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
February 9, 2005
National news release
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist
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
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
"The creativity and originality of the assay system developed by Dr.
Zhao while working with the team at the
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
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 masters degree in molecular genetics from Hangzhou
University, China, and a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry, also from
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