Dr. Zhirui Zeng received his PhD in Geology at Texas A&M University in 2014, and went to Stanford University for postdoctoral studies. In 2019, he joined the Southern University of Science and Technology faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Ocean Science and Engineering. He aims to answer earth science questions by using biotechnology approaches.
Dr. Zeng is interested in revealing the biosynthesis pathway of archaeal membrane lipid GDGTs (glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers). GDGTs are not just signature molecules that distinguishing archaea from bacteria and eukaryotes, but also important molecular fossils recording the sea surface temperature in the past. Dr. Zeng and his colleagues, for the first time, discovered the GDGT ring cyclase, and thus provides the molecular basis for the application of this molecular fossil as a temperature proxy. He also discovered the calditol synthase gene, that modifies the GDGT glucose head group to a calditol head group and thus enables thermoacidophilic archaea to thrive in extreme acidic environments. His major research approaches include archaeal gene editing (e.g. CRISPR), protein function characterization, lipid analysis by mass spectrometry, and bioinformatics. Dr. Zeng will continue focusing on revealing the remaining unknown steps in the GDGT biosynthesis pathway, characterizing their physiological roles, improving the use of GDGTs as environmental proxy, and developing GDGTs as novel biomaterial for pharmaceutical purpose.
Geomicrobiology, Molecular Biology of Archaea, Archaeal Membrane Lipid GDGTs Biosynthesis, Molecular Fossils, Microbial life in Extreme Environments
Ph.D. Geology Texas A&M University 2014
M.S. Microbiology Sun Yat-sen University 2009
B.S. Biotechnology Minzu University of China 2006
Associate Professor, Southern University of Science and Technology, Department of Ocean Science and Engineering. 2020 – Present
Assistant Professor, Southern University of Science and Technology, Department of Ocean Science and Engineering. 2019 – 2020
Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University, Department of Earth System Science, 2015 – 2019
Honors and Awards
NASA Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award, 2016
Berg-Hughes Fellowship, 2013-2014
TAMU Geology & Geophysics Department Fellowship, 2012-2013
TAMU Regents’ Graduate Fellowship, 2009-2011
1. 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, 13, 1545 (2022).
2. 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), 116, p22505-22511 (2019).
3. 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), 115, p12932-12937 (2018).
4. 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 10, p859-862 (2018).
5. Zeng Z*, Tice M. Electron Transfer Strategies Regulate Carbonate Mineral and Micropore Formation. Astrobiology, 18, p28-36, (2018).
6. Zeng Z*, Tice M. Promotion and nucleation of carbonate precipitation during microbial iron reduction. Geobiology, 12, p362-371 (2014).
7. Zeng Z, Qian L, Cao L*, Tan H, Huang Y, Xue X, Shen Y, Zhou S*. Virtual screening for novel quorum sensing inhibitors to eradicate biofilm formation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 79, p119-126 (2008).
Service for Academic Societies
Geology, Environmental Microbiology，Chemical Geology, Astrobiology