Yifei Zhang

2020 Regional Award Finalist — Post-Doc

Yifei Zhang

Current Position:
Professor (Previously, Postdoctoral Research Scientist)

Beijing University of Chemical Technology (Previously, Columbia University)

Chemical Engineering

Recognized for: Uncovering the principles that govern the overall activity of enzyme cascade reactions—a sequence of successive chemical reactions naturally occurring in living cells. By understanding the interplay between reaction and transport, Zhang has shown that it is possible to engineer cellular systems to perform programmable and predictable functions in vitro, including the synthesis of small molecule drugs and therapeutics.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Enzyme Cascade Reactions, Biomanufacturing, Synthetic Biology, Biocatalysis

Previous Positions:

BS, Tsinghua University, China
PhD, Tsinghua University, China (Advisor: Prof. Zheng Liu)

Research Summary:

Enzymes are specialized proteins within a human cell that are tasked with performing chemical reactions. Frequently a desired chemical reaction within a cell requires the participation of several enzymes working in concert. These sequential, relay-style transformations are referred to as enzyme cascade reactions. Yifei Zhang, PhD, is a biochemist focused on harnessing the power of enzyme cascade reactions to perform predictable and programmable chemical transformations that would normally take place inside of cells, and engineer them to perform similar functions outside of cells.

Zhang has discovered that subtle changes in conditions such as pH and temperature can have a profound effect on the activity of these cascade reactions. He has also shown that by careful control of the interactions among cascade enzymes, reactants, and the environment, one can produce spectacular visual patterns in a Petri dish that can change over time. By carefully defining these and other micro-environmental conditions for optimal enzyme activity, Zhang has shown that it is possible to engineer multi-enzyme systems capable of performing programmable and predictable functions. Further application of his findings could lead to new engineering methods that use enzymatic processes to produce novel pharmaceutical compounds or to upcycle plastic waste.

It is a great honor to be recognized by the Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists. My research interest is more focused on fundamental scientific research and is usually out of public attention. Being a Blavatnik Awards honoree is a great affirmation of my research interests.

Key Publications:

  1. Y. Zhang, S. Tsitkov, H. Hess. Complex dynamics in a two-enzyme reaction network with substrate competition. Nature Catalysis, 2018.

  2. Y. Zhang, M. J. Armstrong, N. M. Bassir Kazeruni, H. Hess. Aldolase does not show enhanced diffusion in dynamic light scattering experiments. Nano Letters, 2018.

  3. Y. Zhang, Q. Wang, H. Hess. Increasing enzyme cascade throughput by pH-engineering the microenvironment of individual enzymes. ACS Catalysis, 2017.

  4. Y. Zhang, S. Tsitkov, H. Hess. Proximity does not contribute to activity enhancement in the glucose oxidase-horseradish peroxidase cascade. Nature Communications, 2016.

Other Honors:

2015Excellent Doctoral Dissertation Award, Tsinghua University
2013China National Scholarship for Doctoral Students, Chinese Ministry of Education
2010Cum Laude Graduate, Tsinghua University


In the Media:

The Conversation – Now you can turn your inkjet printer into a chemistry lab

Phys.org – Now you can turn your inkjet printer into a chemistry lab

The Recycler – Inkjet printer used to diagnose diabetes

Inkjet Wholesale News – Chinese Innovators Use Colour Printers to Study Biochemical Processes