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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory » People » Yan Zhao

Yan Zhao

Research Molecular Biologist

Dr. Yan Zhao

Research Molecular Biologist
Phone: 301-504-6202

The subject of our research is a diverse group of small bacteria called phytoplasmas.  These bacteria are genetically related to mycoplasmas that infect human and animals; but phytoplasmas infect only plants and a special group of insects.  Phytoplasmas are responsible for numerous plant diseases that impact agriculture and our environment.

Our research has been focused on two major areas.  The first focal point of our research is detection and identification of diverse phytoplasmas.  Using genome information and DNA fingerprinting technology, we identified genetic markers that can distinguish different phytoplasmas.  Based on such markers, we developed diagnostic tools for rapid and sensitive detection and differentiation of phytoplasmas of domestic and international importance.  We also constructed an online tool, iPhyClassifier, to help scientists all over the world in their identification of known, as well as discovery of new, phytoplasmas.  Our research is important to extension personnel for disease diagnosis and management, and is critical to regulatory agencies for preventing exotic pathogens from being introduced into the U.S.

The second focal point of our research is identification of molecular targets for disease control.  We found that a phytoplasmal infection can subvert the master plan of the development of a host plant by changing the properties of plant stem cells.  We constructed a model to explain how a pathogen can redefine the destiny of plant stem cells.  We are hopeful that our findings will shed light on eventual discovery of molecular targets for combating phytoplasmal diseases.