Department of Crop Sciences
Erik Sacks
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Erik Sacks

Assistant Professor
1101 Institute for Genomic Biology
1206 W. Gregory Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 333-9327


Ph.D: Genetics, University of California, Davis — 1996
M.S.: Horticulture, University of California, Davis — 1992
B.S.: Plant Breeding, Cornell University — 1990

Research Areas

Research Themes

Major research themes of my career have been wide crosses, introgression, and new crop development. Relatives of domesticated plants represent a vast reservoir of potentially useful genes, but obtaining viable, fertile progeny from crosses between different species is often difficult. By understanding how genetics and environment affect the likelihood of obtaining interspecific or intergeneric progeny, one can more efficiently use natural germplasm resources to improve existing crops or to develop new ones. In past research, I have used such knowledge to introgress genes of interest, such as resistance to reniform nematodes into upland cotton, and to initiate the development of a new crop, perennial upland rice, for the erosion-prone uplands of Southeast Asia. My current work on perennial grasses builds upon these themes by developing new crops via wide crosses and direct domestication of wild species.

Perennial Grains

Annual grains are currently the foundation of the human food supply. Why annuals and not perennials? It was not the outcome of a carefully conceived plan but rather a consequence of selection by the first farmers. However, it should be possible to develop perennial grain crops by selecting concurrently for both yield and perennial growth. Such a goal is worth pursuing because perennial grain crops could provide enhanced ecosystem services, which would reduce the environmental and economic costs of food production. Recently, in collaboration with the Snapp lab at Michigan State University, I have started to study the effects of planting season, and timing of initial cutting on some of the first varieties of perennial rye, perennial wheat and intermediate wheatgrass. In the future, I plan to expand upon this initial research by breeding one or more perennial grain crops. Dual-use crops, such as grain and bioenergy, or grain and forage are also of interest.


Bioenergy crops can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, help mitigate human-induced climate change, and bolster agriculture. Some perennial grasses have the potential to assimilate large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and this primarily cellulosic biomass can be used for energy by direct burning or by conversion to liquid fuels. Moreover, the underground shoots and roots of these perennial grasses help conserve and build soil, sequester carbon, and enable efficient use of nutrients and water. Crops that I am especially interested in include Miscanthus, prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), miscanes (Miscanthus/Saccharum), and perennial interspecific Sorghum. These crops are in the initial stages of domestication. To build a useful resource base for crop improvement, I am collecting germplasm, phenotyping materials in replicated trials, and using molecular markers to study genetic diversity and population structure. My work on prairie cordgrass and big bluestem is in collaboration with DK Lee who initiated and leads efforts to collect and characterize these native prairie species. I am studying the genetics governing key traits of interest (e.g. adaptation, pest and disease resistance, yield, and quality) via molecular mapping and by using crossing designs to estimate genetic variances. Research to improve breeding efficiency of these new crops by quantifying the effects of different breeding and selection methods is also being conducted.


Assistant Professor of Perennial Grass Breeding, Dept. of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois (2010 - present)
Manager, Plant Breeding, Mendel Biotechnology Inc. (2009 - 2010)
Senior Plant Breeder, Mendel Biotechnology Inc. (2007 - 2009)
Research Geneticist (Plants), Crop Genetics & Production Research Unit, USDA-ARS, Stoneville, MS (2004 - 2007)
Scientist, HortResearch, New Zealand (2001 - 2002)
Affiliate Scientist & Project Coordinator, Plant Breeding, Genetics & Biochemistry Division, International Rice Research Institute, Philippines (1999 - 2001)
Post Doctoral Researcher, Department of Nematology, University of California, Davis (1997 - 1999)
Post Doctoral Researcher, Department of Horticulture, The Ohio State Univ. Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (1997)

Journal Articles

Sacks, E.J., J.A. Juvik, Q. Lin, J.R. Stewart, and T. Yamada. (In Press). The gene pool of Miscanthus species and its improvement. In: A.H. Paterson (ed.). Genomics of the Saccharinae.
Glover, J.D., J.P. Reganold, L.W. Bell, J. Borevitz, E.C. Brummer, E.S. Buckler, C.M. Cox, T.S. Cox, T.E. Crews, S.W. Culman, L.R. DeHaan, D. Eriksson, B.S. Gill, J. Holland, F. Hu, B.S. Hulke, A.M.H. Ibrahim, W. Jackson, S.S. Jones, S.C. Murray, A.H. Paterson, E. Ploschuk, E.J. Sacks, S. Snapp, D. Tao, D.L. Van Tassel, L.J. Wade, D.L. Wyse, and Y. Xu. 2010. Perennial questions of hydrology and climate response (Letter). Science 330:33-34.
Glover, J.D., J.P. Reganold, L.W. Bell, J. Borevitz, E.C. Brummer, E.S. Buckler, C.M. Cox, T.S. Cox, T.E. Crews, S.W. Culman, L.R. DeHaan, D. Eriksson, B.S. Gill, J. Holland, F. Hu, B.S. Hulke, A.M.H. Ibrahim, W. Jackson, S.S. Jones, S.C. Murray, A.H. Paterson, E. Ploschuk, E.J. Sacks, S. Snapp, D. Tao, D.L. Van Tassel, L.J. Wade, D.L. Wyse, and Y. Xu. 2010. Increased food and ecosystem security via perennial grains. Science 328:1638-1639.
Zhao, M., Z. Ding, R. Lafitte, E. Sacks, G. Dimayuga, and D. Holt. 2010. Photosynthetic characteristics in Oryza species. Photosynthetica 48: 234-240.
Romano, G.B., E.J. Sacks, S.R. Stetina, A. F. Robinson, D.D. Fang, O.A. Gutierrez, and J.A. Scheffler. 2009. Identification and genomic location of a reniform nematode (Rotylenchulus reniformis) resistance locus (Renari) introgressed from Gossypium aridum into upland cotton (G. hirsutum). Theor. Appl. Genet. 120:139-150.
Sacks, E.J. and A.F. Robinson. 2009. Introgression of resistance to reniform nematode (Rotylenchulus reniformis) into upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) from Gossypium arboreum and a G. hirsutum/Gossypium aridum bridging line. Field Crops Res. 112:1-6.
Kantartzi, S.K., M. Ulloa, E. Sacks, and J.Mc.D. Stewart. 2009. Assessing genetic diversity in Gossypium arboreum L. cultivars using genomic and EST-derived microsatellites. Genetica 136:141-147.
Sacks, E.J. and A.F. Robinson. 2008. Development of trispecies backcross populations using a 2(ADD) hexaploid bridging line to introgress genes from A-genome diploids into upland cotton. Proceedings of the World Cotton Research Conferences-4, Paper 2000. [Peer-reviewed paper].
Robinson, A.F., P. Agudelo, C.A. Avila, A.A. Bell, F.E. Callahan, C.G. Cook, N.D. Dighe, O.A. Gutierrez, R.W. Hayes, J.N. Jenkins, J.T. Johnson, R. Kantety, G.W. Lawrence, K.S. Lawrence, L. Mangineni, J.C. McCarty, M.A. Menz, W.A. Meredith Jr., R.L. Nichols, R.T. Robbins, E. Sacks, B. Scheffler, G.L. Sciumbato, C.W. Smith, J.L. Starr, D.M. Stelly, S.R. Stetina, J.McD. Stewart, P.M. Thaxton, T.P. Wallace, D.B. Weaver, M.J. Wubben, and L.D. Young. 2008. Development of reniform nematode resistance in upland cotton. Proceedings of the World Cotton Research Conferences-4, Paper 1320. [Invited, peer-reviewed, paper].
Sacks, E.J. 2008. Ovule rescue efficiency of Gossypium hirsutum × G. arboreum progeny from field-grown fruit is affected by media composition and antimicrobial compounds. Plant Cell Tiss Organ Cult. 93:15-20.
Zhao, M., T.L.B Acuna, H.R. Lafitte, G. Dimayuga, and E. Sacks. 2008. Perennial hybrids of Oryza sativa × Oryza rufipogon: Part II. Carbon exchange and assimilate partitioning. Field Crops Res. 106:214-223.
Zhao, M., H.R. Lafitte, E Sacks, G. Dimayuga, and T.L.B. Acuna. 2008. Perennial O. sativa × O. rufipogon interspecific hybrids: I. Photosynthetic characteristics and their inheritance. Field Crops Res. 106:203-213.
Sacks, E.J., M.P. Dhanapala, M.T. Sta. Cruz, and R. Sallan. 2007. Clonal performance of perennial Oryza sativa/O. rufipogon selections and their combining ability with O. sativa cultivars for survival, stolon production and yield. Field Crops Res. 100:155-167.
Sacks, E.J., H.K. Abbas, and A. Mengistu. 2006. First report of endophytic Candida ipomoeae isolated from ovules of upland cotton in Mississippi. Plant Dis. 90:1362.
Sacks, E.J., M.P. Dhanapala, D.Y. Tao, M.T. Sta. Cruz, and R. Sallan. 2006. Breeding for perennial growth and fertility in an Oryza sativa/O. longistaminata population. Field Crops Res. 95:39-48.
Sacks, E.J., V. Schmit, K.L. McNally, and M.T. Sta. Cruz. 2006. Fertility in an interspecific rice population and its effect on selection for rhizome length. Field Crops Res. 95:30-38.
Yang, W., E.J. Sacks, M.L. Lewis Ivey, S.A. Miller, and D.M. Francis. 2005. Resistance in Lycopersicon esculentum intraspecific crosses to Race T1 strains of Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria causing bacterial spot of tomato. Phytopathology 95:519-527.
Hu, F.Y., D.Y. Tao, E. Sacks, B.Y. Fu, P. Xu, J. Li, Y. Yang, K. McNally, G.S. Khush, A.H. Paterson, and Z.-K. Li. 2003. Convergent evolution of perenniality in rice and sorghum. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100:4050-4054.
Sacks, E.J., J.P. Roxas, and M.T. Sta. Cruz. 2003. Developing perennial upland rice II: Field performance of S1 families from an intermated Oryza sativa/O. longistaminata population. Crop Sci. 43:129-134.
Sacks, E.J., J.P. Roxas, and M.T. Sta. Cruz. 2003. Developing perennial upland rice I: Field performance of Oryza sativa/O. rufipogon F1, F4 and BC1F4 progeny. Crop Sci. 43:120-128.
Hu, F.-Y., D.-Y. Tao, P. Xu, J. Li, Y. Yang, E. Sacks, K. McNally, T.S. Cruz, J. Zhou, and Z. Li. 2001. Two dominant complementary genes controlling rhizomatous expression in Oryza longistaminata. Rice Genet. Newsl. 18:34-36.
Kubota, S., J. Egdane, E. Sacks, and O. Ito. 2001. Growth and flowering of perennial rice in different moisture conditions. Jap. J. Crop Sci. 70(Extra Iss.1):80-81.
Tao, D., F. Hu, Y. Yang, P. Xu, J. Li, G. Wen, E. Sacks, K. McNally, and P. Sripichitt. 2001. Rhizomatous individual was obtained from interspecific BC2F1 progenies between Oryza sativa and Oryza longistaminata. Rice Genet. Newsl. 18:11-13.
Sacks, E.J. and D.M. Francis. 2001. Genetic and environmental variation for flesh color of tomato fruit in a population of modern breeding lines. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 126:221-226.
Sacks, E.J. and D.A. St. Clair. 1998. Variation among seven genotypes of Lycopersicon esculentum and 36 accessions of L. hirsutum for interspecific crossability. Euphytica 101:185-191.
Sacks, E.J., L.M. Gerhardt, E.B. Graham, J. Jacobs, T.A. Thorrup, and D.A. St. Clair. 1997. Variation among 41 genotypes of Lycopersicon esculentum for crossability to L. peruvianum. Annals of Botany 80:469-477.
Sacks, E.J. and D.A. St. Clair. 1996. Cryogenic storage of tomato pollen: effect on fecundity. HortScience 31:447-448.
Shaw, D.V. and E.J. Sacks. 1995. Response in genotypic and breeding value to a single generation of divergent selection for fresh fruit color in strawberry. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 120:270-273.
Sacks, E.J. and D.V. Shaw. 1994. Optimum allocation of objective color measurements for evaluating fresh strawberry fruit. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 119:330-334.
Sacks, E.J. and D.V. Shaw. 1993. Color change in fresh strawberry fruit of seven genotypes stored at 0C. HortScience 28:209-210.
Sacks, E. 1993. Masdevallia madness. Amer. Orch. Soc. Bull. 62:586-589. (Extension).