Molecular Genetics and Soybean Genomics Laboratory

Henry T. Nguyen, Ph.D.
Curators' Distinguished
Professor of Plant Sciences,
Division of Plant Sciences
University of Missouri
Tel: 573-882-5494
Fax: 573-882-1469
Henry Nguyen

Henry Nguyen

Dr. Henry Nguyen has had a distinguished career in plant genetics and biotechnology and is internationally recognized for his research in plant adaptation to stress environments. Upon completion of his Ph.D. program in 1982, he became an assistant professor of genetics at Oklahoma State University until 1984 when he joined the faculty of Texas Tech University and the Texas A&M University System. In May 2002 Dr. Nguyen returned to his alma mater at the University of Missouri as an endowed professor in the Division of Plant Sciences and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Chair in Soybean Biotechnology. He has served as director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology (NCSB) established by the United States Congress in 2004.

He has edited four books, published 228 articles in peer-reviewed journals and has contributed more than 30 book chapters. He has trained 35 graduate students and has mentored more than 50 post-doctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to university faculty and industry research positions. Dr. Nguyen has a long standing interest and engagement in international agriculture programs. His laboratory has hosted more than 30 visiting research scientists and scholars from all over the world, whom were supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Fulbright Program, NATO, and FAO. Additionally he has secured over $49 million dollars in competitive funding to support his research program from federal agencies (USDA, NSF, NIH), industry (Syngenta, United Soybean Board, Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council), and non-profit foundations (Rockefeller and McKnight).

Dr. Nguyen has gained recognition through many awards such as the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1986 (awarded by President Ronald Reagan) and the Young Crop Scientist Award in 1990. Dr. Nguyen was named an Outstanding Researcher of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 1995 and the Presidential Academic Achievement Award in 1996 at Texas Tech University. The Board of Regents at Texas Tech University awarded him the Paul Whitfield Horn distinguished professorship in 1997. He was elected as Fellow of the Crop Science Society of America in 1999, Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy in 2000, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2009. He served as Chair of the Molecular Genetics, Genomics, and Biotechnology Division of the Crop Science Society of America in 2003 and the Board of Directors of the CSSA from 2001-03. He is serving a second-term on the Board of Directors of the Crop Science Society of America (2010-2013). He served a member of the CSSA Science Policy Committee and was recently elected as Vice President of the Global Plant Council.

Dr. Nguyen has an extensive experience on the application of biotechnology to agriculture. He has served on numerous national and international grant review panels. He has served on the editorial boards of Crop Science, Theoretical and Applied Genetics, International Journal of Plant Genomics, Molecular Breeding, The Plant Genome, BMC Genomics, PloS One. He chairs the Abiotic Stress Workshop at the International Plant and Animal Genome Conference held in San Diego, CA annually. He served on the steering and program committees for the International Congress on Drought Tolerance in Plants. In addition, he has served as President of the Sigma Xi and Gamma Sigma Delta chapters at Texas Tech University and has actively involved in undergraduate student research and outreach programs at Texas Tech University and the University of Missouri.

Dr. Nguyen has long standing experience in working with the biotechnology industry, public funding agencies, and commodity groups, including the National Grain Sorghum Producers and Texas Corn Growers Association. As director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology, he coordinates soybean genomics and biotechnology research at the University of Missouri and works closely with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and soybean producers in the state as well as the United Soybean Board of the American Soybean Association. He participated in NSF-supported soybean genomics workshop in October 2003, several United Soybean Board soybean genomics workshops held in St. Louis, MO since 2005, and United Soybean Board Connections since December 2008 to develop strategic plans for soybean research.

Dr. Nguyen is a pioneer on the molecular mapping and genetic dissection of abiotic stress tolerance in crop plants, particularly drought tolerance. At the onset of his career he made several significant contributions in the drought tolerance research especially in the root architecture in rice and stay green trait in sorghum. His research laid a foundation for genomic discovery and applications to rice and sorghum breeding for improved drought tolerance worldwide. While moving to the University of Missouri (MU), he has established a plant root genomics consortium dedicated to root genetics and physiology through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Plant Genome Research Program grant to study maize root system. Findings of this maize root genomics project enhanced understanding of the molecular mechanisms used by plant roots to acquire water and minerals from the soil, and elucidated the role roots play in adaptation to drought conditions, and facilitated transfer this knowledge to crop improvement through biotechnology. Also, these discoveries lead him to specific efforts on comparative genomics and genetics of soybean and maize root development and adaptation to drought conditions. He was a member of an international wheat mapping consortium and NSF-sponsored project to sequence wheat ESTs and put close to 10,000 markers on an integrated genetic and physical map of wheat.

Dr. Nguyen joined his alma mater as an Endowed Professor of Genetics and Biotechnology in 2002. At the University of Missouri, his research focuses on molecular genetics and functional genomics of abiotic stress tolerance, and the application of genomics and biotechnology to soybean improvement. During his tenure at MU, Dr. Nguyen also assume the responsibility as Director of the National Center for Soybean Biotechnology to coordinate soybean research and to establish public-private research partnership towards soybean improvement. While he started soybean research at MU, the genomic resources were very much limited when compared to other crops such as rice and corn. As an initial task, first priority of Dr. Nguyen’s research was to develop and deploy biotech tools for soybean improvement and this effort established a strong platform of genetic and genomic resources. His laboratory contributed a bacterial artificial chromosome library of Williams 82 for a United Soybean Board supported physical mapping project. This resulted in construction of a ‘gold standard’ high resolution genetic map and which helped soybean research community to integrate and utilize the physical maps to target QTL regions of interest, and map more markers into a high resolution map with the full coverage of soybean genome sequence. This work has been published and led subsequently to a National Science Foundation project to refine the soybean physical map. Initially Nguyen lab has sequenced and made publically available thousands of expressed sequence tags (EST) and full length gene sequences from various tissues and abiotic stress conditions. Dr. Nguyen is a member of the community consortium that initiated and completed the soybean genome sequence through the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. His laboratory have contributed extensively towards this sequencing effort by providing various resources including several EST sequences, full length cDNA libraries and sequences, soybean transcription factor prediction and sequence annotation processes and finally first soybean whole genome sequence information was published in 2010. Dr. Nguyen’s laboratory and his colleagues at the NCSB are actively involved in the effort to annotate the genome and integrate genetic and physical maps of soybeans. In addition, he has led the effort on the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant to establish a public high throughput mapping and marker-assisted selection for soybeans. This facility will help translate his genetic mapping research and soybean sequence information into improved soybean germplasm and varieties in collaboration with breeders. One of the examples of accomplishments through this project is that his laboratory has demonstrated a quick way to identify large numbers of SNPs for fine mapping of QTL regions through next generation sequencing combined with genome complexity reduction techniques.

Dr. Nguyen applied both forward and reverse genetics approaches to dissect abiotic stress tolerance in soybean. For example, funded by farmers through the United Soybean Board and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, his laboratory addresses the complexities of drought and flooding tolerance by dissecting the physiology and genetics of yield potential under drought and flooding stress. A critical component of success was the survey of the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection to identify plant introductions carrying favorable traits associated with drought and flooding tolerance and subsequent utilization in breeding for sustainable yields under drought stress. Several key genetic resources associated with major abiotic stress tolerance traits including root system architecture, slow wilting and flooding tolerance were discovered in his and collaborator laboratories and were routinely used in the trait dissection and marker development for molecular breeding programs. Also, these germplasm resources, both cultivated and wild types, were investigated for transcriptional and post transcriptional regulatory mechanisms and significant contribution was made towards the knowledge base and understanding of regulatory mechanism under water stress conditions. A US patent application is pending with these findings. Another significant achievement in genomic resource building and trait discovery is the development mutant population of soybean using the elite cultivars used in the Missouri breeding programs.

Another major research contribution from Dr. Nguyen is the development of molecular markers for soybean breeding programs aiming at improvement of abiotic stress tolerance, nematode resistance, major seed compositional traits, and yield potential. Genomic investigations of genetic populations developed for the above traits has discovered associated genomic regions and these information contributed to develop trait specific markers for the breeding programs. Some of his trait discovery accomplishments yielded in getting US and international patents, e.g. US patent on novel genomic resource for nematode resistance and US and international patent on soybean oil improvement technology. Major outcome of the development of genetic markers and marker-assisted breeding strategies are the development of new germplasm or varieties with desirable traits. Dr. Nguyen is significantly involved as a co-developer of more than 40 soybean germplasm and varieties with Drs. Grover Shannon and Dave Sleper.

Recent establishment of a public-private partnership for whole genome sequencing of soybean germplasm at the University of Missouri is Dr. Nguyen’s another landmark achievements in soybean genomics and biotechnology research. As a pioneer in large scale genome sequencing of soybeans, his laboratory has already sequenced around 500 soybean genomes including wild and cultivated species and development of more reference genomes and sequencing additional germplasm are underway. These sequence information and HapMap derived from this study will allow the US soybean community to conduct genome wide investigations and identify alleles associated with agronomically important traits.


Ph.D.University of Missouri. 1982. Agronomy (Genetics).
M.S. Pennsylvania State University. 1978. Agronomy (Plant Breeding).
B.S. Pennsylvania State University. 1977. Crop Science.

Professional Experience: Honors and Awards: Professional Services: Principal Research Interests: Book Editing: Book Chapters: (30) Publications: (Career Total 185)