Cereal biotechnology research for crop improvement

Plant Biotechnology

Cereals, such as rice and wheat, are important source of food worldwide but they contain very low levels of bioavailable micronutrients (such as iron and zinc) for a balanced human diet. Thus, micronutrient malnutrition is a serious global health challenge. Biofortification of edible plant parts has been proposed as the most relevant options to combat micronutrient malnutrition. In our group, we contribute towards cereal biofortification through biotechnological approaches.

Furthermore, plants are known to maintain metal ion homeostasis through sophisticated mechanisms that tightly control the acquisition and distribution of metal ions to the specific compartments and for storage. We study the molecular mechanisms underlying micro-nutrient composition in the cereal grains, focusing on zinc and iron. These metal homeostasis studies are expected to provide novel insights into molecular and agronomic aspects of plant biofortification of essential micro-nutrients.

In addition to engineering for micronutrient traits, we are interested in screening of cereal germplasm for novel stress related traits (including drought tolerance in rice and resistance to rice blast).  It is of utmost importance for crop breeding to uncover the underlying genetic components from un-adapted germplasm that have poor agronomic performance but stronger tolerance mechanisms against biotic and abiotic stresses. Subsequent transfer of these genetic components to elite high-yielding varieties will allow closing yield gaps, ultimately contributing towards food security.

Recent Publications

  • Targeting intracellular transport combined with efficient uptake and storage significantly increases grain iron and zinc levels in rice
    Wu, Ting-Ying; Gruissem, Wilhelm; Bhullar, Navreet K.
    PLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY JOURNAL, 17 (1):9-20; 10.1111/pbi.12943 JAN 2019
  • Molecular processes in iron and zinc homeostasis and their modulation for biofortification in rice
    Kawakami, Y; Bhullar, NK
    JOURNAL OF INTEGRATIVE PLANT BIOLOGY, 60 (12):1181-1198; SI 10.1111/jipb.12751 DEC 2018
  • Facilitated citrate-dependent iron translocation increases rice endosperm iron and zinc concentrations
    Wu, Ting-Ying; Gruissem, Wilhelm; Bhullar, Navreet K.
    PLANT SCIENCE, 270 13-22; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plantsci.2018.02.002 MAY 2018
  • Iron biofortification in the 21st century: setting realistic targets, overcoming obstacles, and new strategies for healthy nutrition 
    Vasconcelos, Marta W.; Gruissem, Wilhelm; Bhullar, Navreet K. 
    CURRENT OPINION IN BIOTECHNOLOGY, 44: 8-15 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copbio.2016.10.001 APR 2017
  • Rice NICOTIANAMINE SYNTHASE 2 expression improves dietary iron and zinc levels in wheat 
    Singh, Simrat Pal; Keller, Beat; Gruissem, Wilhelm; et al. 
  • Enhanced Grain Iron Levels in Rice Expressing an IRON-REGULATED METAL TRANSPORTER, NICOTIANAMINE SYNTHASE, and FERRITIN Gene Cassette 
    Boonyaves, Kulaporn; Wu, Ting-Ying; Gruissem, Wilhelm; et al. 
  • Geographically Distinct and Domain-Specific Sequence Variations in the Alleles of Rice Blast Resistance Gene Pib 
    Vasudevan, Kumar; Vera Cruz, Casiana M.; Gruissem, Wilhelm; et al. 
  • NOD promoter-controlled AtIRT1 expression functions synergistically with NAS and FERRITIN genes to increase iron in rice grains 
    Boonyaves, Kulaporn; Gruissem, Wilhelm; Bhullar, Navreet K. 
    PLANT MOLECULAR BIOLOGY, 90 (3): 207-215 FEB 2016
Navreet Bhullar ETH Zurich

Dr. Navreet K. Bhullar
ETH Zurich
Institute of Molecular Plant Biology
8092 Zurich

Tel: +41 (0)44 632 67 32

Research topics

  • Micronutrient biofortification of cereals
  • Metal homeostasis in plants
  • Plant biotic and abiotic stresses
  • Allele/gene mining from genetic resources


  • Molecular basis of plant metal homeostasis
  • Crop improvement and molecular plant breeding