Improvement of Transformation System
Improvement of Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of soybean (Glycine max) and maize (Zea mays) and sorghum is his team's continuous endeavor. This research area includes the improvement of T-DNA integration efficiency and quality. The success in soybean transformation will make it possible to produce a large number of transgenic soybean lines through transformation-based mutagenesis or RNAi, for the discovery of a large number of soybean genes, and it will accelerate soybean engineering efforts. Transformation of maize inbred lines is highly desirable but has been very inefficient worldwide. Therefore, it is essential to develop efficient maize inbred transformation systems using simple binary vectors. To date sorghum transformation using simple binary vectors in the public sector is still inefficient and therefore needs substantial improvements.
Small RNA-mediated gene silencing
Efficient gene regulation in complex genome background, such as soybean, represents a new challenge in transgene technology. Small RNA-mediated silencing technology has been shown to be a powerful tool to accomplish this goal. Zhang's current focus is on design and implement of efficient RNAi in soybean. His lab is now exploring several strategies in improving the efficacy of RNAi in this crop. The experience and lessons they learn from down-regulation of several important soybean genes should be applicable for regulation of other genes in soybean. In addition, transgenic soybean lines developed in these studies can be used as breeding materials for soybean trait improvement.
Coordinated transgene expression
Coordinated transgene expression represents a unique approach to enhance both plant biology study and crop genetic improvement. This approach overcomes the limitations of conventional means to stack genes for studying complex pathways or improving crop traits.
Precise genome modification
Precision genome modification as an emerging transgene technology opens up a new opportunity to plant genetic improvement and biology study. This technology will be the next wave of transgenic approach and revolutionize conventional breeding. Current focus in the lab is CRISPR/Cas9 technology.