Center for Algal Biology and Applied Research

Research Group of Algal Growth and Development



PI: Prof. Cheng-Cai Zhang 

Group Members:  

Young Prof. : Xiaoli Zeng

Associate Prof. : Yiling Yang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Cesar Augusto VALADES CRUZ, Weiyue Xin

Research assistants: Chenliu He, Gui-Ming Lin, Zhaojun Yu, Yunbing Tang 

Post-doctoral researcher: Xiaomei Xu, Qingxue Sun, Jing Liu, Sujuan Liu

PhD students: Wenkai Li, Wenshuo Ran, Shangyu Li, Shuke Cao, Wenying Guan, Fan Yu

Postgraduate students: Jie Fu, Danqing Huang, Tao Xie, Xiaxia Tian, Shihao Jia, Yan Yu, Zhenyu Wang, Peilian Li, Linghan Meng

Scientific Interests of the Group:  

The Research Group of Algal Growth and Development was created in 2015 by Prof. ZHANG Cheng-Cai. Using cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) as research models, we aim to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the growth and development in microorganisms. While employing molecular genetics as the major approach, we encourage the use of multidisciplinary experimental methods (optic science and experimental physics, single-cell analysis tools, omics, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology etc.) to address scientific questions.   

Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest forms of life on the Earth, appeared about 2.5 billion years ago. As the first organisms able to perform oxygenic photosynthesis, they converted the Earth’s atmosphere from anaerobic to aerobic, thus paved the way for the emergence and evolution of animals, plants and human. Cyanobacteria are widespread in different environmental habitats, such as oceans, lakes, wetlands and even deserts. Today, the photosynthetic activity of cyanobacteria still contributes about 50% of the oxygen production on Earth.  

Cyanobacteria are interesting for the scientific community for several reasons. First, cyanobacteria could proliferate rapidly in water bodies under eutrophication conditions (rich in nutrients, principally in nitrogen and phosphate), combined with warm temperature, leading to the formation of blooms or efflorescence, a complicated environmental problem hard to resolve.  Second, cyanobacteria can convert solar energy and CO2 to biofuels or compounds that can be used in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries, thus having a strong potential in biotechnology. However, they grow relatively slowly as compared to other microorganisms used in biotechnology. Whether for the treatment of cyanobacterial blooms, or the use in biotechnology, it involves the control of the cyanobacterial biomass. The research group studies the basic mechanism of cyanobacterial growth and development, hoping to provide a framework for better control of cyanobacterial blooms, as well as efficient production of cyanobacterial biomass for biotechnological use.   

Cyanobacteria are excellent models for addressing fundamental questions in biology. They exhibit an extraordinary diversity in cell sizes and morphology; some of them even develop different types of cells through differentiation, such as the formation of the nitrogen-fixing heterocysts (which is one of the oldest forms of cell differentiation). The molecular mechanisms that control the cell size, morphology and differentiation, as well as their relationship with metabolic regulation and cell cycle are still unclear. We will address these important fundamental questions using cyanobacteria as model organisms.  

Meanwhile, cyanobacteria can also produce various toxins and secondary metabolites useful in biotechnology, we also aim to investigate the biosynthetic and metabolic pathways of these compounds. 


Figure. Fluorescent images of filaments of the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120, photographed under a confocal microscope. Arrows indicate hetercoysts, other cells are photosynthetic vegetative cells.  



Fluorescence microscope; Biological microscope; Microfluidic operation platform; Cell disruptor; PCR instrument; Super differential photometer; Nucleic acid, protein separation and detection system; Protein purification system; Omics analysis instrument; Ultraviolet spectrophotometer; Refrigerated high-speed centrifuge; Microalgae high throughput culture system; Low temperature and ultra-high pressure continuous flow cell crusher; Ice maker; Nitrogen blowing instrument; Light incubator, etc.  

Recent Publications: 


1. Su-Juan Liu, Gui-Ming Lin, Yu-Qi Yuan, Wenli Chen, Ju-Yuan Zhang* and Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2024) A protein inhibitor brings under check the activity of RNase E in cyanobacteria. Nucl. Acids Res. 52:404-419.

2. Ye-Jun Peng, Yuxing Chen, Cong-Zhao Zhou, Wei Miao, Yong-Liang Jiang*, Xiaoli Zeng* and Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2024) Modular catalytic activity of nonribosomal peptide synthetases depends on the dynamic interaction between adenylation and condensation domains. Structure. 32(1-13):e1-e4


1. Qin-Xue Sun, Min Huang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng*, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) Control of Cell Size by c-di-GMP Requires a Two-Component Signaling System in the Cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. Strain PCC 7120. Microbiology Spectrum. 10.1128

2. Xiaoli Zeng, Min Huang, Qing-Xue Sun, Ye-Jun Peng, Xiaomei Xu, Yun-Bin Tang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Yiling Yang, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) A c-di-GMP binding effector controls cell size in a cyanobacterium. PNAS. 120(13):e2221874120

3. Zi-Qian Wang, Yiling Yang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) Global translational control by the transcriptional repressor TrcR in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Communications Biology. 6:643

4. Wei-Yue Xing, Jing Liu, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) HetF defines a transition point from commitment to morphogenesis during heterocyst differentiation in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Molecular Microbiology. 00:740-753.

5. Jing Liu, Wei-Yue Xing, Bowen Liu, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) Three-dimensional coordination of cell-division site positioning in a filamentous cyanobacterium. PNAS nexus. 10.1093

6. Ziqian Wang, Suqin Wang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Gui-Ming Lin, Nanqin Gan, Lirong Song, Xiaoli Zeng, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2023) Investigation on cyanobacterial production of the proposed neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). Water Biol. Security. P 100208.


1. Wei-Yue Xing, Jing Liu, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng, Cheng-Cai Zhang*. (2022) A proteolytic pathway coordinates cell division and heterocyst differentiation in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120.PNAS. 119 (36) e2207963119 

2. Xiaoli Zeng*, Cheng-Cai Zhang*. (2022) The making of a heterocyst in cyanobacteria. Annu Rev Microbiol. 76:597-618. 

3. JuYuan Zhang, Wolfgang R. Hess*, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2022). “Life is short, and art is long”: RNA degradation in cyanobacteria and model bacteria. mLife. 00(00):1-19 

4. Zi-Qian Wang, Cheng-CaiZhang*. (2022) A tRNA t6A modification system contributes to the sensitivity towards the toxin β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Aquatic Toxicology. 245: 106121 

5. Ju-Yuan Zhang, Tian-Cai Niu, Gui-Ming Lin, Cheng-Cai Zhang. (2022). A CRISPR-Based Method for Constructing Conditional Mutations of Essential Genes in Cyanobacteria. Essential Genes and Genomes. Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 2377). pp 143-157. 


1. Wei-Yue Xing, Jing Liu, Zi-Qian Wang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng, Yiling Yang and Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2021) HetF protein is a new divisome component in a filamentous and developmental cyanobacterium. mBio. 12:e01382-21. 

2. Li Wang, Tian-Cai Niu, Ana Valladares, Gui-Ming Lin, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Antonia Herrero*, Wenli Chen*, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2021) The developmental regulator PatD modulates assembly of the cell-division protein FtsZ in the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Environmental Microbiology. 23(8):4823-4837. 

3. Jing Liu, Wei-Yue Xing, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng, Yiling Yang and Cheng-Cai Zhang*. (2021) Functions of the Essential GenemraY in Cellular Morphogenesis and Development of the Filamentous Cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120. Frontiers in Microbiology. 12:765878. 

4. Min Huang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Xiaoli Zeng* and Cheng-Cai Zhang. (2021) c-di-GMP Homeostasis Is Critical for Heterocyst Development in Anabaena sp. PCC 7120. Frontiers in Microbiology. 12:793336 


1. Zi-Qian Wang, Suqin Wang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Gui-Ming Lin, Nanqin Gan , Lirong Song, Xiaoli Zeng* & Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2020). The proposed neurotoxin β-n-methylamino-l-alanine (bmaa) is taken up through amino-acid transport systems in the cyanobacterium anabaena pcc 7120. Toxins. 12(8): 518.  

2. Xing, W. Y. , Xie, L. R. , Zeng, X. , Yang, Y. *, & Zhang, C. C. * (2020) Functional dissection of genes encoding dna polymerases based on conditional mutants in the heterocyst-forming cyanobacterium anabaena pcc 7120. Frontiers in Microbiology. 11:1108.   

3. Cong Zhou1, Juyuan Zhang1 , Xinyu Hu, Changchang Li , Li Wang , Qiaoyun Huang* and Wenli Chen* (2020) Rnase ii binds to rnase e and modulates its endoribonucleolytic activity in the cyanobacterium anabaena pcc 7120. Nucleic Acids Research. 48(7):3922-3934 


1. Li Wang, Tian-Cai Niu, Gui-Ming Lin, Shao-Ran Zhang, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Guo-Fang Tang, Wenli Chen*, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2019) patD, a gene regulated by NtcA, is involved in the optimization of heterocyst frequency in the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120. J. Bacteriol. 201(21). pii: e00457-19.  

2. Wei-Yue Xing, Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2019) Preventing accidental heterocyst development in cyanobacteria. J. Bacteriol. 201 (17) e00349-19.  

3. Tian-Cai Niu, Gui-Ming Lin, Li-Rui Xie, Zi-Qian Wang, Wei-Yue Xing, Ju-Yuan Zhang*, Cheng-Cai Zhang (2019) Expanding the potential of CRISPR-Cpf1 based genome editing technology in the cyanobacterium Anabaena PCC 7120. ACS Synth. Biol. 8:170-180.  


1. Cheng-Cai Zhang*, Cong-Zhao Zhou, Robert L. Burnap, Ling Peng (2018) Carbon/Nitrogen Metabolic Balance: Lessons from Cyanobacteria. Trends in Plant Sci. 23:1116-1130.  

2. Hai-Lin Chen, Amel Latifi, Cheng-Cai Zhang and Christophe Sébastien Bernard* (2018) Biosensors-Based In Vivo Quantification of 2-Oxoglutarate in Cyanobacteria and Proteobacteria. Life. 8:51.  

3. Yali Wang, Yuan Gao, Chao Li, Hong Gao, Cheng-Cai Zhang and Xudong Xu* (2018) Three substrains of the cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 display divergence in genomic sequences and hetC function. J. Bacteriol. 200 (13):e00076-18.  

4. Ju-Yuan Zhang, Gui-Min Lin, Wei-Yue Xin and Cheng-Cai Zhang* (2018) Diversity of the growth patterns probed in live cyanobacterial cells using a fluorescent analog of a peptidoglycan precursor. Front. Microbiol. 9:791.  

5. Yong-Liang Jiang, Xue-Ping Wang, Hui Sun, Shu-Jing Han, Wei-Fang Li, Ning Cui, Gui-Ming Lin, Ju-Yuan Zhang, Wang Cheng, Dong-Dong Cao, Zhi-Yong Zhang, Cheng-Cai Zhang*, Yuxing Chen*, Cong-Zhao Zhou* (2018) Coordinating carbon and nitrogen metabolic signaling through the cyanobacterial global repressor NdhR. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 115:403-408.  


1. Cheng, Y., Schorey, JS., Zhang, C-C., and Tan X. (2017) Protein kinase inhibitors as potential antimicrobial drugs against Tuberculosis, Malaria and HIV. Curr. Pharm. Des. 23:4369-4389.   


1. Hu, S.; Wang, J.; Wang, L.; Zhang, C.-C.; Chen, W. (2015) Dynamics and cell-type specificity of the DNA double-strand break repair protein RecN in the developmental cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120. PLoS One.10(10):e0139362.  

2. Fan Y, Lemeille, S., González, A., Risoul, V., Denis, Y., Richaud, P., Lamrabet, O., Fillat, M., Zhang, C.-C., Latifi A. (2015) The Pkn22 Ser/Thr kinase in Nostoc PCC 7120: role of FurA and NtcA regulators and transcript profiling under nitrogen starvation and oxidative stress. BMC Genomics. 16:557.  

3. Hu, H-X., Jiang, Y-L., Zhao, M-X., Cai K., Liu, S., Wen, B., Lv, P., Zhang, Y., Peng, J., Yu, H.-M., Ren, Y.-M., Zhang, Z., Wu, Q., Oliveberg, M., Zhang, C.-C*., Chen, Y*., Zhou, C.Z.* (2015) Structural insights into HetR PatS interaction involved in cyanobacterial pattern formation. Sci. Rep. 5:16470.