Professor Zhou’s group applies analytical, organic, and protein chemistry, as well as biochemistry, enzymology and protein engineering to biology and medicine. Students actively collaborate with biologists and chemists alike in academia and industry all over the world.

One major program is to develop chemical and biochemical methodologies to characterize protein post-translational modifications for proteomic analysis. For instance, devising new protein chemistry reactions specific for a particular type of modified amino acid permits selective affinity labeling and mass tagging. Ongoing projects center on protein methylations and proteolysis, both of which play pivotal and diverse roles in biological regulation and disease development. Comprehensive characterization of these processes will not only discover new biomarkers for disease diagnosis, but also identify novel targets for drug development.

In parallel, a general strategy is envisioned to selectively decorate proteins, using a combination of engineered enzymes with tailored sequence specificity and chemical modifications with functional selectivity. An exciting application is to improve stability and reduce immune response of protein drugs, whose uses are surpassing those of traditional small molecule drugs.

A third major program is the mechanistic study of biologically important enzymes, the design and synthesis of inhibitors as therapeutic agents. Targeted pathways include those involved in bacterial communication and biofilm formation; the latter is a significant clinical problem with no effective treatment. As these pathways are not essential for bacterial growth, developing resistance is less of a concern than traditional antibiotics.