I. Development and application of genome editing technologies
Feng Zhang and his team pioneered the development of the microbial adaptive immune systems CRISPR-Cas9 and CRISPR-Cpf1 for genome editing. The Zhang lab continues to push this field forward through efforts to refine and expand the Cas9 and Cpf1 toolbox, improve the specificity and efficiency of genome editing, and discover and harness novel CRISPR-Cas systems. The Zhang lab is applying genome editing methods to better understand various aspects of human disease, including the genetic circuits underlying drug resistance in cancer and the molecular and neuronal changes leading to autism spectrum disorders.
II. RNA perturbation and sensing technologies
The human transcriptome is considerably more complex than the genome, in large part because it is so dynamic, varying from one cell to another and over time. The Zhang lab is focused on developing new technologies to enable systematic, scalable methods to study the transcriptome. Building on recently discovered novel CRISPR-Cas systems that contain RNA-guided RNases, the Zhang lab is designing a suite of tools to modulate and sense transcripts.
III. Modeling brain disorders
By applying these and other methods, Zhang and his colleagues hope to generate new animal models of human disease in order to study their underlying biological mechanisms. The lab is especially interested in complex disorders, such as psychiatric and neurological diseases, that are caused by multiple genetic and environmental risk factors and which are difficult to model using conventional methods.