Jiang Zhu Joins Scripps CHAVI-ID

The Scripps Research Institute has appointed Jiang Zhu to its faculty. Zhu joins the institute from the Nationals Institutes of Health, where he held a position as staff scientist and helped establish the Structural Bioinformatics Core Section in the Vaccine Research Center. Zhu earned a BS in Biology (1998) and a PhD in Computational Chemistry and Computational Biology (2002) from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Science and Technology of China. He conducted postdoctoral work at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University, becoming an associate research scientist at Columbia in 2008. In 2009, he joined the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Among his many publications, he is a first author of a 2011 Science cover story on the structural and deep sequencing analysis of broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV (333(6049):1593-602). "I would like to offer Jiang a warm welcome," said Ian Wilson, chair of the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology, Hansen Professor of Structural Biology, member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, and member of the Scripps CHAVI-ID Scientific Leadership Group. "Jiang's diverse research program includes work on novel technology to control neural circuits with light. He is developing new tools for cryo-electron microscopy that will advance our understanding of molecular complexes. We look forward to the unique expertise that Jiang brings to TSRI and to many productive collaborations and exciting scientific advances. "I feel lucky to be joining Scripps and to have the opportunity to pursue excellence in science," Zhu said. "I was attracted to Scripps by the freedom to pursue my ideas and the research I love. I also look forward to the opportunity to work with students and postdocs as part of my group." In his work on immunology and vaccines, Zhu will be participating in the Scripps CHAVI-ID in developing bioinformatics tools to analyze antibodies that effectively neutralize HIV, as well as designing immunogens against the disease. Additionally, Zhu's interdisciplinary research program focuses on two other areas. In his neurobiology research, Zhu is working on an innovative line of work that uses light to control neurological circuits, an emerging field known as "optogenetics." In this effort, he will seek to understand photosensitive proteins and to develop tools to engineer, optimize and design genetically encoded protein devices. In this effort, he is focusing on calcium channels, which are important for conditions such as heart disease, and glutamate receptors, which play a critical role in nervous system disorders. "If we can control these two molecules, we can impact a large swath of neuroscience research," he said. In the area of structural biology, Zhu is developing computer methods that can help scientists better understand the molecules that often function cooperatively by forming a complex or machine during important biological processes. As part of this effort, Zhu is developing a computational platform to use cryo-electron microscopy data to produce detailed high-resolution models of these important structures.

(Photo by Cindy Brauer, courtesy of The Scripps Research Institute.)