Research Team                                           

SML_Ru Zhang-1436.jpg
Ru Zhang, Principal Investigator

Assistant Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center,  since September 2016

Education and trainings:
Postdoc, Department of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, 2010-2016
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2005-2009
BS, Nankai University, China,  2001-2005

About: Ru's research experience centers on photosynthesis and range from plant physiology/biochemistry to algal genomics to organelle evolution. During her PhD training at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she worked with Dr. Thomas Sharkey using gas exchange and spectroscopic methods to study the effects of high temperature on photosynthesis in leaves of Arabidopsis and tobacco plants. During her postdoctoral training with Dr. Martin Jonikas and Dr. Arthur Grossman at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Ru continued to explore photosynthesis by developing high-throughput genotyping and quantitative phenotyping tools for the eukaryotic, unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to identify photosynthesis-deficient algal mutants on a genome-wide scale. She also participated in the generation of a genome-saturating, indexed, mutant library of Chlamydomonas. The library could be used as both forward and reverse genetic platforms to dissect cellular processes under various conditions. In addition, she has worked on the photo-acclimation of the green amoeba Paulinella chromatophora (which has nascent “plastids” that evolved much more recently, 0.06 billion years ago) to gain insight into the evolution of photosynthetic organelles. She is passionate about how photosynthesis in plants/algae respond to abiotic stresses, especially heat stress. Her long-term career goal is to engineer photosynthesis for improved agricultural and biofuel production. Outside of the lab, Ru enjoys playing with her kids, cooking, gardening, playing Ping Pong, and watching movies.

Ningning Zhang


Postdoctoral Associate, since May 2017


Ph.D. Molecular Biosciences, Arkansas State University
M.S. Biotechnology, Arkansas State University
B.S. Bioengineering, Qindao Agicultural University

About: Ningning received her PhD in Molecular Biosciences in May of 2017 by dissecting the O-glycosylation process of plant cell wall structural glycoproteins and reengineering the plant cell wall for improved biomass processability. She started in the Zhang Lab as a postdoctoral research associate in the same month to study how photosynthetic organisms respond to their environment by using cutting-edge technologies. Specifically, Ningning is using the unicellular green alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, as a model system to better understand how photosynthetic cells sense and respond to high temperatures. A genome-saturating, indexed, algal mutant library and a quantitative phenotyping tool are used to conduct high-throughput genetic screening for mutants with interesting phenotypes. In her free time Ningning likes to work with plants, especially cacti. She also likes staying active by running frequently and playing pingpong.

Erin Mattoon


Graduate Student, since April 2018


Cornell University, BS in Biological Sciences, 2017

About: Erin received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from Cornell University in May 2017.  Her work there focused on the genetic aspects underlying meiotic recombination in maize.  In the summer of 2015, she was an REU intern where she studied the genetic similarities between plant interactions with mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  She is now a first-year graduate student in the Plant and Microbial Biosciences program at Washington University. Erin rotated in the Zhang lab from Nov - Dec in 2017 and then decided to join the Zhang lab for her PhD in April 2018 to study algal heat responses. In her free time, Erin enjoys cooking, swimming, and exploring the local community.   

Cheyenne Anderson


Laboratory Technician, since September 2018


Missouri Baptist University, BS in Biology, 2018, Biochemistry & Chemistry Minor

About: Cheyenne received her B.S. in Biology from Missouri Baptist University in May 2018. During her time there she was involved in a research team to develop a protocol to preserve long-term viability of the microalgal species, Chlorella protothecoides. Additionally, she served as a laboratory teaching assistant for genetics, general chemistry, and anatomy labs. In her free time, Cheyenne enjoys being active outdoors, playing tennis, travelling, and thrift shopping.      

Celine Xia

Lab Technician, since January 2020

M.S. Auburn University, Dec 2019
B.S. Huazhong Agricultural University, July 2017

About: Celine received her master’s degree in from Auburn University in 2019. Her research was improving Romaine lettuce growth in the greenhouse hydroponic systems. With high temperature and humidity in summer time, lettuce grew too fast in the greenhouse hydroponics systems, which caused calcium ion deficiency in the young growing tips. Physiological disorders like tipburn and bolting happened and damaged the lettuce marketable value. To mitigate tipburn and bolting, Celine increased the horizontal air flow speed in the DWC system and decreased root-zone solution temperature in NFT system to slow down growth rate to help calcium efficiently translocated to young leaves. At Zhang’s lab, Celine will work as a lab technician to start a hydroponics system in the greenhouse of Danforth plant science center. Celine likes travel, sports and music.

Michelle Richards


Grants Specialist​, since July 2016


University of Missouri - Columbia, BSBA with Marketing Emphasis, Economics Minor

About: Michelle received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing and a minor in Economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has worked in the administrative field for the past 10 years and has done everything from payroll processing to office management to assisting with grant proposal submissions. Michelle joined the Danforth Center in July of 2016 as an Administrative Assistant and now serves as a Grants Specialist for several of the labs here, including the Zhang lab.  

Grace Milburn


Lab Technician​, since October 2020


Humboldt State University, BS in Botany, 2020

About: Grace received her B.S. in Botany from Humboldt State University in May of 2020. During her time there, she was a supplementary instructor for genetics and worked in a lab on bee identification. In the summer of 2019, she was an REU intern at the American Museum of Natural History where she did research on bee diversity in New York City green spaces. Since graduating, she has also worked at UC Davis on research concerning plant-pollinator interactions. In her free time, Grace enjoys camping, hiking, and film photography. 

Leila Pazouki


Postdoctoral Associate​, since April 2020


Estonian university of life sciences, PhD, 2017

About: Leila Pazouki received her PhD degree in Prof. Ülo Niinemets's group at the Estonian university of life sciences investigating emission, gene regulation and function of terpenoids in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). She is currently working on photosynthesis apparatus and its related genes of psychrophilic and mesophilic green algea. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, spending time in nature and road trip.

Cooper Hostetler


Graduate Student​, since January 2021


McDaniel College, BS in Biology, 2020

About: Cooper received his bachelor’s degree in biology from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. As an undergrad, Cooper worked in his mentor’s lab researching zebrafish development before he developed a strong interest in plant biology and biotechnology. He then participated in the Danforth Center’s Summer REU program where he worked in Doug Allen’s lab on a project related to soybean metabolism. Cooper is interested in studying how plants sense and respond to environmental stresses. In his free time he enjoys reading, playing games, being outside, and golf.

Cady Bailey


Lab Technician, since October 2021


Duke University, BS in Biology, 2021

About: Cady received her B.S. in Biology from Duke University in May of 2021. During her time at Duke, she researched the bioacoustics assessment of oyster reef biodiversity and the impact of C. celata boring sponges on oyster reef biodiversity. She has since spent a season working with the NC State University Sweet Potato and Cucurbit Cultural Management Program. In her free time, she loves to dance, write, bake, and crochet.