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Xiaoyu Zhu receives the 2018 Robert T. Simpson Graduate Student Award for Innovative Research

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August 20, 2018 – Xiaoyu Zhu, a graduate student in Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Bio-Sciences (MCIBS) has been awarded the 2018 Robert T. Simpson Graduate Student Award for Innovative (Risky) Science. The Graduate Student Award for Innovative (Risky) Science was created by the family of Robert T. Simpson in 2005 in memory of the former professor of biochemistry and molecular biology who embraced the concept of high-risk, high-impact research. The award was established to recognize an individual graduate student, working under the direction of a biochemistry and molecular biology faculty member, who has made important and innovative contributions in forwarding their research in their specific area of study.

Simpson was an international leader for more than 35 years in research on chromatin, a fundamental component of chromosomes, and its role in gene regulation. Simpson was at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1970 until 1995, when he became the Verne M. Willaman Professor of Molecular Biology at Penn State. His addition to Penn State is considered to have placed Penn State and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the forefront of chromatin research and to have greatly enhanced Penn State's research and educational missions.

Xiaoyu 1Originally from China, Zhu has lived in the United States since 2012 when she began her graduate studies at University Park. Despite her impressive accomplishments in her graduate studies that focus on molecular, cellular, and integrative bio-sciences, Zhu graduated from high school unsure of the direction for her future. After receiving counsel from many family members, her older cousin, with whom she is very close, suggested focusing on a field of study in the realm of biology. Trusting his guidance and his on-going experience studying biology in the United States, Zhu’s pursuit of science began.

In her second year at Shandong University, located in the Shandong Province of China, Zhu joined a lab and from that her true love of science blossomed. The process of developing research topics and then designing experiments to solve specific problems became a passion. She graduated from Shandong University with a B.S. degree in Biotechnology.

Upon arriving at University Park, Zhu joined the Gu Lab where she would spend the rest of her graduate program. The Gu Lab uses biochemical, molecular genetics, and spectroscopic approaches to decipher mechanisms of cellulose biosynthesis. Cellulose, often touted as the most abundant biopolymer on earth, is a major source of raw materials for paper, textiles, and an abundant source for sustainable and environment-friendly cellulosic biofuels. A long-term goal of this research is to gain a deeper understanding of the regulation of cellulose biosynthesis so that the fundamental knowledge can be transferred for designing new cellulosic materials with diverse economic applications.

Zhu’s specific area of focus within the Gu Lab is the de novo secretion of cellulose synthase complex to the plasma membrane via exocyst complex-mediated exocytosis. Her research investigates how the proteins required for cellulose biosynthesis are transported to the correct areas of a cell for proper gene expression to occur. When Zhu entered the Gu Lab she was not given a pre-established research project like many other graduate students. Instead, she was told she would have to start at the beginning and develop her own research project.

At that time, Zhu felt that she was at a disadvantage, having to start at the beginning and concerned that her lack of experience would result in her project experiencing many troubles and mistakes. Looking back on her graduate journey, she now believes that her situation was a blessing and is glad to have had the experience. Zhu credits Dr. Gu for providing her the opportunity and support needed to be successful.

Zhu recently published her work on “Correction for Zhu et al., CSI1, PATROL1, and exocyst complex cooperate in delivery of cellulose synthase complexes to the plasma membrane” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). She graduated this summer and begins her next adventure and while she does not know whether this adventure will be in academia or industry, she believes that in trying new things and being open to opportunities, she will find the field that she truly enjoys and that fits her interests.

In addition to her new professional success, Zhu started another adventure as she and her husband were married on April 28, 2018. The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department congratulates you on your accomplishments and wishes you well in the future. May our lives but swell thy fame, Dear old State, Dear old State!  We Are …