Molecular Engineering

Feng Zhang develops tools that are broadly applicable to studying genetic diseases and developing diagnostics and therapeutics. These molecular engineering tools are useful for understanding nervous system function and diseases with genetic links such as autism spectrum disorder. Zhang pioneered the development of CRISPR-cas9 as a genome editing tool and its use in eukaryotic cells –including human cells– from a natural CRISPR immune system found in prokaryotes. He has substantially expanded this toolbox through discovery and harnessing of new CRISPRs. These new tools not only include DNA-targeting CRISPR systems, but also CRISPR systems that can target RNA. Through rational engineering he is improving specificity of CRISPR systems, and is expanding their window of opportunity. He has now engineered systems that can cleave within a specific, targeted nucleic acid sequence, and others that are designed to edit specific bases on the DNA or RNA target, and yet others that make epigenetic modifications. These tools, which he has made widely available, are accelerating research, particularly biomedical research, around the world.