Plant Sciences Major

The Plant Sciences major is designed for students who are interested in a scientific understanding of how plants grow and develop in managed agricultural ecosystems and how plant products are utilized for food, fiber and environmental enhancement. Advances in science and technology have provided new insights and options for using plants to address the issues associated with providing renewable food, fiber and energy resources for a growing global population while minimizing adverse impacts on the natural environment. Graduates in Plant Sciences are able to apply their skills and knowledge to a diverse range of agricultural and environmental goals or pursue advanced degrees in plant sciences.

The Program. The curriculum provides depth in the biological and physical sciences and a sound understanding of how plants obtain and utilize resources from their environment to sustain their growth and development. The influences of genetics, management systems and environmental inputs on crop development and productivity are emphasized along with the postharvest preservation and marketing of plant products. Students will develop an area of specialization with options in Crop Production, Plant Genetics and Breeding, or Postharvest Biology and Technology. An Individual option is also available to match specific subject matter or career goal interests in the plant sciences. All students gain practical experience through a combination of practical laboratory courses and internships. Students may also pursue an Honors thesis in their senior year.

Three specific options and one individualized option are offered in the Plant Sciences major. Each of these requires approximately 25-30 additional units of course work in the specified areas.

Choose one of six tracks as your area of specialization within the Plant Sciences major:

  • Plant breeding, genetics & genomics
    Problem: Evolving pests and diseases, labor shortages, declining soil and water quality, rising temperatures and declining nutritional content threaten our food production systems and food security.
    You will: Use genetics, biotechnology and breeding techniques to develop new varieties of plants useful to farmers, ranchers, gardeners, foresters and consumers, while understanding the societal impacts of crop improvement.
  • Crop production & agroecology
    Problem: Global food production is growing, but the price is high: climate-warming gases, pollution to land and water, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.
    You will: Learn to see agriculture as a living web of diverse ecological interactions that is part of the solution to these problems. You’ll use core principles of plant biology and plant-environment interactions to design sustainable and resilient crop production systems in a global context. You’ll have options for further emphasis on plant nutrition, soils, pests and global food systems.
  • Plant informatics, sensing & data
    Problem: New, data-driven technologies in natural resource management are creating a need for trained professionals and researchers who can harness the exciting tools available to us.
    You will: Use drones, weather stations, satellites, artificial intelligence, machine learning and genetic information to model and monitor plant growth, nutrition, disease risk, pest development and scheduling to manage our natural resources.
  • Environmental horticulture & urban landscapes
    Problem: Climate, environmental and social changes threaten the livability of our cities and towns. We urgently need nature-based solutions to increase urban resilience and sustainability.
    You will: Learn the art and science of developing, producing and using plants that give us beauty, shade, resources and connection to the earth, ourselves and each other.
  • Ecological management & restoration
    Problem: Unbalanced management of natural ecosystems can impair the social, economic, and ecological services these landscapes provide to society.
    You will: Learn the ecology and management of non-farm environments to restore, maintain and improve their ability to nourish and protect us and the other creatures that live there, while balancing goals of land uses such as agricultural production with conservation objectives.
  • Crop quality & safety
    Problem: More than 1/3 of the food we produce gets wasted worldwide, while a billion people go hungry and more are poorly nourished.
    You will: Use basic and applied knowledge about plant sciences, engineering and economics to provide fresh, nutritious, safe, affordable, readily available and delicious food to all people.

General Catalog (publicly accessible)

Program Learning Outcomes:

Graduates of the Plant Sciences major should be able to:

I. Analyze how plants grow and develop

II. Identify plant characteristics and describe the role of the environment, genetics, evolution and breeding

III. Describe the movement of water, nutrients and energy through the biosphere and evaluate the impact of human management on these processes

IV. Critically evaluate options for sustainable plant management, including natural, urban and small and large scale production systems

V. Apply the scientific method and collect, manage, analyze and interpret data

VI. Communicate effectively in speaking and writing

VII. Work collaboratively in a team setting in both a leadership and team member role

VIII. Demonstrate personal and social responsibility


Career Alternatives. Graduates from this program are prepared to pursue a wide range of careers, including various technical and management positions in agricultural and business enterprises, farming, or consulting; public, private, and non-profit agencies; Cooperative Extension; international development; teaching; or agricultural and environmental journalism and communication services. Graduates are qualified to pursue graduate studies in the natural and agricultural sciences, such as plant biology, genetics, breeding, horticulture, agronomy, biotechnology, ecology, environmental studies, pest management, education, or business management.

Plant Sciences Honors Thesis

The honors thesis in Plant Sciences can be an enriching experience during your undergrad program at UC Davis, as well as a competitive edge when applying for graduate schools, careers, and professional development trainings. Below is a listed sequence of courses for the Plant Sciences honors track, which should commence during Spring quarter of Junior year. Students who are already enrolled in the University Honors Program can also follow the sequence below during their 4th year of the program.

Plant Sciences Honors Thesis Course Sequence

  • PLS 188 (3 units), Spring Quarter, preferably Junior year - Undergraduate Research Proposal
    Lecture/discussion— Lecture/discussion—3 hours. Prerequisite: upper division standing. Preparation and review of a scientific proposal. Problem definition, identification of objectives, literature survey, hypothesis generation, design of experiments, data analysis planning, proposal outline and preparation.
  • PLS 189L (2-5 units), FWSp Quarters - Individual Research
    Laboratory—3-12 hours; discussion—1 hour. Prerequisite: course 188 and consent of instructor. Formulating experimental approaches to current questions in plant sciences; performance of proposed experiments.
  • PLS 194H (1-2 units), FWSpSu Quarters - Honors Thesis
    Independent Study—3-6 hours. Prerequisite: senior standing, over GPA of 3.250 or higher and consent of master adviser. Independent study of selected topics under the direction of a member or members of the staff. Completion will involve the writing of a senior thesis.

Major Advisor

Please contact for advising support.

Faculty Advisor

Dan Potter