This year’s Larry Sandler Memorial Award for an outstanding PhD dissertation in Drosophila research was presented to Zhao Zhang. Zhang, pictured receiving the prestigious award from Erika Bach (New York University), delivered the award lecture on the opening night of last week’s 56th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago, IL, organized by GSA. He carried out the award-winning doctoral work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and is now a Junior Investigator as well as the newest staff member at the Carnegie Department of Embryology.


Zhao Zhang receives the 2015 Larry Sandler Memorial Award from Erika Bach

Zhao Zhang receives the 2015 Larry Sandler Memorial Award from Erika Bach, 56th Annual Drosophila Research Conference.


The Larry Sandler Memorial award is given annually to honor an outstanding PhD dissertation in research using the fruit fly Drosophila. This powerful model organism is employed in many areas of research including genetics, disease, evolution, neurology, and more. The Larry Sandler Memorial Award was established in recognition of Dr. Larry Sandler’s many contributions to Drosophila genetics and his dedication to the training of Drosophila biologists.

“We congratulate Zhao on this exceptional honor,” said Allan Spradling, Director of Carnegie’s Department of Embryology and keynote speaker at last week’s conference. “He is exactly the sort of original, unconventional, and self-motivated researcher that Carnegie seeks to support. We look forward to his many accomplishments that lie ahead.”

Zhang delivered a stimulating award lecture describing his studies of transposons, DNA elements with the ability to “jump” around the genome. His doctoral research investigated how transposons are regulated in germ cells (eggs and sperm), with the goal of understanding how transposons contribute to genomic instability and to mutations that lead to inherited disease and cancer. In particular, his research has focused on the interplay between small RNA molecules known as piRNAs (Piwi-interacting RNAs), their recognition by the cell, and transposon silencing. His work has revealed novel insights into how piRNAs are processed by the cell and into the functional consequences of transposon activation and silencing. In addition to these discoveries, Zhang is recognized for his ability to integrate numerous cutting-edge and traditional technologies, while also developing novel ones.

Zhang received a B.S. in biotechnology from Shandong Agriculture University in Tai-an, China, and an M.S. in cell biology at Beijing Normal University. He carried out his doctoral work in the laboratories of Bill Theurkauf and Phil Zamore, and received his PhD in November 2013 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in interdisciplinary studies.


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Adam Fagen was formerly Executive Director of the Genetics Society of America.

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