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ZENG Zhirui
Associate Professor


Dr. Zhirui Zeng, Associate Professor, Ph.D. Supervisor, received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 2014, was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University from 2015 to 2019, and joined the Department of Ocean Science and Engineering at Southern University of Science and Technology in 2019.

His research field include geobiology, lipid biology, and molecular microbiology, with an interest in using biotechnology to address earth science questions. He specializes in studying the biosynthesis pathway of archaeal membrane lipids, GDGTs (Glycerol Dialkyl Glycerol Tetraethers). Archaea form a monolayer cell membrane with GDGTs, which possess excellent physicochemical stability, enhancing their survival in extreme environments. Additionally, GDGTs are significant biomarkers widely used in studies of environmental change through geological time.

His representative research achievements include the first discovery of a series of archaeal membrane lipid synthase genes (Tes, Gms, GrsA/B, Cds). He has elucidated the main biosynthesis pathway of archaeal membrane lipids GDGTs, gained insight into the physiological functions of GDGTs, and provided a biological foundation for using GDGTs to indicate historical changes in marine environments, such as temperature and anoxia.

His research methods include archaeal gene editing technology, protein functional analysis, organic geochemical lipid analysis, and bioinformatics. Future research will investigate the biosynthesis pathway of unique bacterial membrane lipids brGDGTs. Finally, he will explore the biological significance of microbial lipids, and improve the application of lipid biomarkers in earth and marine sciences.


Educational Background

Ph.D., Geology, Texas A&M University, 2014 

M.S., Microbiology, Sun Yat-sen University, 2009 

B.S., Biotechnology, Minzu University of China, 2006


Professional Experience

PI, Southern University of Science and Technology, Department of Ocean Science and Engineering, 2019 – Present 

Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University, Department of Earth System Science, 2015 – 2019


Honors and Awards

Qiangguo Young Scientist Nomination Award, 2023



1. Li Y, Yu T, Feng X, Zhao B, Chen H, Yang H, Chen X, Zhang X, Anderson H, Burns N, Zeng F*, Tao L*, Zeng Z*. Biosynthesis of GMGT lipids by a radical SAM enzyme associated with anaerobic archaea and oxygen-deficient environments. Nature Communications, 2024, 15, 5256.

2. Yang W., Chen H., Chen Y., Chen A., Feng X., Zhao B., Zheng F., Fang H., Zhang C., Zeng Z*. Thermophilic archaeon orchestrates temporal expression of GDGT ring synthases in response to temperature and acidity stress. Environmental Microbiology, 2023, 25, p575-587.

3. Chen Y, Zheng F, Yang H, Yang W, Wu R, Liu X, Liang H, Chen H, Pei H, Zhang C, Pancost R, Zeng Z*. The production of diverse brGDGTs by an Acidobacterium providing a physiological basis for paleoclimate proxies. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2022, 337, p155-165.

4.Zeng Z*, Chen H, Yang H, Chen Y, Yang W, Feng X, Pei H, Welander P*. Identification of a protein responsible for the synthesis of archaeal membrane-spanning GDGT lipids. Nature Communications, 2022, 13, 1545.

5.Zeng Z, Liu X, Farley K, Wei J, Metcalf W, Summons R, Welander P*. GDGT cyclization proteins identify the dominant archaeal sources of tetraether lipids in the ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2019, 116, p22505-22511.

6.Zeng Z, Liu X, Wei J, Summons R, Welander P*. Calditol-linked membrane lipids are required for acid tolerance in Sulfolobus acidocaldarius. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2018, 115, p12932-12937.

7.Zeng Z, Pike M, Tice M*, Kelly C, Marcantonio F, Xu G, Maulana I. Iron Fertilization of Primary Productivity by Volcanic Ash in the Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) Western Interior Seaway. Geology, 2018, 10, p859-862.