Dr Xiaoxiao Zhang

ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Plant Cell And Molecular Biology 060702
  • Structural Biology (Incl. Macromolecular Modelling) 060112
  • Protein Trafficking 060108
  • Proteomics And Intermolecular Interactions (Excl. Medical Proteomics) 060109
  • Crop And Pasture Protection (Pests, Diseases And Weeds) 070308

Research interests

Molecular mechanisms involved in plant-pathogen interaction; immune signalling mechanisms involved in plant and animal innate immunity; protein engineering and synthetic biology to improve protein function.


I conducted my PhD studies in a structural biology laboratory at the University of Queensland (UQ) (2012-2015), where I combined protein biochemistry and structural biology to reveal protein structures of key proteins in plant and animal innate immunity. These proteins included proteins acting as signalling activators in plant effector triggered immunity, and in human innate immunity and neuronal disease. My studies have provided structural insights into how immune receptors activate signalling.

I then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO Agriculture & Food (A&F) (2015-2018), where I further studied plant disease immunity in complex plant systems. I combined my expertise in protein biochemistry and structural biology, and developed pipelines to investigate structural-hypothesis in plant-pathogen interactions and plant immune signalling. I have further integrated recent progress in plant and animal immunity to engineer chimeric proteins, revealing fundamental immune signalling mechanisms conserved across different biological contexts.

I am currently at the Research School of Biology (RSB) at the Australian National University (ANU). I have been using my expertise in structural biology and plant-fungal biology to investigate fungal disease in living plants. I recently recieved a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from Australian Research Council (ARC) to use synthetic biology to engineer novel disease resistance in cereal crops.


ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5417-6963 

Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=QhzkKa0AAAAJ&hl=en

Webpage @RSB: https://biology.anu.edu.au/people/academics/xiaoxiao-zhang

Researcher's projects

Effector delivery by fungal rust pathogens

We are using molecular biology tools and confocal microscopy to map the regions in rust effectors required for delivery into host cells, and identify components of the effector secretion machinery. This project interfaces strongly with our stripe rust work on identifying effector molecules.

This project is in partnership with Dr Peter Dodd's group in CSIRO Agriculture & Food, Black Mountain.

Available student projects

Directed evolution on plant disease resistance proteins

Plant Nod-like receptor proteins (NLRs) consist a subclass of plant resistance proteins and play important roles in plant defence response, providing rich genetic resources for breading of disease resistant crops. This project will exploit a directed evolution method to increase the gene diversity of wheat NLRs conferring novel resistances to rust fungal diseases.


Engineer of a Y2H system for detection of protein interactions at various cellular compartments

Yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) is a powerful technique that can be used to identify protein-protein or protein-molecule interaction. This technique has been widely applied in areas such as antibody development, protein function determination and drug/toxin discovery. This project aims to engineer an Y2H system that has been designed for detection of membrane-bound proteins for application at various cellular compartments. The engineered system is expected to be more stringent and effective than the conventional Y2H method.


Past student projects

Investigation direct interaction of rust effector proteins with plant Nod-like receptor proteins

Plant Nod-like receptor proteins (NLRs) recognise pathogen-secreted effector proteins, and trigger plant defence response. Direct interaction among some rust fungal effector proteins and corresponding NLRs has been shown using yeast-two-hybrid. This project will use an advanced TurboID-based proximity labelling to investigate such an interaction in planta.


Tracking relationships between gene expression and protein presence in wheat stripe rust.

We will use bioinformatics to provide evidence for protein trafficking within wheat stripe rust fungi by comparing the presence of mRNAs and proteins in a range of pathogen/host tissues. This project is co-supervised by Professor John Rathjen and DECRA Fellow Dr Jana Sperschneider.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  26 September 2023 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers