Jia Jia Zhang just finished the fifth year of her PhD at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. She was born in China and moved to the United States as a young child. She lived in Fargo, North Dakota briefly, but spent most of her childhood in Battle Creek, Michigan. Zhang attended Harvard University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2013.
She is now studying marine chemical biology at Scripps in the lab of Bradley Moore, a professor at the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine. Zhang’s research focuses on establishing genetic tools for heterologous expression – the process of taking genes and putting them in a different host organism, with the hopes that that organism will also express those genes – and genetic manipulation of antibiotic-producing biosynthetic gene clusters.
These genetic manipulations can be challenging, and she hopes to develop tools to make the process easier, so that scientists can engineer gene clusters to produce more products useful to humans, such as antibiotics, anticancer drugs, and other types of medicines. We talked with Zhang to find out what drew her to Scripps, what sparked her love for chemical biology, and more.