13 Oct Yali Zhang Named Morley R. Kare Research Fellow for 2020 to 2022
(PHILADELPHIA – October 12, 2020) – Neuroscientist and geneticist Yali Zhang, PhD, has been named the Monell Center’s 2020-2022 Morley R. Kare Fellow. Dr. Zhang’s research focuses on fundamental questions related to how animals sense their complex food environment, including food taste and texture. His lab explores this topic mainly using the fruit fly as a model organism.
As a Kare Fellow, Zhang will receive three years of partial salary support to supplement his recently awarded five-year NIH/NIDCD R01 grant on the molecular genetics of taste sensation, along with additional funding for research supplies.
The Kare Fellowship was established in 1990 to honor the vision of Monell’s founding Director, Morley Kare, PhD, who recognized the importance of nurturing early-career scientists to become leaders in the field of chemosensory science. Support for the Fellowship is provided by donations from Dr. Kare’s family and friends, other individual donors, and the Monell Foundation.
“My lab uses a multi-disciplinary approach to investigate how the chemical features of food, including sweetness, bitterness and saltiness, and the physical properties of food, such as texture, impact feeding behaviors,” said Zhang. His work provided the first molecular and genetic insight into how animals perceive food texture, a fascinating question in the chemoreception world.
“Dr. Zhang exemplifies the excellent science being carried out by our vanguard of new junior faculty,” said Monell Director and President Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD. His elegant work on food taste and texture in the fruit fly is a prime example of sensory nutrition – the marriage of the chemical senses and nutrition – and has important potential for applications to improve human nutritional health.”
Zhang received his doctoral degree in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. From 2013 to 2017, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology within the Neuroscience Research Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He joined Monell in 2017, where he holds the rank of Assistant Member. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Physiology and a Faculty Member in the Diabetes Research Center, both in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Zhang has been honored with numerous awards during his doctoral and postdoctoral training years, for example, he received the Polak Young Investigator Award from the Association of Chemoreception Sciences.
Dr. Zhang’s work on the fly’s texture sensation was featured in an NIH Director’s Blog along with his award-winning image of a food-texture sensing neuron (green) extending intricate dendrites in the fly tongue (structures in red). This micrograph received top honors in the 2017 Drosophila Image Award, sponsored by the Genetics Society of America.
“I am honored to receive this fellowship in the name of Dr. Morley Kare, the visionary scientist who established the world’s first research institution dedicated to taste and smell,” said Zhang. “My research team and I are extremely grateful for this because it will help us expand our efforts towards making exciting discoveries in chemosensory science.”
The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1968, Monell‘s mission is to improve health and well-being by advancing the scientific understanding of taste, smell, and related senses, where our discoveries lead to improving nutritional health, diagnosing and treating disease, addressing smell and taste loss, and digitizing chemosensory data.