Feng Zhang

Feng Zhang (Chinese: 张锋; pinyin: Zhāng Fēng; born October 22, 1981) is a Chinese-American biochemist. Zhang currently holds the James and Patricia Poitras Professorship in Neuroscience at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also has appointment with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (where he is a core member). He is most well known for his central role in the development of optogenetics and CRISPR technologies.

Feng Zhang
Prof. Feng Zhang at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, Boston MA. Oct. 2, 2017
Born (1981-10-22) October 22, 1981
ResidenceCambridge, Massachusetts
Alma mater
Known forOptogenetics, CRISPR
Scientific career
FieldsNeuroscience, Bioengineering
InstitutionsMIT, Broad Institute
Academic advisorsKarl Deisseroth

Early life and education

Zhang was born in China in 1981 and given the name 锋 (which means "point of a spear; edge of a tool; vanguard"). Both of his parents were computer programmers in China. At age 11, he moved to Iowa with his mother (his father was not able to join them for several years).[1] He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School and Central Academy in Des Moines, graduating in 2000. In 1999 he attended the acclaimed Research Science Institute at MIT, and in 2000 he won 3rd Place in the Intel Science Talent Search. He earned his A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard University in 2004 where he worked with Xiaowei Zhuang.[2] He then received his Ph.D. in chemical and biological engineering from Stanford University in 2009 under the guidance of Karl Deisseroth where he developed the technologies behind optogenetics with Edward Boyden.[3][4] He served as an independent Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.[5][6]


Zhang's lab is focused on using synthetic biology to develop technologies for genome and epigenome engineering to study neurobiology. He is a leader in the field of optogenetics,[7][8] which was named the 2010 "Method of the Year".[9] As a postdoc, he began work on using TAL effectors to control gene transcription.[6]

Based on previous work by the Sylvain Moineau Lab,[10] Zhang began work to harness and optimize the CRISPR system to work in human cells in early 2011.[11] While Zhang's group was optimizing the Cas9 system in human cells, the collaborating groups of Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna described a chimeric RNA design which is capable of facilitating cleavage of free-floating DNA using purified Cas9 protein and a synthetic guide. Zhang's group compared their RNA expression approach with a design based on the Doudna / Charpentier chimeric RNA for use in human cells and established features of the guide necessary for Cas9 to function effectively in mammalian cells[12][13] which are dispensable in biochemical assays.[14][15][16]

His lab has developed a sensitive diagnostic nucleic acid detection protocol that is based on CRISPR termed SHERLOCK (Specific High sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing) that is able to detect and distinguish strains of viruses and bacteria present in as low as attomolar (10−18 M) concentration.[17]


Zhang is a recipient of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award and a 2012 Searle Scholar. He was named one of MIT Technology Reviews's TR35[18] in 2013. His work on optogenetics and CRISPR has been recognized by a number of awards, including: the 2011 Perl-UNC Prize (shared with Boyden and Deisseroth);[19] the 2014 Alan T. Waterman Award, the National Science Foundation's highest honor that annually recognizes an outstanding researcher under the age of 35;[20] the 2014 Gabbay Award (shared with Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier);[21] the 2014 Young Investigator Award from the Society for Neuroscience (shared with Diana Bautista).[22] Zhang also received a New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) – Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Award in 2014, and was named the 2016 NYSCF – Robertson Stem Cell Prize Recipient. In 2015, Zhang became the inaugural recipient of Tsuneko & Reiji Okazaki Award (Nagoya University)[23] and in 2016, he was once again (for the 2nd and 3rd time) sharing honors with Doudna and Charpentier when receiving the Gairdner Foundation International Award[24] and the Tang Prize.[25] In 2017 he received the Albany Medical Center Prize (jointly with Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, Luciano Marraffini, and Francisco M. Mojica) [26] and the Lemelson-MIT Prize.[27] In 2019 he received the Harvey Prize of the Technion/Israel for the year 2018 (jointly with Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna).[28]

In 2018, Zhang was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.[29]


  1. Begley, Sharon (November 6, 2015). "Meet one of the world's most groundbreaking scientists. He's 34". Stat. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  2. "Zhuang Research Lab". Harvard University. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  3. Boyden, Edward S; Zhang, Feng; Bamberg, Ernst; Nagel, Georg; Deisseroth, Karl (14 August 2005). "Millisecond-timescale, genetically targeted optical control of neural activity". Nature Neuroscience. 8 (9): 1263–1268. doi:10.1038/nn1525. PMID 16116447.
  4. Zhang, Feng; Wang, Li-Ping; Brauner, Martin; Liewald, Jana F.; Kay, Kenneth; Watzke, Natalie; Wood, Phillip G.; Bamberg, Ernst; Nagel, Georg; Gottschalk, Alexander; Deisseroth, Karl (5 April 2007). "Multimodal fast optical interrogation of neural circuitry". Nature. 446 (7136): 633–639. Bibcode:2007Natur.446..633Z. doi:10.1038/nature05744. PMID 17410168.
  5. "Feng Zhang, Investigator". McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  6. Zhang, Feng; Cong, Le; Lodato, Simona; Kosuri, Sriram; Church, George; Arlotta, Paola (January 19, 2011). "Efficient construction of sequence-specific TAL effectors for modulating mammalian transcription". Nature Biotechnology. 29 (2): 149–153. doi:10.1038/nbt.1775. PMC 3084533. PMID 21248753.
  7. Zhang F, Gradinaru V, Adamantidis AR, Durand R, Airan RD, de Lecea L, Deisseroth K (2010). "Optogenetic interrogation of neural circuits: technology for probing mammalian brain structures". Nature Protocols. 5 (3): 439–56. doi:10.1038/nprot.2009.226. PMC 4503465. PMID 20203662.
  8. Zhang, Feng; Tsai, Hsing-Chen; Airan, Raag D.; Stuber, Garret D.; Adamantidis, Antoine R.; de Lecea, Luis; Bonci, Antonello; Deisseroth, Karl (2015). "Optogenetics in Freely Moving Mammals: Dopamine and Reward". Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. 2015 (8): pdb.top086330. doi:10.1101/pdb.top086330. ISSN 1940-3402.
  9. "Method of the Year 2010". Nature Methods. 8 (1): 1–1. 2010. doi:10.1038/nmeth.f.321. ISSN 1548-7091.
  10. Garneau, Josiane E.; Dupuis, Marie-Ève; Villion, Manuela; Romero, Dennis A.; Barrangou, Rodolphe; Boyaval, Patrick; Fremaux, Christophe; Horvath, Philippe; Magadán, Alfonso H.; Moineau, Sylvain (November 4, 2010). "The CRISPR/Cas bacterial immune system cleaves bacteriophage and plasmid DNA". Nature. 468 (7320): 67–71. Bibcode:2010Natur.468...67G. doi:10.1038/nature09523. PMID 21048762.
  11. "Project Spotlight: CRISPR". Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  12. Cong, L.; Ran, F. A.; Cox, D.; Lin, S.; Barretto, R.; Habib, N.; Hsu, P. D.; Wu, X.; Jiang, W.; Marraffini, L. A.; Zhang, F. (3 January 2013). "Multiplex Genome Engineering Using CRISPR/Cas Systems". Science. 339 (6121): 819–823. doi:10.1126/science.1231143. PMC 3795411. PMID 23287718.
  13. Hsu, Patrick D; Scott, David A; Weinstein, Joshua A; Ran, F Ann; Konermann, Silvana; Agarwala, Vineeta; Li, Yinqing; Fine, Eli J; Wu, Xuebing; Shalem, Ophir; Cradick, Thomas J; Marraffini, Luciano A; Bao, Gang; Zhang, Feng (21 July 2013). "DNA targeting specificity of RNA-guided Cas9 nucleases". Nature Biotechnology. 31 (9): 827–832. doi:10.1038/nbt.2647. PMC 3969858. PMID 23873081.
  14. Jinek, M.; Chylinski, K.; Fonfara, I.; Hauer, M.; Doudna, J. A.; Charpentier, E. (28 June 2012). "A Programmable Dual-RNA-Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity" (PDF). Science. 337 (6096): 816–821. doi:10.1126/science.1225829. PMID 22745249.
  15. Cong, L.; Ran, F. A.; Cox, D.; Lin, S.; Barretto, R.; Habib, N.; Hsu, P. D.; Wu, X.; Jiang, W.; Marraffini, L. A.; Zhang, F. (January 3, 2013). "Multiplex Genome Engineering Using CRISPR/Cas Systems". Science. 339 (6121): 819–823. Bibcode:2013Sci...339..819C. doi:10.1126/science.1231143. PMC 3795411. PMID 23287718.
  16. Hsu, Patrick D; Scott, David A; Weinstein, Joshua A; Ran, F Ann; Konermann, Silvana; Agarwala, Vineeta; Li, Yinqing; Fine, Eli J; Wu, Xuebing; Shalem, Ophir; Cradick, Thomas J; Marraffini, Luciano A; Bao, Gang; Zhang, Feng (July 21, 2013). "DNA targeting specificity of RNA-guided Cas9 nucleases". Nature Biotechnology. 31 (9): 827–832. doi:10.1038/nbt.2647. PMC 3969858. PMID 23873081.
  17. Gootenberg, Jonathan S.; Abudayyeh, Omar O.; Lee, Jeong Wook; Essletzbichler, Patrick; Dy, Aaron J.; Joung, Julia; Verdine, Vanessa; Donghia, Nina; Daringer, Nichole M.; Freije, Catherine A.; Myhrvold, Cameron; Bhattacharyya, Roby P.; Livny, Jonathan; Regev, Aviv; Koonin, Eugene V.; Hung, Deborah T.; Sabeti, Pardis C.; Collins, James J.; Zhang, Feng (2017). "Nucleic acid detection with CRISPR-Cas13a/C2c2". Science. 356 (6336): 438–442. doi:10.1126/science.aam9321. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 5526198. PMID 28408723.
  18. Rotman, David (2013). "Genomic research may finally help dispel the ignorance shrouding many types of mental illness". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  19. "Stanford and MIT scientists win Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize". UNC School of Medicine. Archived from the original on August 26, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2017. Development and Application of Optogenetics for Studying Neural Circuit Functions
  20. "Alan T. Waterman Award Recipients". NSF. Archived from the original on March 2, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2017. For development and application of molecular technologies that enable systematic interrogation of intact biological systems through precise genomic manipulation.
  21. "Past Winners | Gabbay Award | Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center". Brandeis University. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  22. "Feng Zhang, Diana Bautista Receive Young Investigator Award". SfN. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  23. "Tsuneko & Reiji Okazaki Award - Feng Zhang". Nagoya University.
  24. "Canada Gairdner International Award". Archived from the original on March 29, 2016.
  25. "2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science". Retrieved January 27, 2017. for the development of CRISPR/Cas9 as a breakthrough genome editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment
  26. Albany Medical Center Prize 2017
  27. Lemelson-MIT Prize 2017
  28. Harvey Prize 2018
  29. http://www.nasonline.org, National Academy of Sciences -. "May 1 2018 NAS Election". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
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