Yuan Zhang: Plant Physiology First Author

Yuan Zhang, first author of “Cyanobacterial Photosystem II reaction center design in tobacco chloroplasts increases biomass in low light”

Current Position: Postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI)

Education: Ph.D. in Microbiology and Biochemistry at Rutgers University, B.S. in Marine Biology at Shandong University, China.

Non-scientific Interests: Reading Chinese literature, playing Chinese zither

Brief bio: I have always been interested in bioenergy research, which is critical to the energy, environmental, and economic security of the human society. I conducted my PhD in Prof. G. Charles Dismukes’ lab investigating genetic engineering approaches to improve the efficiency of solar energy conversion and storage in plants and algae. During my PhD, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Prof. Pal Maliga on engineering Photosystem II of higher plants to enhance photosynthesis for biomass production. Despite some success of my engineering approach, I realized that engineering of plants or algae can be more predictable and efficient if the current understanding of basic biology could be further advanced. Therefore, I decided to turn my focus from applied science to fundamental research, which led me to the Mortimer Lab in Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) and The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). As a postdoctoral researcher supervised by Prof. Jenny Mortimer and Prof. Henrik Scheller, I have been focusing on characterizing novel enzymes (especially glycosyltransferases) involved in the biosynthesis of plant cell wall, which forms the majority of what we call plant “biomass”. I believe the knowledge gained from my study can facilitate bioenergy trait improvement of crops using synthetic biology tools in the future.