Monday, August 31, 2020

Analytical Division Award Winner Feature: Ziliang Song

 Q&A with Analytical Division Award Winner: Ziliang Song 

Bio: Ziliang (Len) Song started his research adventure at Jinan University in China, where he completed his bachelor's degree in food quality and safety (2009-2013). He conducted projects on developing analytical methods for environmental or processing contaminants in edible oil using instrumentations such as GC-MS and NMR. His passion for research and the international atmosphere of Jinan inspired Len to come to Canada in 2013 for his postgraduate study under the supervision of Dr. Randall Weselake at the University of Alberta. As a master’s student, he worked on metabolic engineering of oilseeds for novel lipid biosynthesis, specifically, a fatty acid originally enriched in pomegranate seeds. With his interest in natural plant products, Len started his PhD program in Dr. Martin Reaney's Group at the University of Saskatchewan in 2017. His project focuses on using sequence information to guide the discovery of a class of cyclic peptides called orbitides in flax. In the future, he hopes to further integrate genomics to the study of bioproduct chemistry as a strategy to explore the plant kingdom for better solutions to human health and environment.

1) What was your reaction when you learned you won Analytical Division Award?

I was surprised by the news that I won the award, because this is the second time, I have been recognized with an AOCS award. I feel grateful for the committee's approval for my work.

2) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study?

We know little about orbitides and their potential functions in the plant, and thus I have to refer to the methods applied in other similar studies from the literature and customize them for my study. However, there are still many case-to-case differences that make the methods not work as well as one would hope. I am trying to build a framework for studying the diversity and evolution of orbitides at the genome level. 

3) Can you tell us about your current research?

Orbitides are a class of cyclic peptides, first isolated in flaxseed in 1959. The discovery of cyclic peptides has been limited by bottom-up chemical approaches. To date, only nine orbitides have been identified and their sequence variation strongly implicates a myriad of more diverse orbitides to be explored. As orbitides are encoded by DNA sequences, I am inspired by the recently sequenced flax genome. Analyzing the precursor proteins sequences identified a distinct conserved pattern. Using this pattern, I searched the flax genome for sequences matching such patterns as candidates. The sequence information of the candidates was used to guide the identification of orbitides by mass spectrometry. These bioinformatics strategies can facilitate the identification, and reciprocally, validated orbitides will improve the sequence model of orbitides and provide useful insights of the evolution of these natural products and their biological functions in plants and other species.

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