Tong Zhou Ph.D.: Biography/Education

Assistant Professor

Department of Physiology and Cell Biology

Education

  • Postdoc, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • Ph.D., Bioinformatics, Southeast University, Nanjing, China
  • B.S., Biomedical Engineering, Southeast University, Nanjing, China

Biography

Dr. Tong Zhou obtained his Ph.D. from Southeast University, China in 2006. After postdoc training at the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, the University of Texas at Austin (mentored by Dr. Claus O. Wilke), Dr. Zhou joined Dr. Joe "Skip" Garcia's group as a bioinformatician, where he grew his interest in translational medicine. Dr. Zhou's broad research background and training has been rooted in computational biology, with experience in genomics, genetics, biostatistics, and molecular evolution. While Dr. Zhou's lab is purely computational, he frequently collaborates with experimental and clinical researchers to understand the massive amount of information derived from the omic techniques.

Research

Translational genomics

Translational genomics is a new emerging science combining translational and clinical research with statistics, genomics, clinical informatics, bioinformatics, medical informatics, information technology, and mathematics together. One of Dr. Zhou's research goals is to develop and utilize appropriate computational tool to analyze the high-throughput genomic and genetic data obtained from animal models or human patients to optimize the development of disease-specific biomarkers, aid medical decision-making, and supervise drug target identification and clinical validation. With a team of collaborators, my lab served as one of major contributors in all of these studies.

Post-transcriptional regulation and RNA structure

Increasing evidence indicates that the secondary structure of mRNA plays a critical role in post-transcriptional regulation. Alteration in global or local mRNA secondary structure may dramatically change translation efficiency and thus affect protein expression level. Dr. Zhou's research in this area demonstrates that there is a universal trend of reduced mRNA stability near the start codon in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes, which facilitates translation initiation. Also, Dr. Zhou and his collaborators found that the local mRNA secondary structure in 5’-UTR and microRNA binding region plays an important role in miRNA-mediated gene regulation.

Non-neutral evolution at synonymous sites

Synonymous mutations (so called silent mutations) are the change of one base for another in an exon of a gene, such that the produced protein primary sequence is not modified. When a synonymous or silent mutation occurs, the change is often assumed to be neutral, meaning that it does not affect the fitness of the individual carrying the new gene to survive and reproduce. However, increasing evidence indicates that synonymous mutations have significant consequences for cellular processes in all taxa. Evolutionary research on synonymous sites is becoming increasingly important as these analyses make their way into clinical utilizations of academic results, which has numerous implications not only for the understanding of basic biology but also for methods development in bioengineering and for the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disease.


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