IPiB Thesis Defense May 25, 2023: Yunyun Zhu

Yunyun Zhu, an IPiB graduate student, will be defending her Ph.D. research on May 25, 2023.

A member of the Coon Lab, Zhu’s research uses mass spectrometry to enhance methods and technologies used to quantify protein homeostasis, or the balance of proteins in a biological system.

“Our lab is looking at developing methods to gain greater sensitivity in measuring compositions of proteins, lipids, and metabolites,” says Zhu. “The methods that are developed can then be applied to study all sorts of biological questions. As a member of the Coon Lab, I get to have experiences with both developing methodology using mass spectrometry and applying those methods.”

Zhu, whose work has been published in Cell Systems and iScience, focuses on how stressors impact the balance of proteins, lipids, and other metabolites in the mitochondria. With yeast as a model organism, Zhu used single point mutations to identify the impacts of disrupted protein translation, folding, and degradation.

“The majority of the proteins in the mitochondria were actually translated from the nucleus,” says Zhu, “so when protein translation in the mitochondria is suppressed, then the balance between the two organelles will be disrupted. This triggers downstream effects in an attempt to restore the balance.”

After graduating, Zhu will apply the knowledge she developed in graduate school as a scientist at Orna Therapeutics where she will analyze lipids to use as delivery systems for therapeutic RNA treatments.

She will bring to her position new skills that go beyond what she learned at the lab bench.

“I moved here from China six years ago,” says Zhu. “Everything was new. You have to learn so much as an international student, including a new language. In the beginning, it took me days to read one scientific paper. But over time it becomes easier. It’s been difficult, but it’s been really rewarding – a process full of challenges and learning, but now I have such a sense of achievement.”

In addition to her research and all of the learning that came with being an international student, Zhu balanced her graduate work with parenting young children through the extended school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to be honest about it, it’s a lot of work both mentally and physically,” says Zhu of coming home to care for her baby after long days in the lab. “It’s been really chaotic but it’s so rewarding now that it’s all coming together.”

To learn more about Zhu’s research, attend her Ph.D. defense on Thursday, May 25, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. CT in Room 1211 of the DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building.

Learn more about this event.