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Researcher Profile: Zeng-yu Wang

Posted Nov. 1, 2007

Zeng-yu Wang
Zeng-yu Wang

Growing up in Langfang, China, Zeng-yu Wang was a reserved and thoughtful child, who discovered inspiration in the scientists of the 1970s. The brilliance of their minds and the limitless potential of their revolutionary work ignited his imagination and cemented his life's work. After years of studying under giants in the scientific community, the 44-year-old now leads one of the Noble Research Institute's 18 labs as a principal investigator. These are the seven facts you need to know about the quiet boy who grew up to be quite a scientist.

1. The main focus of Wang's research is "to develop novel germplasm by direct introduction of agronomical genes into important forage crops. The main aspects of the program include establishment of efficient genetic transformation systems for different forage species; cloning of potentially useful agronomical genes and promoters; and generation of transgenic forage plants with improved agronomic characteristics."

2. The end result of his research "could lead to novel plant materials with improved quality, drought tolerance and phosphate uptake. Such materials will improve cattle production, thus benefit farmers and ranchers."

3. Wang, Ph.D., served as a postdoc for Ingo Potrykus, Ph.D., who developed the vitamin-A enriched golden rice. From 1991 to 1995, Wang researched grasses at Potrykus' lab in Zurich, Switzerland. Potrykus' tutelage left a lasting impression. "I learned great ideas can lead to great results, such as golden rice, but sometimes great ideas may not be realized for many years or decades. You must be patient and forward thinking. So I approach my research, trying to accomplish short-term projects, while also looking for long-term challenges and more risky projects."

4. Another of Wang's mentors was German Spangenberg, Ph.D., an innovator in pasture plant genomics. Together Wang and Spangenberg produce the first transgenic fescue and ryegrass by direct gene transfer to protoplasts and biolistic transformation. "It was with German that I developed my passion for working with forages crops, specifically grasses. I have been working on forage crops ever since. He also influenced me a lot on experimental design and scientific writing."

5. Since Wang is usually the one who turns out the lights in his lab each night, he finds little time for his favorite hobby - photography. Always an innovator, though, the shutterbug integrated his pastime with his work time. "I enjoy taking pictures of landscapes and people but, typically, I take pictures of plants and experimental materials. That's just as fun."

6. Wang's greatest source of happiness flows from his family: wife, Kuihua Zhang, and his daughters Jie, 17, and Lydia, 7. "They have always been so patient and supportive. I am thankful for them. They are everything to me."

7. Then in a moment of pure parental delight, Wang revealed that Jie was a senior at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, a select high school for 150 juniors and seniors academically gifted in mathematics and science. "She is an excellent student," he said. Looks like a scientist was Jie's inspiration as well.

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