Baohong Zhang

Baohong Zhang

Title: TCHAS Distinguished Professor
 Elected Fellow, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2018)
Area of Study: Molecular Genetics, Molecular Toxicology, Biotechnology
Phone: Office - 252-328-2021, Lab - 252-737-4767
Fax: 252-328-4718
Office: 562 Science and Technology Building
Lab: 535 Science and Technology Building
Address: Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858

Publications on Google Scholar
Publications on ResearchGate

A. Education

Ph.D., Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University, 2006

B.A., Plant Genetics and Breeding, Beijing Agricultural University, 1991

B. Courses Taught

BIOL 5900, 5901. Biotechniques and Lab (For Spring Semester).
BIOL 3820. Plant Biotechnology (For Fall Semester).

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C. Research Program

The research in Dr. Zhang's lab focuses on three related fields: molecular genetics, toxicology, and biotechnology.

1. Molecular Genetics and Genome Editing
Dr. Zhang’s lab is using model species (Caenorhabditis elegans and Arabidopsis) and important crops (cotton, switchgrass, sweet potato, and tomato) to study the microRNA-mediated gene regulation and its function in organism growth, development, and response to stressors.  Multiple computational and experimental approaches, including genetic, genomic, transgenic and biochemical methods will be employed. Recent studies have demonstrated that more than 30% of protein-coding genes are targeted by microRNAs (miRNAs), signal-strand small RNAs with 20-25 nucleotides. miRNAs regulate multiple biological and metabolic processes, including development and growth, cell signaling, diseases, and cancers. Currently, miRNAs have become one of the most important gene regulators. Currently, Dr. Zhang’s lab is employing CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing and virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) technology to knockout/knockdown and overexpress an individual miRNA and protein-coding gene for functional studies.

2. Toxicology and Transgenerational Inheritance
Environmental pollution is a global issue, which can cause numerous diseases in humans and wildlife, including cancers. Dr. Zhang’s lab is focusing on the toxicity and transgenerational effects of several groups of traditional and emerging pollutants, such as nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, explosives, and pesticides. The development of novel biomarkers for rapidly assessing the exposure and health effects of these environmental pollutants would be an important outcome of toxicological study. Dr. Zhang’s lab is also interested in investigating the molecular mechanisms of toxicant/toxin-induced cancers and their chemoprevention.

3. Epigenetics
One of research focuses in Dr. Zhang’s lab is epigenetics. Dr. Zhang is very interested in DNA metalation and its–mediated transgenerational impacts.

4. Biotechnology
Dr. Zhang’s lab also focus on creating new transgenic organisms for producing drugs, biofuels, modifying resistance to abiotic and biotic stressors, and improving crop yield and quality. Dr. Zhang’s lab also interest in the biosafety and risk assessment of genetically modified foods.

D. Laboratory Personnel


Dr.Caiping Cai

Visiting Professor


Jingjing Yu

Visiting Graduate Student


Brandon Widrick

Graduate Student


Julia Fontana

Undergraduate Student

Former graduate students, postdoc and visiting scientists

Ilya N Boykov (M.S., 2017), now research technician at ECU Brody School of Medicine

Kevin A Adams (M.S., 2016), now technician at RTP, NC

Faten Taki (M.S., 2013; Ph.D., 2016), now Postdoctoral scholar at Cornell University

Jun Ma (M.S., 2015), now Ph.D. student at NC State University

Fuliang Xie (Ph.D., 2014), now research scientist of bioinformatics at RTP, NC

William Winfrey (M.S., 2013) now MD students at ECU Brody School of Medicine

Caitlin E. Burklew (M.S., 2012), now scientist at Excet Inc.

Lindsey Nicole Fix (M.S., 2010), now MD students at ECU Brody School of Medicine

Taylor Price Frazier (M.S., 2010), now Postdoctoral Scholar at University of Tennessee

Maitri Yogen Shah (M.S., 2010), now Ph.D. student at MD Anderson Cancer Center

 E. Funding Agents


                                                     NIH                   NSF             USDA                   DoE                      DoD


NCBC   Cotton Inc    DuPont

                 NCBC                                             Cotton Inc.                                       Dupont

F. Selected Publications (*, graduate students; #, undergraduate students)

Selected plant genomics, genetics and biotechnology-related publications

1.    Li C, Hao M, Wang W, Wang H, Chen F, Chu W, Zhang BH, Mei D, Cheng H, Hu Q (2018) An Efficient CRISPR/Cas9 Platform for Rapidly Generating Simultaneous Mutagenesis of Multiple Gene Homoeologs in Allotetraploid Oilseed Rape. Frontier in Plant Science, 20;9:442. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00442.

2.    Demirci Y, Zhang BH & Unver T (2018) CRISPR/Cas9: an RNA-guided highly precise synthetic tool for plant genome editing. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 233(3): 1844-1859. doi: 10.1002/jcp.25970.

3.    Li C, Unver T, & Zhang BH (2017) A high-efficiency CRISPR/Cas9 system for targeted mutagenesis in cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.). Scientific Reports, 7:43902 | DOI: 10.1038/srep43902

4.    Unver T, Wu ZY, Sterck L, Turktas M, Lohaus R, Li Z, Yang M, He LJ, Deng TQ, Escalante FJ, Llorens C, Roig FJ, Parmaksiz I, Dundar E, Xie FL, Zhang BH, Ipek A, Uranbey S, Erayman M, Ilhan E, Badad O, Ghazal H, Lightfoot DA, Kasarla P, Colantonio V, Tombuloglu H, Hernandez P, Mete N, Cetin O, Van Montagu M, Yang HM, Gao Q, Dorado G, Van de Peer Y (2017) The genome of wild olive and the evolution of oil biosynthesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), 114(44): E9413-E9422. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1708621114

5.    Alagoz Y, Gurkok T, Zhang BH, and Unver T (2016) Manipulating the biosynthesis of bioactive compound alkaloids for next-generation metabolic engineering in opium poppy using CRISPR-Cas 9 genome editing technology. Scientific Reports, 6: 30910. doi: 10.1038/srep30910.

6.    Candar-Çakir B*, Arican E, and Zhang BH (2016) Small RNA and degradome deep Sequencing reveals drought- and Tissue-specific microRNAs and their important roles in drought-sensitive and -tolerant tomato genotypes. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 14(8):1727-46. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12533.

7.    He QL, Jones DC, Li W, Xie FL*, Ma J*, Sun RR*, Wang QL, Zhu SJ, and Zhang BH (2016) Genome-wide identification of R2R3-MYB genes and expression analyses during abiotic stress in Gossypium raimondiiScientific Reports, 6:22980. doi: 10.1038/srep22980

8.    Zhang ZY, Chao MN, Wang SF, Bu JJ, Tang JX, Li F, Wang QL, and Zhang BH (2016) Proteome quantification of cotton xylem sap suggests the mechanisms of potassium-deficiency-induced changes in plant resistance to environmental stresses. Scientific Reports, 6: 21060. doi: 10.1038/srep21060

9.    Cakir O, Candar-Cakir B*, & Zhang BH (2016) Small RNA and degradome sequencing reveals important microRNA function inAstragalus chrysochlorus response to selenium stimuli. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 14(2):543-56. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12397.

10.Ma J*, Liu F, Wang QL, Wang KB, Jones D, & Zhang BH (2016) Comprehensive analysis of TCP transcription factors and their expression during cotton (Gossypium arboreum) fiber early development. Scientific Reports, 6:21535. doi: 10.1038/srep21535.

11.Gao S, Yang L, Zeng HQ, Yang ZM, Li H, Sun D, Zhou ZS, Xie FL*, Zhang BH (2016) A cotton miRNA is involved in regulation of plant response to salt stress. Scientific Reports, 6:19736. doi: 10.1038/srep19736.

12.Xie FL*, Wang QL, and Zhang BH (2015) Global microRNA modification in cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.)Plant           Biotechnology Journal, 13(4): 492-500. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12271.    

13.Zhang BH (2015) MicroRNA: a new target for improving plant tolerance to abiotic stressJournal of Experimental Botany, 66 (7): 1749-1761 doi: 10.1093/jxb/ erv013

14.Trumbo JL, Zhang BH and Stewart CN (2015) Manipulating microRNAs for improved biomass and biofuels from plant feedstocksPlant Biotechnology Journal, 13(3):337-54. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12319.

15.Xie FL*, and Zhang BH (2015) MicroRNA evolution and expression analysis in polyploidized cotton genomePlant Biotechnology Journal, 13(3): 421-434. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12295.

16.Xie FL*, Jones DC, Wang QL, Sun RR, and Zhang BH (2015) Small RNA sequencing identifies miRNA roles in ovule and fiber development. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 13(3): 355-369. doi: 10.1111/pbi.12296.

17.Xie FL*, Wang QL, Sun RR*, and Zhang BH (2015) Deep sequencing reveals important roles of microRNAs in response to drought and salinity stress in cotton. Journal of Experimental Botany, 66(3): 789-804. doi: 10.1093/jxb/eru437

18.Xie FL*, Stewart N, Taki FA*, He QL, Liu HW & Zhang BH (2014) High throughput deep sequencing shows that microRNAs play important roles in switchgrass responses to drought and salinity stress. Plant Biotechnology Journal, 12: 354-366.


Selected bioinformatics and computational biology-related publications

19.Cai CP, Guo WZ & Zhang BH (2018) Genome-wide identification and characterization of SPL transcription factor family and their evolution and expression profiling analysis in cotton. Scientific Reports, 8(1):762. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-18673-4.

20.Frazier TP, Palmer NA, Xie FL*, Tobias CM, Donze-Reiner TJ, Bombarely A, Childs KL, Shu SQ, Jenkins JW, Schmutz J, Zhang BH, Sarath G and Zhao BY (2016) Identification, characterization, and gene expression analysis of nucleotide binding site (NB)-type resistance gene homologues in switchgrass. BMC Genomics, 17:892. DOI: 10.1186/s12864-016-3201-5

21.Ma J*, Wang QL, Sun RR, Xie FL*, Jones DC, and Zhang BH (2014) Genome-wide identification and expression analysis of TCP transcription factors in Gossypium raimondii. Scientific Reports 4: 6645. doi:10.1038/srep06645

22.Xie FL*, Xiao P, Chen DL*, Xu L* & Zhang, Baohong(2012) miRDeepFinder: a miRNA analysis tool for deep sequencing of plant small RNAs. Plant Molecular Biology, 80 (1): 75-84. DOI: 10.1007/s11103-012-9885-2

23.Xie FL*, Sun GL, Stiller JW & Zhang, Baohong (2011) Genome-wide functional analysis of the cotton transcriptome by creating an integrated EST database. PLOS One, 6(11):e26980 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026980

24.Xie FL* & Zhang, Baohong (2010). Target-align: a tool for plant microRNA target identification. Bioinformatics, 26(23): 3002-3003.


Selected environmental and health health-related publications

25.Yoon DS, Choi Y, Cha DS, Peng P, Choi SM, Alfhili M, Polli J, Pendergrass D, Taki F, Kapalavavi B, Pan XP, Zhang BH, Blackwell K, Lee JW, and Lee MY (2017) Triclosan Disrupts SKN-1/Nrf2-Mediated Oxidative Stress Response in C. elegans and Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Scientific Reports, 7:12592. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-12719-3.

26.O’Donnell  B*, Huo L, Polli JR, Qiu L, Collier D, Zhang BH, & Pan XP. (2016) ZnO nanoparticles enhanced germ cell apoptosis inCaenorhabditis elegans, in comparison with ZnCl2. Toxicological Sciences (In press).

27.Taki FA*, Pan XP & Zhang BH (2015) Revisiting Chaos theorem to understand the nature of miRNAs in response to drugs of abuse.Journal of Cellular Physiology, 230(12):2857-68. doi: 10.1002/jcp.25037.

28.Polli JR#, Dobbins DL*, Kobet RA#, Farwell MA, Zhang BH, Lee MH, and Pan X (2015) Drug-Dependent Behaviors and Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Expressions in Caenorhabditis elegans Following Chronic Nicotine Exposure. NeuroToxicology, 47: 27-36.

29.Taki FA *, Pan XP, Lee MH and Zhang BH (2014) Nicotine exposure and transgenerational impact: a prospective study on small regulatory microRNAs. Scientific Reports 4: 7513; DOI:10.1038/srep07513.

30.Kobet RA#, Pan XP, Zhang BH, Pak SC, Asch AS and Lee MH (2014) Caenorhabditis elegans: a model system for anti-cancer drug discovery and therapeutic target identification. Biomolecules & Therapeutics, 22(5): 371-383.

31.Taki FA *, Abdel-Rahman AA and Zhang BH (2014) A comprehensive approach to identify reliable reference gene candidates to investigate the link between alcoholism and endocrinology in Sprague-Dawley rats. PLOS One 9(5):e94311.

32.Taki FA *, Pan XP & Zhang BH (2014) Chronic nicotine exposure systemically alters microRNA expression profiles during post-embryonic stages in Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Cellular Physiology229(1): 79-89. doi: 10.1002/jcp.24419.

33.Taki FA *, Pan XP & Zhang, Baohong (2013) Nicotine exposure caused significant transgenerational heritable behavioral changes inCaenorhabditis elegans. EXCLI Journal, 12:793-806.

34.Smith MA *, Zhang Y *, Polli JR #, Wu H, Zhang, Baohong, Xiao P, Farwell MA, and Pan X (2013) Impacts of chronic low-level nicotine exposure on Caenorhabditis elegans reproduction: identification of novel gene targets. Reproductive Toxicology, 40: 69-75. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2013.05.007.

35.Zhang YQ*, Chen DL*, Ennis AC#, Polli JR#, Xiao P, Zhang, Baohong, Stellwag EJ, Overton A, & Pan XP (2013) Chemical dispersant potentiates crude oil impacts on growth, reproduction, and gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans. Achieves of Toxicology, 87(2):371-382. DOI 10.1007/s00204-012-0936-x.

Shah MY*, Pan XP, Fix LN*, Farwell MA & Zhang, Baohong (2011) 5-fluorouracil drug alters the microRNA expression profiles in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 226(7): 1868-1878.

 G. Selected student Awards

  • James S. McDaniel Scholarship for “Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year” in excellent research: Maitri Yogen Shah (2019), Caitlin E. Burklew (2011), Jun Ma (2014), Juliana Cobb (2015)
  • Sigma Xi Grant in Aid of Research: Lindsey Nicole Fix (2010), Faten Taki (2015)
  • SETAC Foundation for Environmental Education Travel Award: Maitri Shah (2009), Faten Taki (2013), Juliana Cobb (2015)
  • Best Student Platform Presentation in Toxicogenomics, SETAC North America Annual Meeting: Lindsey Nicole Fix (2009), Faten Taki (2013)
  • Graduate Student Awards in Environmental Chemistry by the America Chemical Society: Faten Taki (2013)

H. Prospective Students

Dr. Zhang’s lab is now accepting graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.) who have an interest in molecular genetics, molecular toxicology, and/or biotechnology. The Department of Biology has a Master of Science degree program and an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree program (IDPBS). Currently, graduate students in Dr. Zhang’s lab have the freedom to choose their study organism(s) and system. If you are interested in working with me, you should contact Dr. Zhang directly to discuss the details and possibilities. You may stop by Dr. Zhang’s  office at Science and Technology Building 562  (office) or 535 (Lab) or email Dr. Zhang at Dr. Zhang’s lab is keen on accepting students who are enthusiastic, hard working, and interested in facing challenges and solving questions related to molecular genetics, molecular toxicology, and/or biotechnology. Many graduate students in Dr. Zhang’s lab have won national and international awards and had at least two publications when they graduated.


Undergraduate students, particularly freshman and junior, are also welcome and encouraged to join Dr. Zhang’s lab to gain research experience. If interested, you may also directly stop by Dr. Zhang’s office or email him to discuss possible research opportunities. Many undergraduate students have generated publications as co-authors in Dr. Zhang’s lab.


In the next 4 years, both of undergraduate and graduate students working in Dr. Zhang’s lab, have great potentials to travel with Dr. Zhang to China for performing collaborative research.