Lab Members

Jiwei Zhang, Assistant Professor, Lab PI; [email protected]

Jiwei Zhang

Jiwei Zhang is a tenure-track faculty with a 50/50 position in teaching and research. He talks two courses in the spring and fall semesters - "BBE4608/5608 Environmental and Industrial Microbiology" and "BBE4302/5302 Biodegradation and Bioproducts". He was trained as a Ph.D. in fungal genetics and biology at the National Key Laboratory of Microbial Technology at Shandong University in China. After obtaining his Ph.D. degree, he joined Jonathan Schilling's lab for his postdoctoral research, focusing on studying the wood-decaying mechanisms. In 2019, he joined the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor, leading a research team for studying the genetic mechanisms in wood decomposer fungi. His research interests are using system biology and genome editing for large-scale phenotyping in fungi, and further using genetic engineering for biotechnology and bioremediation applications.

Weiran Li, Postdoctoral Researcher; [email protected]

Weiran Li

Weiran Li is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dr. Jiwei Zhang’s lab. He joined the lab in October 2020. Weiran Li obtained his B.S from China Agricultural University in Beijing, China, and his Ph.D. from Purdue University. His research background is in molecular and genetic biology of phytopathogenic and wood-decaying fungi. His research in Dr. Zhang’s lab focuses on the genetic manipulation of wood-decaying fungi and the molecular/genetic basis of their wood-decaying mechanism.

Jesus Castaño, Postdoctoral Researcher; [email protected]


Jesus Castaño earned his BSc at the National University of Colombia, where he also obtained his Master’s degree in Biochemistry. Jesus was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated in 2021. Jesus has worked in several research institutions in Colombia such as the National University of Colombia, the Colombian Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics of Extreme Environments (GeBix), and the Marine and Coastal Research Institute (INVEMAR), where he conducted several research studies, published different papers, and gave a number of presentations focused on the study of fungal biology and its applications. During his Ph.D., Jesus widened the current knowledge about brown-rot degrading fungi and identified several proteins tolerant of radical oxidative species (ROS), which presumably play a key role in the genetic adaptation that enabled brown-rot decay. Jesus joined the Zhang Lab in August 2021 as a Postdoctoral Research Associate. His research aims to study the biodegradability of pressure-sensitive adhesives.

ALI NASIR,  Postdoctoral Researcher;


Nasir Ali received a Ph.D. degree from Xiamen University, China, in 2015, majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Bioproducts & Biosystem Engineering, University of Minnesota. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the school of environment, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China in (2016-2018). He also worked as a research associate at Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, China, under CAS President’s International Fellowship Initiative (PIFI) in (2018-2020). His research interests include biomass/wastewater treatment, sludge management, biomass valorization for resource recovery with the anaerobic digester technologies, metagenomic sequencing technology, gene profiling for dominant pathways, and biotransformation of food waste into value-added products such as bio-natural gases.

Charles Ayers, Graduate Student; [email protected]


Charles is a graduate student in the BBSEM program. He obtained his B.S from Earlham College and joined the Zhang Lab in the summer of 2021. His research interests include fungal genetics and the application of fungal biomass degradation pathways towards novel and improved bioremediation technologies for persistent environmental pollutants with a focus on per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Outside of the lab, his interests include gardening, cooking, and camping.

Nandini Singh, Graduate Student; [email protected]


Nandini is a graduate student in the BBSEM program. She received Bachelors in Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and joined Zhang Lab in June 2020. Her research focuses on developing a microbial consortium to accelerate lignin degradation and studying the microbial interactions involved in the process. In her free time, Nandini likes to take care of her houseplant collection, explore the cities and play with her cat, Daisy.

Adam Haag, Graduate Student Candidate; [email protected] 


Adam Haag is a current undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, finishing his senior year and pursuing a bachelor of science in Sustainable Systems Management. He is a graduate student candidate at the Zhang lab. Adam is interested in sustainability and the use of biological processes to remediate the environment of pollutants. Adam enjoys traveling, golfing, and spending time with friends and family in his free time.

Lab Alumni

Postdocs: Weiping Huang, Postdoc, Jan. 2020-Oct. 2020;

Undergraduate Students: Joshua Goering, Undergraduate Technician, Nov. 2020-May 2021; Zoe Pettit, UROP Undergraduate Student, Sep. 2020-Dec.2020; Lauren Stach, UROP Undergraduate Student, Sep. 2020-April 2021; Lucas Heffernan, Lab Technician, July 2020-Jan. 2022; Sam Nguyen, UROP Undergraduate Student, Sep. 2021-May 2022;