Scientist Strengthens Systems Biology Initiative
New Prof is an Authority on Computational Approaches and Genomic Research
Sept. 1, 2009
Dr. Michael Zhang, a leading scientist in computational biology and genomic research, has joined UT Dallas as professor and Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair of Systems Biology Science.
Zhang’s chaired position in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics begins establishment of a new Center for Systems Biology.
“In attracting a researcher of the stature of Dr. Zhang to our faculty, we expect to nucleate a major effort in genomics and computational biology that focuses on the genetic underpinnings of disease,” said Myron Salamon, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
Computational biology bridges the life sciences and quantitative sciences – mathematics, statistics and computer science – to understand living systems.
Zhang previously served as professor at the Watson School of Biological Sciences and has been conducting research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since 1991. His lab specialized in gene structure and regulation, gene control of development, cellular responses to environmental signals and cell differentiation. He is well-known in the international bioinformatics community, and serves as a distinguished guest chair professor at Tsinghua University and scientific advisory board member for the CAS-Max Planck Joint Institute of Computational Biology in China.
Zhang has contributed significantly to the emerging field of epigenomics, or regulatory changes in gene expression without altering DNA sequences. He was instrumental in developing computational tools to identify genes and their regulatory elements in addition to address other problems of biomedical importance. His recent work has focused on the role of “non-coding” regions of DNA (pieces of DNA with no known function, sometimes called “junk DNA”). He discovered that many such regions, thought to be useless, are in fact subject to evolutionary selection.
“I'm excited to lecture at UT Dallas on genomics and computational biology,” Zhang said. “I’m also looking forward to helping to recruit quality faculty and students. This position will allow me to spend more time on education and interesting new research areas, including collaborations with UT Southwestern Medical Center on cancer studies.”
“Dr. Zhang is a well-known, leading investigator in computational biology and bioinformatics,” said Dr. Li Zhang (no relation), head of molecular & cell biology and also a Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology Science. “He has made significant contributions in applying computational approaches to understanding fundamental molecular biological processes.
“At UT Dallas, he will play a leading role in recruiting experimental and computational biologists to establish a major center of systems biology and functional omics (the study of biology at the systems level). This center will focus on the global or systems-wide understanding of important life and disease processes such as cancers.”
Zhang received his PhD in statistical physics from Rutgers University in 1987. He conducted postdoctoral research at the Courant Institute of Mathematics and Sciences. He was recruited to UT Dallas with funding assistance from the Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program.
In 2004, the UT System launched STARs Program, which created a multimillion dollar fund to recruit and retain top-flight researchers to UT institutions. Researchers recruited and/or retained under the program have generated more than $200 million in sponsored research at UT institutions.