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PRL alumnus Zhi-Yan Du joins University of Hawaii as assistant professor

Zhi-Yan (Rock) Du, a former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Christoph Benning, will start a new position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu.

Rock’s lab will explore engineering and synthetic approaches to produce valuable bio-products in microalgae and establish co-production systems involving synthetic microbial communties. The lab will also research lipid metabolism in plants, microalgae, fungi, and bacteria, as well as symbiosis among these organisms.

Zhi-Yan Du in the lab
Zhi-Yan Du in the lab
Courtesy of Zhi-Yan Du

“I enjoyed my experience at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) and MSU. It feels like a big family here,” Rock says. “I received many great suggestions from the brilliant scientists over here, and I was part of many collaborations that allowed me to further explore my research interests. As I move on in my career, I plan to keep working together with my friends here in the future.”

Rock joined the Benning lab at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) in 2013. He researched how microalgae adapt to stresses in their environments in order to maintain normal activity levels, such as in photosynthesis. He also worked on engineering oleaginous microalgae for fatty acids and other oil products that are useful for biotech purposes. In that vein, he developed an algae harvesting system using oleaginous fungi for valuable bio-products. This last work was a collaboration between the Benning and Gregory Bonito labs at MSU.

In 2018, Rock joined the labs of Bjoern Hamberger and Bonito as a research assistant professor. He was awarded with two MTRAC grants to continue his research on the symbiosis between microalgae and fungi. He was the first to report that eukaryotic microalgae can live inside fungi. He found that this symbiotic relationship helps both organisms to survive stress conditions and also shows promise for co-production of valuable biomaterials.

“Rock has shown an incredible ability to conceive complex projects and organize a multidisciplinary effort in addressing novel scientific questions with unique outcomes, thereby considerably advancing the field,” says Christoph Benning, his former postdoctoral mentor and PRL Director. “I expect he will hit the ground running in his new position and I wish him the best of luck for his next career move.”

Rock obtained his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Good luck, Rock!

By Igor Houwat, Zhi-Yan Du