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Yonghui Zeng


Current position: Senior Researcher, Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.

During his AIAS-COFUND fellowship, Yonghui Zeng has been working on the project "Ecological Genomics of Phototrophic Gemmatimonadetes Bacteria in Diverse Environments".

Project description

Bacterial photosynthesis represents an extraordinary biological innovation. Mimicking/engineering this process has long been thought to be a promising way to meet the increasing needs for energy by human society. Achieving these goals requires a deep understanding of how bacterial photosynthesis has evolved and how it functions. Recently, purple bacterial reaction centers were found in a member of the understudied bacterial phylum Gemmatimonadetes, which gives us an inspiring example as to how nature make the photosynthesis function transferrable between distantly related bacteria. However, we still know very little about phototrophic Gemmatimonadetes bacteria (PGB). This greatly limits our ability to assess their genomic properties, ecological significance and evolutionary history.

In this project, I will study the hitherto uncultured PGB dwelling in soils, active sludge and on plant surfaces by combining traditional microbiology and cutting-edge sequencing technology. I plan to: (a), assemble a highly sensitive infrared imaging system for fast identification of bacteriochlorophyll-containing bacteria; (b), conduct a quantitative study of the abundance of PGB in various types of environments; (c), isolate PGB strains and sequence their genomes to elucidate the patterns of genomic evolution in PGB; (d), develop model PGB organisms to study their physiological responses to oxygen and light availability. The results of this project will not only enhance our understanding of this long-overlooked group of phototrophic bacteria, but also lay a foundation for future exploring their biotechnological potentials.

Short bio

Yonghui Zeng is an environmental microbiologist with research focusing on photosynthetic bacteria. He received his PhD. in 2008 in China and continued his research career in Czech Republic and Denmark. During his AIAS fellowship, he has looked at a newly found phototrophic bacterial group called Gemmatimonadetes and research its ecology and evolutionary history in nature by combining traditional microbiological approaches and cutting-edge genome sequencing technology.

Project title:

Ecological Genomics of Phototrophic Gemmatimonadetes Bacteria in Diverse Environments

Area of research:

Environmental Microbiology

Fellowship period:

01 Oct 2016 - 30 Sep 2019


Contact information on Yonghui Zeng



Illustration of the relative phylogenetic relationship of the known seven bacterial chlorophototrophic phyla and their photosystems’ features highlighting the novelty of the recently discovered phototrophic phylum Gemmatimonadetes. The phylogenetic tree was based on 16S rRNA genes and depicted in an artistic manner without distorting the relative position of each phylum.