Zhao Zhang, Ph.D.: Follow the Jumping Genes

Zhao Zhang, Ph.D.: Follow the Jumping Genes

Zhao Zhang Ph.D. — ZZ to just about everyone — is a bit of a scientific outlier.

While most of his bioscience colleagues around the world are studying the 23,000 protein-coding genes that make us human, the assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology is looking at the other part of the genome and asking what it does.

Specifically, Zhang's group is looking at the half of our genome that is made up of long, repetitive sequences of DNA called transposons, or “jumping genes.”

Transposons jump around in the genome making changes and enabling evolution — but also illnesses, including cancer.

“The transposon is like a virus, an endogenous virus,” Zhang explains. “They were viruses millions of years ago and they invaded our ancestors. But we've turned them into part of ourselves.”

He's exploring how and why that happened and whether transposons might be used as tools against diseases.

The future of Duke Science and Technology begins with you

Duke Science and Technology is one of Duke’s biggest priorities. Your investment in our researchers, our students and our work will have exponential impact on society and our world.