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Feng Zhang      

MIT Professor of Biomedical Engineering in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering

Feng Zhang (born 1982) is the W. M. Keck Career Development Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also has appointments with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (where he is a core member) and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. He is most well known for playing a central role in the development of optogenetics and CRISPR technologies.

Zhang was born in China and moved to Iowa with his mother at age 11, where he attended Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, graduating in 2000. In 1999 he attended the acclaimed Research Science Institute at MIT, and in 2000 he won 3rd Place in the Intel Science Talent Search. He earned his A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard University in 2004 where he worked with Xiaowei Zhuang. He then received his Ph.D. in chemistry and bioengineering from Stanford University in 2009 under the guidance of Karl Deisseroth where he developed the technologies behind optogenetics with Edward Boyden. He served as an independent Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Zhang's lab is focused on using synthetic biology to develop technologies for genome and epigenome engineering to study neurobiology. As a postdoc, he began work on using TAL effectors to control gene transcription.

Based on previous work by the Sylvain Moineau Lab, Dr. Zhang began work to harness and optimize the CRISPR system to work in human cells in 2011. While Zhang's group was optimizing the Cas9 system in human cells, the collaborating groups of Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna reported a biochemical characterization of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, including the design of a single, chimeric guide RNA (sgRNA) capable of facilitating cleavage of DNA using purified Cas9 protein and sgRNA. Zhang's group further optimized this Doudna/Charpentier sgRNA design for expression in mammalian cells and subsequently reported the first application of Cas9 for genome editing in human cells the following year.

Zhang is a recipient of the NIH Pioneer Award and a Searle Scholar. He was named one of MIT Technology Reviews's TR35 in 2013. His work on optogenetics and CRISPR has been recognized by a number of awards including: the 2012 Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize (for optogenetics, shared with Boyden and Deisseroth; the 2014 Alan T. Waterman Award (for optogenetics and CRISPR-Cas9), the National Science Foundation's highest honor that annually recognizes an outstanding researcher under the age of 35; the 2014 Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine (for CRISPR-Cas9, shared with Doudna and Charpentier), and the 2014 Young Investigator Award from the Society for Neuroscience (for optogenetics and CRISPR-Cas9) and 2015 Tsuneko & Reiji Okazaki Award (Nagoya University) and the 2016 Canada Gairdner International Award (for CRISPR-Cas9, shared with Doudna and Charpentier), and he received the 2016 Tang Prize.


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The Gene Hackers - The New Yorker

At thirty-four, Feng Zhang is the youngest member of the core faculty at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. He is also among the most accomplished.

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