Zhang Lab

How do jumping genes cause disease, drive evolution?

Baltimore MD—Almost half of our DNA sequences are made up of jumping genes—also known as transposons. They jump around the genome in developing sperm and egg cells and are important to evolution. But their mobilization can also cause new mutations that lead to diseases, such as hemophilia and cancer. Remarkably little is known about when and where their movements occur in developing reproductive cells, the key process that ensures their propagation in future generations, but can lead to genetic disorders for the hosts.

Zhao Zhang
Zhao Zhang
Staff Associate
Lab Contacts:
Office (410) 246-3092
Lab (410) 246-3091
Fax (410) 243-6311

A postdoctoral position is available to study in this laboratory.
Please contact Dr. Zhang for additional details.

We are a group of adventurers, naîve enough to fearlessly search mother nature's uncharted frontiers. We learn from each other and share the excitement and rewards of discovering both possible and impossible answers to unknown questions.  
1. Transposon control in germline and soma, physiological and disease conditions.
Transposons occupy around 50% of the human genome. Mobilization of these genomic parasites can cause genome instability and insertional mutations linked to inherited disease and cancer progression. Therefore, it is crucial to tame transposons in order to maintain the genome stability and integrity. Our lab seeks to understand how these parasites are tightly controlled in both germline and somatic tissues. Specifically, in gonads, we are trying to understand how a class of germline specific small RNAs, called piRNAs, are made and how they silence transposons. Meanwhile, we are developing tools to pin down transposon activity in every cell type of each tissue, under both physiological and disease conditions.
2. Suppression of germline fate in the soma.
The mechanisms that distinguish germline and somatic cells are critical for animal development, reproduction, and evolution. Most studies of this topic have focused on the factors that control the formation and maintenance of germ cells. By contrast, our lab strives to investigate 1) how germline genes are silenced in the somatic cells and 2) what are the consequences of failure to suppress germline fate in the soma.
Moon S, Cassani M, Lin Y, Wang L, Dou K, Zhang Z. A robust transposon-endogenizing response from germline stem cells. Developmental Cell. 2018 47(5): 660-671
Wang L, Dou K, Moon S, Tan F, Zhang Z. Hijacking oogenesis enables massive propagation of LINE and retroviral transposons. Cell. 2018 174(5): 1082-1094.”
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