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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

ARS Scientist Recognized for Plant Research / February 9, 2005 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Photo: Molecular biologist Yan Zhao
Yan Zhao

Photo: Molecular biologist Yan Zhao and plant pathologist examine a tomato plant infected with potato spindle tuber viriod. Link to photo information
Zhao and a plant pathologist examine a tomato plant infected with potato spindle tuber viriod. Click the image for more information about it.

More about Zhao's research (Dec. 1999)

ARS Scientist Recognized for Plant Research

By Rosalie Bliss
February 9, 2005

National news release

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 — Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Yan Zhao has been named “ARS Beltsville Area Early Career Scientist of 2004” for his research on development of gene constructs to safeguard plants from pathogen attacks, identification of new plant diseases, and advancements in spiroplasma genomics. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Zhao and other ARS scientists are being honored here today at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building. They will receive plaques, cash awards and additional funding to support their research programs.

Zhao, a molecular biologist, and colleagues developed a molecular tool to study how viroids--tiny strands of genetic material that can cause plant diseases--travel inside their host cells, a process called viroid nuclear targeting. The system eventually will help identify structural signals responsible for the targeting, which can lead to novel disease resistance strategies.

"The creativity and originality of the assay system developed by Dr. Zhao while working with the team at the Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory was immediately recognized by the research community," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling.

The team developed the first cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) coat protein-based system used to produce peptide vaccines aimed at protecting chickens against viral attack. With modifications, this plant virus-based system can be used to produce safe and low-cost vaccines against other animal diseases. The CMV vector is now being used by the Biotechnology Foundation, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa., to develop improved systems for producing such vaccines.

Zhao and colleagues annotated the genome sequence of Spiroplasma kunkelii, a helical-shaped bacterium that causes corn stunt disease. His subsequent publications based on the sequenced genome provide valuable information to plant pathologists. Although spiroplasmal diseases impact agriculture and possibly human health, little is known about the biology of such parasites. He also established experimental procedures for transforming and regenerating strawberry plants aimed at disease resistance.

Zhao received his doctorate in plant molecular biology from the University of Maryland-College Park in 1995. He earned a master’s degree in molecular genetics from Hangzhou University, China, and a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry, also from Hangzhou University.

Zhao is a member of the American Phytopathological Society. He grew up in Hangzhou, China, about 100 miles southeast of Shanghai, and moved to the United States in 1988. He now lives in Herndon, Va.

Last Modified: 2/9/2005
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