371g Life Science Center
Zhang studies the functions of a family of enzymes called mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs); these enzymes are involved in plant cell-to-cell communication and plant interaction with its environment. Intercellular communication is critical to plant growth and development, because it determines the shape and size of plant organs and when and where they form. The same enzymes are also involved in regulating plant responses to wounding, pathogen invasion, or other adverse environmental conditions. The lab has discovered how plants manufacture and accumulate certain anti-microbial defense chemicals. By understanding how plants protect themselves against invading pathogens, as well as the regulatory mechanisms of plant growth and development, Zhang hopes to eventually identify suitable targets for genetically engineered crops with enhanced disease resistance and improved yield.