Lihan Zhang, Ph.D
Lihan was originally born in Jilin, China, later grew up in Nagano, Japan, where he became interested in science as a high school student. After entering the University of Tokyo, he started working in the laboratory of Professor Ikuro Abe, and obtained his B.S. (2012) and Ph.D.(2017) in Pharmaceutical Sciences. He then moved to the laboratory of Professor Emily Balskus at Harvard University to pursue postdoctoral research till 2019. He has awarded multiple honors and fellowships, including The University of Tokyo Fellowship, the JSPS Research Fellowship, and the JSPS Overseas Research Fellowship. Lihan joined School of Science, Westlake University in September 2019.
Lihan has been working on the discovery, biosynthesis, and bioengineering of natural products. Fascinated by structural diversity and bioactivity of natural products, his Ph.D research focused on understanding the biosynthetic and evolutionary logic of modular polyketide synthases, a class of megaenzyme that act in an assembly line manner. He revealed the mechanism of unnatural extender unit biogenesis by a crotonyl-CoA carboxylase/reductase enzyme used in a polyketide synthase of antimycin biosynthesis. Also, he made a critical contribution in the aminopolyol polyketide synthase evolution, which revealed a surprising evolutionary co-migration of PKS modules that does not follow traditional module definition. These results have set the basis for rational redesign of polyketide biosynthesis, which would have numerous applications in drug discovery, medicinal chemistry, and synthetic biology. His works has been featured in Angewandte Chemie Highlight and recommended by Faculty of 1000 for multiple times. During his postdoc research, Lihan explored small molecule-mediated host-microbiota interaction in the human microbiota and investigated untapped natural products biosynthesis inside our body. He also investigated big-data in natural product research using network analysis in genetic/metabolic layer and global-scale phylogenetic analysis. Lihan’s research interest lies primarily in, but not restricted to, discovery and bioengineering of assembly line enzymes for natural product biosynthesis by leveraging natural evolution.