About the Lab
Zhang lab's research focuses on dissecting the fundamental mechanisms of wood degradation in microbes. Microbes in nature including fungi and bacteria have developed versatile strategies to degrade the recalcitrant wood structures, and then to convert the embedded carbons to cellular energies, structures, and metabolites. These microbial processes harbor the “toolkits” pursued by human society to 1) preserve artificial structures (e.g., wooden buildings) from rotting; and 2) facilitate plant biomass conversion, thus enabling sustainable economies in the field of biofuels, foods, textiles, and others. Moreover, the understandings of these basic processes would guide us to leverage biodegradative pathways to develop alternative remediating methods for tackling emerging environmental or industrial pollutants.
Currently, Zhang lab is combining system biology approaches and CRISPR-Cas9 based genome-editing for "large-scale phenotyping" in brown rot fungi. These fungal microbes represent the most efficient wood decomposers, driving the carbon recycling process in forest systems, but their genetic mechanisms have been rarely known due to the lack of available genetic tools. In our research, we are aiming to develop a genetic platform to decode the molecular mechanisms of brown rot, thus facilitating the process for mining genetic resources, as well as advancing the development of bio-economies based on lignocellulosic biomass.
Parallel to the above projects, we are also exploiting the fungal degradative pathways that can be adapted for developing alternative mycoremediation methods for pollutants removal. Our goal is to use fungi as the "cheaper, greener" solution for cleaning up pollutants and maintaining environmental sustainability. Currently, the lab is interested in using fungal pathways to remediate several emerging environmental pollutants, which include PFAS, Creosote, and Pressure Sensitive Adhesives.