Kai Zhang, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology
About Dr. Zhang:
Dr. Kai Zhang received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 2002 and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. His Ph.D. work focused on the development of experimental and theoretical approaches for single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy and nonlinear optical microscopy. In 2009, he joined Stanford University as a postdoctoral scholar and made a transition from the field of physical chemistry to neurobiology, studying axonal transport in neuronal diseases with single-molecule fluorescence microscopy. In August 2014, Dr. Zhang joined the Biochemistry Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) as a tenure-track assistant professor. At Illinois, the Zhang laboratory develops new biotechnologies including optogenetics and single-molecule fluorescence microscopy to investigate how growth factor-mediated signal transduction regulates cell fate determination. The long-term goal of Zhang’s research is to delineate how spatiotemporal regulation of growth factor-mediated signal transduction determines cell differentiation during embryonic development and how this signaling process is compromised in diseases such as neurological disorders and cancers. Current research is supported by NIH/NIGMS and NIMH.
The growth factor signaling pathway regulates a wide spectrum of cellular functions such as cell survival, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. It also plays a key role in cell fate determination during embryonic development. Evidence suggests that the signaling output of the growth factor pathway varies with its temporal kinetics. However, a quantitative delineation of signaling kinetics is limited due to a lack of tools that allows precise control of the neurotrophic signaling in time and space. Non-neuronal optogenetics, an emerging technology that utilizes light to control intracellular signaling pathways, offer an alternative solution to address this challenge. In this presentation, I will introduce optogenetic systems recently developed in our laboratory that allow for reversible and bidirectional optical control of neurotrophic signaling pathway in intact cells and in developing Xenopus laevis embryos. I will also discuss the limitations of current non-neuronal optogenetics and update you with current progress in the field in overcoming these limitations.