environments. The cutting edge research program aims to discover how RNA secondary structure and epigenetic modifications regulate metabolite accumulation and promote memory-forming processes. This will involve the application of next generation sequencing and genetic engineering technologies to discover new solutions that improve plant performance and facilitate sustainability.

This information has been contributed by Doctor Cazzonelli.


  • PhD University of Queensland
  • BSc Hons University of Queensland
  • BSc University of Queensland

Professional Memberships

  • Australian Society of Plant Scientists (2013 - 2015)


  • Goldacre Medal 2010-09-29


  • carotenoids, epigenetics, secondary metabolism, plant energy biology, RNA riboswitches

Organisational Unit (School / Division)

  • Hawkesbury Institute For The Environment


Phone: (02) 4570 1752
Mobile: 0458536019
Location: L9.G.30

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Previous Teaching Areas

  • 300865 Plant Physiology, 2014
  • 300909 Biological Adaptation to Climate Change, 2014


Chapters in Books

  • Baranski, R. and Cazzonelli, C. (2016), 'Carotenoid biosynthesis and regulation in plants', Carotenoids: Nutrition, Analysis and Technology, Wiley Blackwell 9781118622261.
  • Cuttriss, A., Cazzonelli, C., Wurtzel, E. and Pogson, B. (2011), 'Carotenoids', Biosynthesis of Vitamins in Plants. Part A. Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, Academic Press 9780123864796.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Nisar, N., Hussain, D., Carmody, M. and Pogson, B. (2010), 'Biosynthesis and regulation of carotenoids in plants-micronutrients, vitamins and health benefits', Plant Developmental Biology: Biotechnological Perspectives. Volume 2, Springer 9783642046698.

Journal Articles

  • Dhami, N., Drake, J., Tjoelker, M., Tissue, D. and Cazzonelli, C. (2020), '[In Press] An extreme heatwave enhanced the xanthophyll de-epoxidation state in leaves of Eucalyptus trees grown in the field', Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, .
  • Waterman, J., Cazzonelli, C., Hartley, S. and Johnson, S. (2019), 'Simulated herbivory : the key to disentangling plant defence responses', Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol 34, no 5 , pp 447 - 458.
  • Babla, M., Cai, S., Chen, G., Tissue, D., Cazzonelli, C. and Chen, Z. (2019), 'Molecular evolution and interaction of membrane transport and photoreception in plants', Frontiers in Genetics, vol 10 .
  • Schaub, P., Rodriguez-Franco, M., Cazzonelli, C., Alvarez, D., Wust, F. and Welsch, R. (2018), 'Establishment of an Arabidopsis callus system to study the interrelations of biosynthesis, degradation and accumulation of carotenoids', PLoS One, vol 13, no 2 .
  • Dhami, N., Tissue, D. and Cazzonelli, C. (2018), 'Leaf-age dependent response of carotenoid accumulation to elevated CO2 in Arabidopsis', Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol 647 , pp 67 - 75.
  • Alagoz, Y., Nayak, P., Dhami, N. and Cazzonelli, C. (2018), 'cis-carotene biosynthesis, evolution and regulation in plants : the emergence of novel signaling metabolites', Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol 654 , pp 172 - 184.
  • Pornsiriwong, W., Estavillo, G., Chan, K., Tee, E., Ganguly, D., Crisp, P., Phua, S., Zhao, C., Qiu, J., Park, J., Yong, D., Nisar, N., Yadav, A., Schwessinger, B., Rathjen, J., Cazzonelli, C., Wilson, P., Gilliham, M., Chen, Z. and Pogson, B. (2017), 'A chloroplast retrograde signal, 3'-phosphoadenosine 5'-phosphate, acts as a secondary messenger in abscisic acid signaling in stomatal closure and germination', e-Life, vol 6 .
  • Van Norman, J., Zhang, J., Cazzonelli, C., Pogson, B., Harrison, P., Bugg, T., Chan, K., Thompson, A. and Benfey, P. (2014), 'Periodic root branching in Arabidopsis requires synthesis of an uncharacterized carotenoid derivative', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol 111, no 13 , pp 1300 - 1309.
  • Nisar, N., Cuttriss, A., Pogson, B. and Cazzonelli, C. (2014), 'The promoter of the Arabidopsis PIN6 auxin transporter enabled strong expression in the vasculature of roots, leaves, floral stems and reproductive organs', Plant Signaling and Behavior, vol 9 .
  • Avenda?o-Vazquez, A., Cordoba, E., Llamas, E., San Roman, C., Nisar, N., Torre, S., Ramos-Vega, M., Luz Gutierrez-Nava, M., Cazzonelli, C., Pogson, B. and Leon, P. (2014), 'An uncharacterized apocarotenoid-derived signal generated in carotene desaturase mutants regulates leaf development and the expression of chloroplast and nuclear genes in Arabidopsis', Plant Cell, vol 26, no 6 , pp 2524 - 2537.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Nizar, N., Roberts, A., Murray, K., Borevitz, J. and Pogson, B. (2014), 'A chromatin modifying enzyme, SDG8, is involved in morphological, gene expression, and epigenetic responses to mechanical stimulation', Frontiers in Plant Science, vol 5 .
  • Zhang, B., Aken, O., Thatcher, L., Clercq, I., Duncan, O., Law, S., Murcha, M., Van der Merwe, M., Seifi, H., Carrie, C., Cazzonelli, C., Radomiljac, J., Hofte, M., Singh, K., Breusegem, F. and Whelan, J. (2014), 'The mitochondrial outer membrane AAA ATPase AtOM66 affects cell death and pathogen resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana', Plant Journal, vol 80, no 4 , pp 709 - 727.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Vanstraelen, M., Simon, S., Yin, K., Carron-Arthur, A., Nisar, N., Tarle, G., Cuttriss, A., Searle, I., Benkova, E., Mathesius, U., Masle, J., Friml, J. and Pogson, B. (2013), 'Role of the Arabidopsis PIN6 auxin transporter in auxin homeostasis and auxin-mediated development', PLoS One, vol 8, no 7 .
  • Velten, J., Cakir, C., Youn, E., Chen, J. and Cazzonelli, C. (2012), 'Transgene silencing and transgene-derived siRNA production in tobacco plants homozygous for an introduced AtMYB90 construct', PLoS One, vol 7, no 2 .
  • Nisar, N., Verma, S., Pogson, B. and Cazzonelli, C. (2012), 'Inflorescence stem grafting made easy in Arabidopsis', Plant Methods, vol 8, no 1 .
  • Cazzonelli, C. (2011), 'Carotenoids in nature : insights from plants and beyond', Functional Plant Biology, vol 38, no 11 , pp 833 - 847.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Roberts, A., Carmody, M. and Pogson, B. (2010), 'Transcriptional control of Set Domain Group 8 and carotenoid isomerase during Arabidopsis development', Molecular Plant, vol 3, no 1 , pp 174 - 191.
  • Velten, J., Cakir, C. and Cazzonelli, C. (2010), 'A spontaneous dominant-negative mutation within a 35S::AtMYB90 transgene inhibits flower pigment production in tobacco', PLoS One, vol 5, no 3 .
  • Cazzonelli, C. and Pogson, B. (2010), 'Source to sink : regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis in plants', Trends in Plant Science, vol 15, no 5 , pp 266 - 274.
  • Wever, W., McCallum, E., Chakravorty, D., Cazzonelli, C. and Botella, J. (2010), 'The 5' untranslated region of the VR-ACS1 mRNA acts as a strong translational enhancer in plants', Transgenic Research, vol 19, no 4 , pp 667 - 674.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Yin, K. and Pogson, B. (2009), 'Potential implications for epigenetic regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis during root and shoot development', Plant Signaling and Behavior, vol 4, no 4 , pp 339 - 341.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Cuttriss, A., Cossetto, S., Pye, W., Crisp, P., Whelan, J., Finnegan, E., Turnbull, C. and Pogson, B. (2009), 'Regulation of carotenoid composition and shoot branching in Arabidopsis by a chromatin modifying histone methyltransferase, SDG8', Plant Cell, vol 21, no 1 , pp 39 - 53.
  • Howitt, C., Cavanagh, C., Bowerman, A., Cazzonelli, C., Rampling, L., Mimica, J. and Pogson, B. (2009), 'Alternative splicing, activation of cryptic exons and amino acid substitutions in carotenoid biosynthetic genes are associated with lutein accumulation in wheat endosperm', Functional and Integrative Genomics, vol 9, no 3 , pp 363 - 376.
  • Cazzonelli, C., Millar, T., Finnegan, E. and Pogson, B. (2009), 'Promoting gene expression in plants by permissive histone lysine methylation', Plant Signaling and Behavior, vol 4, no 6 , pp 484 - 488.
  • Velten, J., Pogson, B. and Cazzonelli, C. (2008), 'Luciferase as a reporter of gene activity in plants', Transgenic Plant Journal, vol 2, no 2 .
  • Cazzonelli, C. and Velten, J. (2008), 'In vivo characterization of plant promoter element interaction using synthetic promoters', Transgenic Research, vol 17, no 3 , pp 437 - 457.

Graduate, Honours and PhD research projects are available for enthusiastic and talented students. Projects offer experience in next generation sequencing, molecular, genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, and transgenic technologies. Model plant species and crops are used to address fundamental questions and answer key hypotheses relating to climate change. The ultimate theme is to understand how changes in the environment (rising temperatures, higher CO2 levels, drought and mechanical stress) influence the molecular nature of metabolite accumulation in order to facilitate memory, cellular acclimation, reproduction and eventually plant adaptation.


Bacteria and plants are natural chemical factories producing nutrient metabolites (e.g. vitamins and antioxidants such as carotenoid pigments) that promote animal health and facilitate cellular communication. In bacteria, ancient RNA structural switches (called riboswitches) sense metabolites and regulate gene expression or protein levels. Our goal is to identify metabolite and temperature sensitive RNA switches that promote memory and acclimation to changing metabolite environments. 


Environmental conditions affect the temporal and spatial variation of plant secondary metabolites that provide pharmaceutical and nutritional benefits. The accumulation of metabolites in the rhizosphere (zone of soil surrounding roots) affect microbial and fungal associations that promote nutrient uptake and enhance growth. We are investigating how the environment influences root development and metabolite signaling molecules that promote a healthy soil microenvironment and maintain agricultural sustainability. 


Plants sense and respond to wind, rubbing, insect feeding, touching and mechanical stress by altering their phenotype, a phenomenon called thigmomorphogenesis. Developmental and morpholgical changes promote acclimation and negatively effect reproductive yield. The molecular nature underpinning touch induced morphological responses remains enigmatic and largely unknown. 

This information has been contributed by Doctor Cazzonelli.

Current Projects

Title: Research and Operations to Trial Innovation Glass and Photovoltaic Technologies in Protected Cropping
  • Horticulture Innovation Australia (non ACRG)
Western Researchers: David Tissue, Zhonghua Chen, Chris Cazzonelli, Oula Ghannoum and Ian Anderson
Years: 2017-06-21 - 2020-05-11
ID: P00024107
Title: National Tree Genomics Program - Genotype Prediction Toolbox [via QUT]
  • Horticulture Innovation Australia (non ACRG)
Western Researchers: Chris Cazzonelli, Jonathan Plett and Alexie Papanicolaou
Years: 2018-03-01 - 2024-12-01
ID: P00025295
Title: Future Food Systems
  • Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (CRC)
Western Researchers: Ian Anderson, David Tissue, Priti Krishna, Zhonghua Chen, Oula Ghannoum, Chris Cazzonelli, Mitchell Low, Chun Guang Li, Donald Mcneill and James Cook
Years: 2019-06-30 - 2029-06-01
ID: P00025995

Previous Projects

Title: The hunt for Ribonucleic Acid riboswitches and genetic sensors of metabolic flux in plants
  • Australian Research Council (ACRG)
Western Researchers: Chris Cazzonelli
Years: 2014-01-26 - 2017-12-22
ID: P00021962
Title: Touching plants promotes memory and stress acclimation by DNA methylation
  • University of the Philippines
Western Researchers: Chris Cazzonelli
Years: 2017-07-01 - 2018-06-30
ID: P00024470

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