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Ru Zhang, Principal Investigator


Associate Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, since January 2024;
Assistant Member, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, October 2016-December 2023

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 


Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

975 N Warson Road, Olivette, MO 63132, USA

About: Ru's research experience centers on photosynthesis and ranges 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, Stanford, Ru continued to explore photosynthesis by developing high-throughput genotyping and quantitative phenotyping tools in 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 cooking, gardening, playing Ping Pong, watching movies, and playing with her kids. Ru is a mom of two boys: 6-year-old Zoran and 3-month-old Roger when she started her lab at Danforth in 2016.

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.  

Erin Mattoon


Graduate Student, since April 2018 - July 2023

Postdoctoral Associate, since July 2023 - November 2023


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.   

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 worked at UC Davis in Neal William's lab on research concerning plant-pollinator interactions. In her free time, Grace enjoys camping, hiking, and film photography. 

Kylee Hillman


Lab Technician​, since August 2022


Florida State University, BS in Biological Sciences, 2022

About: Kylee received her B.S. degree in Biological Sciences from Florida State University in May 2022. During her time there, she was a Teaching Assistant for non-majors Biology Lab and researched evolutionary dynamics in chorus frogs. In the summer of 2021, she was an REU student at Utah State University in the Zhan Lab where she researched curcumin biosynthesis. In her free time she enjoys traveling, hiking, and spending time with friends and family. 

Kaia Luik 


Undergraduate student, since September 2022


Washington University in St. Louis, Sophomore

About: Kaia is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis. She grew up in Houston, Texas and spent two years in Bangladesh. She has been interested in genetics since she started high school, and as a college freshman became focused on plant genetics. In the summer of 2022, she worked as a Grow Room Assistant at Elemental Enzymes. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing (with a recent interest in sketch comedy), and studying with friends.

Divya Kanna


Postdoctoral Associate, since August 2023


University of Szeged, PhD, 2023

About: Divya received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Szeged, Hungary, in January 2023. During her Ph.D., she worked in the Laboratory of Photosynthetic Membranes at the Biological Research Centre, investigating the macro-organization of thylakoid membrane complexes during salt stress acclimation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Euglena gracilis. Divya joined the Zhang Lab in August 2023 to study algal heat stress responses. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, singing, dancing, watching movies, and traveling.

Dominique Pham


Lab technician, since August 2023


University of Richmond, BS in Biology 2023

About: Dom received her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Richmond in May 2023. During her time at UR, she researched germination and morphological plasticity in the newly established invasive species, wavyleaf basketgrass in the Wu lab. In the summer of 2022, she was an REU student at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, examining sex-expression in the dioecious alpine species, Valeriana edulis. In her free time, Dom enjoys hiking, reading, indoor gardening, and learning new hobbies. 

Joseph Adjei


WUSTL rotation graduate student, since August 2023


PhD graduate student, Washington University in St. Louis, 2023

Remote Intern-Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, 2022-2023

BS, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2017-2022

About: Joseph received his BS degree in Biomedical Science in 2022 from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He studied antibiotics resistance in Neisseria gonorrhea and was also involved in novel antibiotics prospecting from bacterial growth media. He subsequently worked as a data analyst intern in the Burch Smith lab where he was involved in elucidating the effects of plant hormones on plasmodesmata permeability. Joseph is now a first year Plant and Microbial Biosciences student at the Washington University in St. Louis. In his spare time, he enjoys watching and playing soccer, visiting museums and watching documentaries.

Research Team                                           

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