'A RISING STAR'
Zhang honored for excellence in research
By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services
Baohong Zhang, a molecular biologist and associate professor of biology, received a 2013 Five-Year Achievement Award from the ECU Division of Research and Graduate Studies. His research focuses on three related fields: molecular genetics, toxicology and biotechnology.
In his lab in the ECU Science and Technology Building, Zhang uses model species such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and crops such as cotton, soybeans and corn to study microRNA-mediated gene regulation and its function in organism growth, development and response to stressors.
MicroRNA, or miRNA, is a small non-coding RNA molecule found in plants and animals that functions in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression; for example, the triggering of developmental pathways, responses to environmental stimuli or adaptation to new food sources.
He has written more than 40 peer-reviewed articles in that field in the past six years, most recently appearing in the Archives of Toxicology and Plant Molecular Biology. He has also published two scientific books since joining ECU: “Transgenic Cotton” and “RNAi and microRNA-Mediated Gene Regulation in Stem Cells.”
Since arriving at ECU, Zhang has been the principal or co-principal investigator on research grants totaling more than $3 million from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense as well as private corporations and organizations.
“Baohong is without question a rising star in the world of computational and molecular biology, particularly in the field of miRNA research,” Dr. Jeffrey McKinnon, chair of the biology department at ECU, said in his award nomination letter of Zhang.
Zhang’s research includes looking at the toxicity and effects of several groups of traditional and emerging pollutants, such as nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, explosives and pesticides for clues that could lead to the development of biomarkers for assessing the exposure and health effects of these substances. Zhang is also investigating the molecular mechanisms of toxicant/toxin-induced cancers and their chemoprevention. One of his research projects is to investigate the role of natural products on human breast cancer treatment.
His work could also lead to the creation of new genetically modified organisms for producing drugs and biofuels, modifying resistance to abiotic and biotic stressors, and improving crop yield and quality as well as looking at the biosafety and risk assessment of genetically modified foods.
Zhang is also part of the ECU Interdisciplinary Biotechnology Initiative. This program uses two new, large shared lab spaces on the fifth floor of the Science and Technology Building that accommodate multiple inter-related research groups. He is one of the major contributors to the Operation Re-Entry North Carolina research program for wounded veterans at ECU.
He is co-editor-in-chief of the World Journal of Experimental Medicine. Since joining ECU, he has served as editor or on the editorial board for 11 international journals. He also serves as an ad hoc reviewer for more than 69 journals and 27 international funding agencies and has served multiple times on grant review panels for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Baohong’s funding accomplishments have benefited his own productivity but have been even more important to the members of his laboratory, and he is dedicated to the thoughtful training of the next generation of scientists in his field,” McKinnon said.
Zhang has a doctoral degree from Texas Tech University and a bachelor’s degree from Beijing Agricultural University in China.