Zhao Zhang, PhD, receives the Genetics Society of America’s 2015 Larry Sandler award

By Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

March 18, 2015
  Zhao Zhang, PhD, receives the 2015 Larry Sandler award during the 56th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in March.
  Zhao Zhang, PhD, receives the 2015 Larry Sandler award during the 56th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in March.

The Genetics Society of America has recognized Zhao Zhang, PhD, for his outstanding work and dissertation on the study of transposons.

Dr. Zhang completed his award-winning doctoral work while a student at the UMass Medical School Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in the laboratories of Phillip D. Zamore, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Gretchen Stone Cook Chair in the Biomedical Sciences, a professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, and co-director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute, and William E. Theurkauf, PhD, professor of molecular medicine. Zhang, who earned his PhD from UMass Medical School in 2014, is now a junior investigator at the Carnegie Institute for Science in the Department of Embryology.

Zhang presented his research, which investigated how transposons are regulated in germ cells, during a lecture held on the opening night of the Genetic Society’s 56th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago in early March. That night, Zhang was also recognized as the recipient of the 2015 Larry Sandler Memorial Award.

Established in 1988 in recognition of Dr. Larry Sandler’s contributions to Drosophila genetics research and the training of Drosophila biologists, the award is given annually to honor outstanding PhD dissertation research using the fruit fly Drosophila.

“Getting this prestigious award further solidified my feeling that I’m extremely lucky to have two fantastic PhD mentors—Phil Zamore and Bill Theurkauf—to raise me up; and to have wonderful collaborators from the Zamore, Theurkauf and Weng labs to greatly support my research,” Zhang said.

“Zhao is exactly the sort of original, unconventional and self-motivated researcher that Carnegie seeks to support. We look forward to his many accomplishments that lie ahead,” Allan Spradling, director of Carnegie’s Department of Embryology, said in a news release.

During the conference, Zhang described his studies of transposons, DNA elements with the ability to “jump” around the genome. In particular, his research has focused on the interplay between small RNA molecules known as piRNAs, their recognition by the cell and transposon silencing. His work has revealed novel insights into how piRNAs are processed by the cell and into the functional consequences of transposon activation and silencing.