Professor Zihe Rao CV

Summary of major research accomplishments | Major scientific activities | Professional appointments | Professional honours | Professional societies | Awards and honours | List of 20 Major Publications


Zihe Rao is mainly engaged in the study of the three-dimensional structures of significant proteins related to human disease or with important physiological functions, as well as in innovative drug discovery. He has published more than 260 peer-reviewed papers to date in international scientific journals such as Cell, Nature, Nat. Struct. & Mol. Biol, PNAS, EMBO J, PLoS Biology, Structure, Curr. Pharm. Design, J. Am. Chem. Soc, with the number of citations totaling more than 3,000. His research group has systematically determined more than 120 important unique protein structures.


Summary of major research accomplishments


Zihe Rao was a member of the renowned Peking Insulin Structure Group, where he began his career in the middle 1970s After receiving a strong foundation in protein crystallography from the Peking Insulin Structure Group, Zihe Rao has gone on to enjoy a career of more than 30 years  (including 4 years in Melbourne University and 8 years in Oxford University) at the forefront of scientific research in molecular biophysics and structural biology. The major focus of his work has been the structure and function of viral proteins, including those from the SARS coronavirus, influenza A virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). His major scientific achievements include:


• SARS-CoV basic research, including the first crystal structure of a key protein in the SARS virus - Mpro - and its complex with an inhibitor, in the journal PNAS; inhibitor design targeting the SARS-CoV Mpro, in PLoS Biology; and the structure of the super-complex between two SARS non-structural proteins, nsp7 and nsp8, in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology; and three innovation patents for SARS research. One of the SARS Mpro inhibitors designed by Zihe Rao’s group is now in pre-clinical testing.


• Two important crystal structures from the avian influenza H5N1 virus polymerase complex, both published in Nature, presenting new avenues for the discovery of novel anti-influenza drugs. One of these targets, confirmed to be an endonuclease, has been determined in complex with several nucleotide monophosphates in a follow-up study published in the Journal of Virology.


• High-resolution structures for the mature Enterovirus 71 (EV71) and immature particles lacking RNA,which was published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.


• Determination of the SIV matrix antigen (MA) structure and the first model for assembly of lentiviruses, including HIV, in his research paper published in Nature.


• The first structure of mitochondrial respiratory membrane protein Complex II. The Complex II structure, published in Cell, provides a bona fide model for the study of human mitochondrial diseases related to mutations in this complex and helps to complete our understanding of the mitochondrial respiratory electron transfer chain.


• The structure and function of the calcium-binding hF IX EGF-like domain in the journal Cell, revealing its biological mechanism of formation.


Major scientific activities


As a leading research scientist, Zihe Rao has held a number of international grants, including: the Royal Society (with the MRC Immunochemistry Unit, University of Oxford, UK); the Wellcome Trust (with Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, UK); the Sino-German Center (with the Department of Biochemistry, Luebeck University); and the European Union Framework 6 program (as part of the Sino-European Project on SARS Diagnostics and Antivirals). As a Research Scientist in the University of Oxford in the early 1990s, Zihe Rao was the Founder and Chair of CLSS-UK, an organization for Chinese Life Scientists working in the UK. CLSS-UK is still a very active organization and currently has more than 5,000 members, ranging from research students and scholars, academics, scientists, bioengineers, as well as clinicians.


In addition to his research, Zihe Rao plays a leading role in Life Sciences research at the national level. He is the current President of the Biophysical Society of China, an adhering body of the International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB). He initiated and Chairs one of the National Key Mid- and Long-term Research Projects entitled “Protein Research” (from 2006 to 2020), with an annual budget of around 200 – 300 million RMB. He serves as an Executive Member of the National Basic Research Plan (“973” Project) and Chairs the Frontier Research Committee, which has a budget in excess of 1 billion RMB per year. He is also responsible for, or has taken an active part in serving on, several other national scientific committees.


As the former Director-general of the renowned Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences from 2003 – 2007, Zihe Rao was responsible for overseeing a 100 million RMB (~ $12 million USD) modernization program to transform it into a world-class research institute. This investment included construction of a new centre for Protein Science, a platform for Structural Biology, and development in areas such as Brain and Cognitive Science and Systems Biology.


Zihe Rao is currently President of the Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biotechnology and Medicine (TJAB). TJAB, co-founded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Health, the State Food and Drug Administration and the Tianjin Municipal People's Government, features a one-stop service system and dedicated public technology platform to accelerate the process from new drug development to industrialization. One of the central aims of TJAB is to promote innovation and development of the Chinese biopharmaceutical industry.


Zihe Rao is world-renowned for his roles in Biophysics, Structural Virology and Structural Genomics. As a representative of China, he is a Council Member of the International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) from 2005 to 2011 , and has been elected the President-elect of the IUPAB in 2011, he also sits on the Advisory Committee of the Worldwide Protein Data Bank (wwPDB). In 2006, he was awarded the Trieste Science Prize for Medical Sciences by the Third World Academy of Science for his work on SARS basic research.


Zihe Rao has been actively involved in “Structural Genomics”: he was leader of the China Universities Structural Genomics Initiative from 2001-2003, and leader of the China National Human Structural Proteomics Project from 2003 onwards. He is currently a Member of the Advisory Committee for the International Structural Genomics Organization (ISGO) and a Member of the Scientific Advisory Board for SPINE2-COMPLEXES. He is also a Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Structural and Functional Genomics, the official journal of the ISGO.


Zihe Rao has hosted and chaired many international conferences, including the Joint Asian Crystallography Association and Chinese Crystallography Society (AsCA’09) meeting in Beijing (2009), the 10th International Conference on the Crystallization of Biological Macromolecules in Beijing (2004), the 4th International Conference on Structural Genomics in Beijing (2006), and the annual “TICPS” International Conference on Protein Science in China (2001-2008). As chairman of the Local IUPAB Organizing Committee, Prof.Rao has hosted the 17th  International Biophysics Congress in Beijing(2011).


He has also been invited to deliver lectures at many international conferences, including a Keynote talk at the XXI IUCr Congress in Osaka, Japan (2008); the Keystone Symposium on Structural Genomics in Colorado, U.S.A. (2008); the 5th International Conference on Structural Genomics in Oxford, U.K. (2008); the Sir Mark Oliphant International Frontiers of Science and Technology symposium in Canberra, Australia (2008); the 32nd Lorne Conference on Protein Structure and Function in Lorne, Australia (2007); the American Crystallographic Association Meeting in Hawaii (2006); the XX IUCr Congress in Florence, Italy (2005); and the IUPAB International Biophysics Congress in Montpelier, France (2005).


Zihe Rao sits on the Editorial Boards of a number of journals, including the FEBS Journal, the Journal of Structural Biology, the Journal of Structural & Functional Genomics, the Journal of General Virology, Biophysical Reviews and China Science. In 2010, he launched a new high quality, high impact journal in China entitled Protein & Cell and currently serves as its Editor-in-Chief.


In recognition of his excellent scientific achievements, Zihe Rao attained the Hong Kong "Qiushi Outstanding Scientist Prize in Life Sciences" in 1999, and in 2000 was awarded by the Ministry of Education as a "Yangtze River Distinguished Scholar" professor. In 2003 he received the “He Liang He li Foundation Science and Technology Prize". In 2006, he was awarded the “Chen Jiageng Science Prize for Life Science” for his work on the structure of the mitochondrial respiratory membrane protein Complex II, the “Trieste Science Prize” for his SARS research. In 2008, he received the “Achievement Prize of the Tan Jia-Zhen Awards for Life Sciences”.


Professional appointments


2010 – present      Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Protein & Cell (a new academic journal)

2006 – present      President of Tianjin International Joint Academy for Biotechnology and Medicine

2006 – present      Professor of Nankai University

2006 – 2011          President of Nankai University

2003 – 2007          Director of National Laboratory of Biomacromolecules

2003 – 2007          Director-General of the Institute of Biophysics, CAS

1996 – present      Director of Laboratory of Structural Biology, Tsinghua University

1992 – 1996          Research Scientist (RII), Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics, Oxford University

1977 – 1985          Researcher, Peking Insulin Structure Research Group, Institute of   Biophysics, CAS


Professional honours


2011          Elected as a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford

2004          Elected as a Member of Third World Academy of Science

2003          Elected as a Member of Chinese Academy of Sciences


Professional societies


2011 - present       President-elect of International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB)

2011 - present       Vice-Chairman, 12th Tianjin Municipal Committee of the CPPCC

2007 - present       Co-chair (“Founder”) of the Protein Society of China

2006 - present       Executive member of the International Organization for Biological


2005 - present       President of the Biophysical Society of China

2005 - 2011           Executive Council Member of the IUPAB

2003 - 2011           Member of the Advisory Board of the International Structural            

                              Genomics Organization

2003 - 2006           President of Chinese Crystallographic Society


Awards and honours


2010             Honorary Degree, University of Glasgow

2009             Honorary Degree, Hong Kong Baptist University

2009             60 Top Chinese Educators of the Last 60 Years (1949-2009)

2009             Outstanding Academic Leadership, World Hi-Tech Forum

2008             Life Achievement Prize, Tan Jia-Zhen Awards for Life Sciences

2006             Trieste Science Prize for Medical Science, Third World Academy of Science

2006             Chen Jiageng Science Prize for Life Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences

2003             He-Liang-He-Li Foundation Science & Technology Prize, Hong Kong

1999             Yangtze River Distinguished Scholar, Ministry of Education, China

1999             Qiushi Outstanding Scientist Prize in Life Sciences, Hong Kong

1985-1989    Melbourne University Postgraduate Scholarship, Australia


List of 20 Major Publications


1.   Rao, Z., P. Handford, M. Mayhew, V. Knott, G. G. Brownlee, and D. Stuart. 1995. The structure of a Ca(2+)-binding epidermal growth factor-like domain: its role in protein-protein interactions.Cell 82:131.


2.   Sun F, X. Huo, Y. Zhai, A. Wang, J. Xu, D. Su, M. Bartlam, and Z. Rao*. 2005. Crystal structure of mitochondrial respiratory membrane protein complex II. Cell 121(7):1043-57.


3.  Rao, Z., A. S. Belyaev, E. Fry, P. Roy, I. M. Jones, and D. I. Stuart. 1995. Crystal structure of SIV matrix antigen and implications for virus assembly. Nature 378:743.


4.   Yuan P, Bartlam M, Lou Z, Chen S, Zhou J, He X, Lv Z, Ge R, Li X, Deng T, Fodor E, Rao Z* & Liu Y*. 2009. Crystal structure of an avian influenza polymerase PA(N) reveals an endonuclease active site. Nature, 458(7240):909-13


5.   He X, Zhou J, Bartlam M, Zhang R, Ma J, Lou Z, Li X, Li J, Joachimiak A., Zeng Z, Ge R, Rao Z* & Liu YF*. 2008. Crystal structure of the polymerase PA(C)-PB1(N) complex from an avian influenza H5N1 virus. Nature, 454(7208):1123-6.


6.   Zhai Y, Sun F, Li X, Pang H, Xu X, Bartlam M, & Rao Z*. 2005. Structural insights into coronavirus transcription/replication from the crystal structure of the SARS-CoV hexadecameric nsp7•nsp8 super-complex. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, 12(11): 980-986.


7.  Zhang W, Wang L, Liu Y, Xu J, Zhu G, Cang H, Li X, Bartlam M, Hensley K, Li G, Rao Z* & Zhang XC. 2009. Structure of human lanthionine synthetase C-like protein 1 and its interaction with Eps8 and glutathione. Genes Dev. 23(12):1387-92.


8.   Yang H., W. Xie, X. Xue, K. Yang, J. Ma, W. Liang, Q. Zhao, Z. Zhou, D. Pei, J. Ziebuhr, R. Hilgenfeld, K. Y. Yuen, L. Wong, G. Gao, S. Chen, Z. Chen, D. Ma, M. Bartlam, and Z. Rao*. 2005. Design of wide-spectrum inhibitors targeting coronavirus main proteases. PLoS Biology 3(10):e324.


9.   Yang, H., M. Yang, Y. Ding, Y. Liu, Z. Lou, Z. Zhou, L. Sun, L. Mo, S. Ye, H. Pang, G. F. Gao, K. Anand, M. Bartlam, R. Hilgenfeld, and Z. Rao*. 2003. The crystal structures of severe acute respiratory syndrome virus main protease and its complex with an inhibitor. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 100:13190.


10. Wu, B., P. Li, Y. Liu, Z. Lou, Y. Ding, C. Shu, S. Ye, M. Bartlam, B. Shen, and Z. Rao*. 2004. 3D structure of human FK506-binding protein 52: implications for the assembly of the glucocorticoid receptor/Hsp90/immunophilin heterocomplex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101:8348.


11. Liu Z, Lin H, Ye S, Liu Q, Meng Z, Zhang C, Xia Y, Margoliash E*, Rao Z* & Liu X*. 2006. Remarkably high activities of testicular cytochrome c in destroying reactive oxygen species and in triggering apoptosis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 103(24): 8965-8970.


12. Bartlam, M., H. Yang, and Z. Rao*. 2005. Structural insights into SARS coronavirus proteins. Curr. Opin. Struct. Biol. Oct. 28 (review).


13. Xu, Y., Cong, L., Chen, C., Wei, L., Zhao, Q., Xu, X., Ma, Y., Bartlam, M. & Rao, Z. (2009). Crystal structures of two coronavirus ADP-ribose-1''-monophosphatases and their complexes with ADP-Ribose: a systematic structural analysis of the viral ADRP domain. J Virol 83, 1083-92.


14. Zhao, Q., Li, S., Xue, F., Zou, Y., Chen, C., Bartlam, M., and Rao, Z. (2008). Structure of the main protease from a global infectious human coronavirus, HCoV-HKU1. J Virol 82, 8647-8655.


15. Xue, X., Yu, H., Yang, H., Xue, F., Wu, Z., Shen, W., Li, J., Zhou, Z., Ding, Y., Zhao, Q., Zhang, X.C., Liao, M., Bartlam, M., and Rao, Z. (2007). Structures of Two Coronavirus Main Proteases: Implications for Substrate Binding and Anti-viral Drug Design. J Virol 366, 965-75.


16. Xu, X., Zhai, Y., Sun, F., Lou, Z., Su, D., Xu, Y., Zhang, R., Joachimiak, A., Zhang, X. C., Bartlam, M. & Rao, Z. (2006). New antiviral target revealed by the hexameric structure of mouse hepatitis virus nonstructural protein nsp15. J Virol 80, 7909-17.


17. Su, D., Lou, Z., Sun, F., Zhai, Y., Yang, H., Zhang, R., Joachimiak, A., Zhang, X. C., Bartlam, M. & Rao, Z. (2006). Dodecamer structure of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus nonstructural protein nsp10. J Virol 80, 7902-8.


18. Wu, X., Ye, S., Guo, S., Yan, W., Bartlam, M. & Rao, Z.* (2010). Structural basis for a reciprocating mechanism of negative cooperativity in dimeric phospagen kinase activity. FASEB J 24(1):242-52.


19. Xu, Y., Z. Lou, Y. Liu, H. Pang, P. Tien, G. F. Gao, and Z. Rao*. 2004. Crystal structure of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus spike protein fusion core. J Biol Chem 279:49414.


20. Wang X, Peng W, Ren J, Hu Z, Xu Ji, Lou Z, Li X, Yin W, Shen X, Porta C, Walter T, Rowlands D, Wang J*, Stuart D*, Fry E*, and Rao Z*. A sensor/adaptor mechanism for enterovirus uncoating from structures of EV71. Nature Structural & Molecular Biology (in press)