- Research Fellow, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH, 2011-2015
- Research Associate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 2009-2011
- Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2009
- B.S., Peking University, 2002
The goal of our research is to gain a detailed structural and mechanistic understanding of cellular and viral noncoding RNAs and their associated ribonucleoprotein complexes involved in gene regulation and human diseases. We are working to uncover general motifs and principles that govern RNA tertiary structure formation, RNA recognition by another RNA or protein, and how dynamic RNA structures contribute to the regulation of gene expression and human pathophysiology.
- Structure, mechanism, targeting, and engineering of gene-regulatory riboswitches
- tRNA-mediated stress sensing and response pathways in eukaryotes
- HIV and other viral RNA structures and their protein complexes
Applying our Research
Structural and mechanistic elucidation of functionally important gene-regulatory noncoding RNAs and viral RNAs will inform and guide design of novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies against bacterial and viral infections, metabolic disorders, and cancer.
Need for Further Study
Our research aims to help illuminate the molecular structure, function, and mechanisms of the “dark matter” of the transcriptome, the non-coding RNAs that execute various cellular functions, as well as viral RNA structures that enable viral transcription, replication, packaging, and infectivity. Detailed understanding of these non-coding structured RNAs will lead to novel therapeutics that improve human health.
- Structures of riboswitch RNA reaction states by mix-and-inject XFEL serial crystallography.
- Stagno JR, Liu Y, Bhandari YR, Conrad CE, Panja S, Swain M, Fan L, Nelson G, Li C, Wendel DR, White TA, Coe JD, Wiedorn MO, Knoska J, Oberthuer D, Tuckey RA, Yu P, Dyba M, Tarasov SG, Weierstall U, Grant TD, Schwieters CD, Zhang J, Ferré-D'Amaré AR, Fromme P, Draper DE, Liang M, Hunter MS, Boutet S, Tan K, Zuo X, Ji X, Barty A, Zatsepin NA, Chapman HN, Spence JC, Woodson SA, Wang YX.
- Nature (2017 Jan 12) 541:242-246. Abstract/Full Text
- Brothers in arms: emerging roles of RNA epigenetics in DNA damage repair.
- Zhang J.
- Cell Biosci (2017) 7:24. Abstract/Full Text
Research in Plain Language
Our research focuses on visualizing and understanding ribonucleic acids, or RNAs, that aren't used as templates to make proteins. RNAs are polymers similar to DNA but subtle chemical differences of their composition allow them to fold into elaborate three-dimensional objects and nanomachines, beyond the double-helix shape that DNA form. Complex structures formed by RNA are capable of recognizing and interacting with other molecules in the cell, large and small, with extraordinary affinity and exquisite selectivity, and can even catalyze many chemical reactions. Some viruses are made of RNA, or temporarily take the form of RNA in the cell during their life cycle. We are working to uncover the general principles of how RNA structures are built and organized, how RNA structures move and change their shape, and how RNA interact with proteins and other RNAs in the cell. Such fundamental understanding of RNA will allow new drugs to be developed to modulate these biologically important molecules.