Erik W Vollbrecht

Erik Vollbrecht photo

Dr. Vollbrecht, professor, received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1997, studying genetic mechanisms of plant reproduction and molecular genetic regulation of plant development. He was then a DOE-Energy Biosciences post doctoral fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. At Iowa State, Vollbrecht is studying plant developmental mechanisms.

Research Description

My research interests include understanding molecular mechanisms of plant development and their evolution, and developing genomics tools to advance that goal. Our work focuses on floral shoot branching in maize as an experimental system. The tassel and ear of maize comprise an attractive system because they produce grain that is an important food and industrial commodity, because they are excellent models for other cereals and because of the research tools available in maize. We identify genes important for floral branching in maize, use molecular techniques to understand the function of the gene product, and examine gene function in a broad, comparative context to evaluate its relevance to changes in crops during evolution, domestication and breeding. The genetic pathway regulating floral shoot branching that we identified is unique to and conserved among the cereal crops. Current work elucidates genes involved in that pathway, and how they function in different grasses. Much of this work relies an the analysis of mutants to determine gene function. In a separate project, we are generating a large collection of transposon-induced, sequence-indexed, single gene knockout lines in maize. These gene knockouts are publicly available to all researchers.


  • Gallavotti A, Long JA, Stanfield S, Yang X, Jackson D, Vollbrecht E. and RJ Schmidt. 2010. The control of axillary meristem fate in the maize ramosa pathway. Development (in press)
  • Vollbrecht E, Duvick J, Schares JP, Ahern KR, Deewatthanawong P, Xu L, Conrad LJ, Kikuchi K, Kubinec TA, Hall BD, Weeks R, Unger-Wallace E, Muszynski M, Brendel VP, and TP Brutnell. 2010. Genome-Wide Distribution of Transposed Dissociation Elements in Maize. Plant Cell tpc.109.073452.
  • Sigmon B, and Vollbrecht E. 2010. Evidence of selection at the ramosa1 locus during maize domestication. Molecular Ecology 19: 1296-1311.
  • Ahern KR, Deewatthanawong P, Schares J, Muszynski M, Weeks R, Vollbrecht E, Duvick J, Brendel VP, and TP Brutnell. 2009. Regional mutagenesis using Dissociation in maize. Methods 49: 248-254.
  • Vollbrecht E, and RJ Schmidt. 2009. Development of the Inflorescences. In Handbook of Maize: Its Biology (New York: Springer) pp. 13-40.
  • Bortiri, E, G Chuck, E Vollbrecht, T Rocheford, R Martienssen, and S Hake. 2006. ramosa2 Encodes a LATERAL ORGAN BOUNDARY Domain Protein That Determines the Fate of Stem Cells in Branch Meristems of Maize. Plant Cell 18(3):574-585.
  • Bommert P, Lunde C, Vollbrecht E, Running MP, Hake S and W Werr. 2005. thick tassel dwarf1 encodes a putative maize orthologue of the Arabidopsis CLAVATA1 leucine-rich repeat receptor-like kinase. Development 132(6):1235-45.
  • Vollbrecht E, Springer P, Goh L, Buckler ES IV and RA Martienssen. 2005. Architecture of floral branch systems in maize and related grasses. Nature 436:1119-26.
  • Vollbrecht, E and B Sigmon. 2005. Amazing grass: developmental genetics of maize domestication. Biochem Soc Trans 33:1502-1506.
  • May BP*, Liu H*, Vollbrecht E*, Senior L, Rabinowicz P D, Roh D, Pan X, Stein L, Freeling M, Alexander D and R Martienssen. 2003. Maize-targeted mutagenesis: A knockout resource for maize. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 100:11541-6.
  • Vollbrecht E, Reiser L and S Hake. 2000. Shoot meristem size is dependent on inbred background and presence of the maize homeobox gene, knotted1. Development 127:3161-72.
  • Vollbrecht E and S Hake. 1995. Deficiency analysis of female gametogenesis in maize. Developmental Genetics 16:44-63.
  • Kerstetter R, Vollbrecht E, Lowe B, Veit B, Yamaguchi J, and S Hake. 1994. Sequence analysis and expression patterns divide the maize knotted1-like homeobox genes into two classes. Plant Cell 6:1877-87.
  • Vollbrecht E, Veit B, Sinha N, and S Hake. 1991. The developmental gene Knotted-1 is a member of a maize homeobox gene family. Nature 350:241-243.
Area of Expertise: 
Plant Developmental Mechanisms
B.A., University of California, Berkeley, 1985
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1997
2206 Molecular Biology