Dr. Ye Zhang is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. She is also a faculty member of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center and the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. She was born in Jinan, a city close to the Yellow River and the hometown of Confucius. A fantastic biology teacher in her high school told her to read some college level biology textbooks to prepare for the Biology Olympiad. After reading a few books, Ye became intrigued by the beauty and complexity of biological systems and decided to major in biology. She attended Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 2003.
Ye’s graduate mentor Dr Yuh Nung Jan at the University of California San Francisco introduced her to the field of developmental neurobiology. In the Jan lab, she studied how a neuron develops two distinct subcellular compartments, dendrites for receiving input and axons for transmitting output. From a genetic screen using fruitflies, Ye and her colleagues were surprised to discover that the secretory pathway that generates membrane lipids and proteins have different roles in dendrite and axon growth.
After obtaining her Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2009, Ye followed her graduate mentor’s advice of “don’t do fashionable science” and decided to study a cell type that most neuroscientists ignore, the glia cells. She moved to Stanford University to join the laboratory of Dr Ben Barres, a pioneer in glia research. At Stanford, she enjoyed perfecting the art of purifying each cell type out of complex human and mouse brains. After years of failures, she and her colleagues eventually succeeded in developing the first method to acutely purify human astrocytes and to culture them in chemically defined media. With this new purification and culture method, Ye and her colleagues found similarities and differences between human and rodent astrocytes, two distinct stages of astrocyte development in humans, and enriched expression of many neurological and psychiatric disease associated genes by astrocytes.
Ye joined the faculty of UCLA in June 2016. Her lab is exploring basic astrocyte biology as well as roles of astrocytes in neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Ye enjoys hiking and camping in California coastal mountains with her husband and two kids.