Xin Zhang

Xin Zhang

Main Content

  • Assistant Professor of Chemistry
  • Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Paul Berg Early Career Professorship in the Eberly College of Science
224 Chemistry Building
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 863-3732

Mailing Address:
104 Chemistry Building


  1. Ph.D. Chemistry, California Institute of Technology, 2010
  2. M.S. Chemistry, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2004
  3. B.S. Chemistry, University of Science and Technology of China, 2001

Honors and Awards:

  1. The Lloyd and Dottie Huck Early Career Award, 2015-16
  2. The Burrough Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, 2014-19
  3. American Chemical Society National Award – Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry, 2012
  4. The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship Award, 2011 (declined)
  5. The Helen Hay Whitney Fellowship Award, 2011-14 (selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow)
  6. Springer Thesis Award, 2010
  7. Herbert Newby McCoy Award of Caltech, 2010
  8. Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad, 2009
  9. The Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Endowment Fellowship, 2006-08
  10. Distinguished Thesis Award in Liaoning Province, China, 2005
  11. The Liu Yonglin Award, 2000

Selected Publications:

Independent Work at Penn State
Y. Liu, K. Miao, N.P. Dunham, H. Liu, M. Fares, X. Li, A.B. Boal, X. Zhang, The cation-pi interaction enables a Halo-Tag fluorogenic probe for fast no-wash live cell imaging and gel-free protein quantification, Biochemistry, (2017), DOI: 10.1021/acs.biochem.7b00056

Prior to Penn State

Y. Liu*, X. Zhang*, W.T. Chen, Y.L. Tan, J.W. Kelly, “Fluorescence turn-on folding sensor to monitor proteome stress in live cells”, J Am Chem Soc, 137 (2015), 11303-11321, (*co-first authors).

Y.H. Cho*, X. Zhang*, Y. Liu, K. Fayer, D.L. Powers, J.W. Kelly, L. Gierasch. E.T. Powers, “Individual and collective contributions of chaperonin and degradation to protein homeostasis in E. coli”, Cell Reports, 11 (2015), 321-33, (*co-first authors).

Y. Liu*, Y.L. Tan*, X. Zhang*#, G. Bhabha, D. Ekiert, J.C. Genereux, Y.H. Cho, Y. Kipnis, D. Baker, J.W. Kelly#, “Small molecule probes to quantify the functional fraction of a specific protein in a cell with minimal folding equilibrium shifts”, Proc Natl Acad Sci (USA), 111 (2014), 4449-54, (*co-first authors listed alphabetically; #co-corresponding authors).

X. Zhang, Y. Liu, J.C. Genereux, C. Nolan, M. Singh, J.W. Kelly, “The heat-shock response transcriptional program enables high-yield and high-quality recombinant protein production in Escherichia coli”, ACS Chem Biol, 9 (2014), 1945-1949.

Y. Liu*, X. Zhang*, Y.L. Tan, G. Bhabha, D. Ekiert, D. Baker, J.W. Kelly, “De novo designed enzymes as small molecule-regulated fluorescence imaging tags and fluorescent reporters”, J Am Chem Soc, 136 (2014), 13102-13105, (*co-first authors).

X. Zhang and J.W. Kelly, “Chaperonins resculpt folding free energy landscapes to avoid kinetic traps and accelerate protein folding” J Mol Biol, 426 (2014), 2736-8.

X. Zhang and S. Shan, “Fidelity of co-translational protein targeting by the signal recognition particle”, Ann Rev Biophysics43 (2014), 381-408.

D. Akopian*, K. Shen*, X. Zhang*, S. Shan, “Signal recognition particle: An essential targeting machine”, Ann Rev Biochemistry82 (2013), 693-722 (*co-first authors listed alphabetically).

X. Zhang, V.Q. Lam, Y. Mou, T. Kimura, J. Chung, S. Chandrasekar, J.R. Winkler, S.L. Mayo, S. Shan, “Direct visualization reveals dynamics of a transient intermediate during protein assembly”, Proc Natl Acad Sci (USA), 108 (2011), 6450-55.

X. Zhang, R. Rashid, K. Wang, and S. Shan, “Sequential checkpoints govern substrate selection during co-translational protein targeting”, Science, 328 (2010), 757-60.

X. Zhang, C. Schaffitzel, N. Ban, and S. Shan, “Multiple conformational switches in a GTPase complex control co-translational protein targeting”, Proc Natl Acad Sci (USA), 106 (2009), 1754-59.

X. Zhang, S. Kung and S. Shan, “Demonstration of a multistep mechanism for assembly of the SRP•SRP receptor complex: Implications for the catalytic role of SRP RNA”, J Mol Biol, 381 (2008), 581-93.


Research Summary:

Protein misfolding and aggregation leads to a variety of diseases, termed as protein misfolding diseases. It is now appreciated that amyloid toxicity results not necessarily from insoluble aggregates or fibrils, but primarily from soluble, misfolded conformational species that accumulate in cells during the aggregation cascade of amyloidogenic proteins. Our group aspires to understand the biochemical nature of this species and their mechanism of action in disease initiation and progression. This goal is achieved through the development and utilization of chemical tools that allow for the real-time visualization of these species and the direct dissection of their interaction partners in living cells. These methods can be generally applicable to a variety of pathogenic proteins whose misfolding and aggregation lead to diseases. 

Current Members:

Postdoctoral Fellows:
Dr. Yu Liu (PhD 2015, The Scripps Research Institute)
Dr. Yinghao Li (PhD 2015, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences)

Graduate Students:
Matthew Fares  (Chemistry, BS 2014, La Salle University)
Gregory Campbell Carter Jr. (BMB, BS 2015, University of Maryland, Baltimore County)
Charlie Wolstenholme (Chemistry, BS 2016, Boston College)
Connor Hoelzel (Chemistry, BS 2016, College of Wooster, Ohio)
Brandon Yusko (MCIBS, BS 2016, Clarion University of Pennsylvania)

Undergraduate Students:
Kun Miao (Chemistry, senior)
Yufeng Zhai (Toxicology, senior)
Chen Jiang (Biochemistry, senior)
Zi Gao (Biochemistry, senior)
Samuel Bollinger (Schreyer Honors College, Chemistry, senior)
Hannah Kahn (Chemistry, sophomore)
Joshua Pezzulo (Chemical Engineering, freshman)
Nicholas Aksu (Biochemistry, freshman)
Jacob Bunn (Chemical Engineering, junior)
Yusheng Cai (Chemistry, sophomore)
Margaret Gross (Chemical Engineering, sophomore)

Research Interests:


Chemical biology of protein folding and cellular stress


Design and synthesis of molecules that can be used as imaging tools or to answer biological questions