AWARDEE OF LIFE SCIENCES PRIZE
Rao Zihe, a molecular biophysicist and structural biologist, was born of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. He graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 1977, and got his master degree from the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1982. In 1989, Rao received his doctorate from Melbourne University and then joined Prof. Dave Stuart’s group in Oxford University, where he worked until 1996. He is now a professor of Tsinghua University, the director of the Institute of Biophysics, CAS, chairman of the Academic Committee of the Institute of Biophysics, CAS, and the director of the National Laboratory of Macromolecules.
Prof. Rao’s research has been focused on the relationship between protein structure and function, on protein engineering and drug design. In particular, he has concentrated his efforts on proteins related to human disease and important physiological functions. His work on the first crystal structure of SIV Matrix Antigen was published in “Nature” as the first author. In this work, he presented the model of the assembly of capsid proteins of SIV for the first time. In the same year, his work on the structure of a calcium binding human factor IX epidermal growth factor-like protein was published in “Cell” as the first author. This represented the first crystal structure in the EGF family, and elucidated the biological mechanism of the binding of calcium and EGF. His work on the crystal structure of the Fc receptor of IgA was published in “JBC” as a cover article. During the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, Rao’s group solved the first crystal structure of a SARS coronavirus protein the 3C-like Protease and its complex with an inhibitor. This important work provides a structural basis for rational anti-SARS drug design and has since been published in “PNAS”.
As chief scientist or principal investigator, Prof. Rao has been awarded several important research grants, including from the National Frontier Research Program (“973”), the National High Technology Research and Development Program (“863”), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). To date, he has published 109 research papers as first author or corresponding author in international periodicals, including Nature, Cell, PNAS, JBC, JMB and JACS.
He was elected the chairman of Molecular Biophysics Commitee, Chinese Biophysics Association and the Chairman of Macromolecular Commitee, National Crystallographers Association. He has participated in the evaluation of several national scientific foundations, including “973”, “863”, and NSFC. He was invited to give presentations at a number of international conferences, such as the 15th International Biophysics Conference, the 3rd International Conference of Genome, the 9th International Conference on the Crystallization of Biological Macromolecules. In the recent three years, he has successfully organized the 1st, 2nd and 3rd “Tsinghua International Conference of Protein Sciences” as chairman. Prof. Rao was awarded the “Qiushi” Outstanding Scientist Prize in Life Sciences and “Yangzi” Distinguished Professor Prize in 1999. He was elected the academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2003.