James and Patricia Poitras Professor in Neuroscience
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Feng Zhang obtained his A.B. degree in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard University and his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University, where he worked in the lab of Karl Deisseroth on the development of optogenetics. In 2011, Zhang began his own lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pioneering the use of CRISPR-Cas systems as genome editing tools. He and his team successfully adapted the RNA-guided nuclease Cas9 for mammalian genome editing. Following this initial demonstration, the Zhang lab has continued to expand and refine Cas-based approaches, helping to create a robust genome engineering toolbox that is accelerating research around the world. He is currently a Core Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, an Investigator of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at MIT.
"Harnessing CRISPR-Cas Systems for Diverse Biological Applications"
The microbial CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems provide archaea and bacteria with a programmable defense against invading nucleic acids. Several years ago, we and others reported that the effector module from CRISPR-Cas9 could be harnessed for genome editing. Given the natural role of CRISPR-Cas systems, it is unsurprising that they exhibit significant diversity, and we have recently taken a bioinformatics approach to identify and characterize novel CRISPR-Cas systems with potentially useful characteristics for genome editing. Through these efforts, we discovered a novel class of CRISPR-Cas systems that use RNA-guided RNases, such as C2c2. We recently reported that C2c2 can be reprogrammed using a single RNA guide to cleave target mRNAs in vivo and that a dead variant of C2c2, created through mutation of the RNase domain, retains target specificity and binding activity. We are continuing to explore the microbial diversity of CRISPR-Cas systems and develop these new enzymes into platforms for transcriptome modulation and tracking. These new tools, in combination with Cas9-based tools, provide an unprecedented level of control over cellular processes and open new opportunities for biological engineering.