January 26, 2023

M&I welcomes Dr. Yifan Wang, D.V.M, Ph.D.!

Dr. Yifan Wang joined M&I in January 2023 as an Assistant Professor.

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology warmly welcomes Dr. Yifan Wang who joined M&I in January 2023 as an Assistant Professor.

Out of love for animals, Dr. Yifan Wang first became a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M) for large animals, graduating from Jilin Agricultural University, Changchun, China. One day, he had to take a blood sample from a sick horse to a lab, but there was a shortage of staff, and he was asked to help run the test. When he watched the pale liquid in the vial turn blue in reaction to the test, he was amazed. “I didn’t know anything about what was happening in the little jar, but I knew that I was hooked!” he said.

“I didn’t know anything about what was happening in the little jar, but I knew that I was hooked!” 

He decided to pursue graduate studies, joining a large crowd of students who were interested in viruses and bacteria, until he met his advisor, Dr. Junlong Zhao, who researched parasites at Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China. At the Zhao lab, Yifan became interested in an obligated single-cell intracellular parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which invades all nucleated cells and infects all warm-blooded animals. The parasite is also genetically tractable and easy to obtain and cultivate in vitro and in vivo. These characteristics make this parasite ideal for studying host-parasite interactions.

Yifan received his Ph.D. in Molecular Parasitology, focusing his research on the Toxoplasma proteins involved in host attachment and invasion. During his graduate study, Yifan applied a high throughput protein-protein screen coupled with various biochemical approaches to study the interaction between host proteins and these parasite invasion-related proteins, which provides novel insight into Toxoplasma invasion mechanism. 

As a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Jeroen Saeij at the University of California, Davis, he further studied how Toxoplasma secreted proteins to co-opt host cells. When Toxoplasma penetrates a host cell, it triggers several reactions, including the destruction of the host cell defenses, the strengthening of the parasite replicate niche, and the quiet taking over of a host cell that transports the parasite to another area of the body. Using functional genomic technology including the CRISPR-Cas9 screening platform, he identified several Toxoplasma proteins located on the host-parasite interface that contribute to the modulation of the cellular response inside host cells. This discovery brings new insights and opens new research directions into the still poorly understood parasite-host relationship.

At M&I, Yifan would like to pursue and expand his research on Toxoplasma-host interaction in different cell types and host species. Although different hosts have certain similar anti-Toxoplasma mechanisms, the species-specific response to the parasite presents some unique characteristics due to the differences in the host genetic background and susceptibility to the infection. For example, the mouse is far more vulnerable to the parasite than humans who have much stronger defenses against the infection. Yifan is thrilled to have so many shared interests with other M&I faculty members who study host-pathogen interactions, looking for similarities and differences across viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Ultimately, Yifan’s research will inform the understanding of fundamental biological mechanisms, and hopefully the development of therapies against toxoplasmosis.

Yifan is also very grateful for the warm welcome and kind support that he has received from everyone at M&I and looks forward to meeting and collaborating with the entire M&I community and U-M at large.