Faculty: Dr. Yong Zhu

When Yong Zhu attended college, he learned a valuable lesson about the path to success.

“I just kept my head down, showed up, kept trying and never gave up on any class or opportunities,” said Zhu, a professor in East Carolina University’s Department of Biology in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “Now, I can say that I had succeeded.”

Zhu grew up in China with interests in math and chemistry. However, he was selected for college in marine biology, then later obtained a master’s in reproductive and comparative physiology, and a doctorate in comparative endocrinology from the University of Tokyo.

“Biology is so different from math and chemistry,” Zhu said. “A lot of times you can do formulas and can do predictions in math and chemistry, but a lot of times in biology you cannot just predict. Sometimes in biology it’s wrong. It’s not what you think, and that gets me really excited about biology. You may find something and now it’s expected, or you may find something that’s totally unexpected.

Dr. Yong Zhu, right, works with biology graduate students Muhammad Kamran and Tram Le in the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building.

Dr. Yong Zhu, right, works with biology graduate students Muhammad Kamran and Tram Le in the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building.

“In math and chemistry, you have these formulas and you have to prove them, but in biology, you cannot do that. A lot of times it’s just unknown. To be the first to reveal these unknowns is exciting to me and my students.”

After postdoctoral fellowships in Japan and Texas, Zhu looked for job opportunities and found what he was looking for at ECU.

“I had interviewed at a couple of places. The people here were a lot nicer and more cordial,” he said. “Plus, they had the nice facilities that I wanted, a nice DNA sequencing core, so I decided to come here.”

And now he’s in his 21st year at ECU.

“I think I made a good choice to come here,” he said.

Zhu said he enjoys interacting and working with students.

“There’s energy about it,” he said. “You’re teaching them, and the most exciting part of it to me is when you help them to achieve their goals — no matter the levels they want to be — knowing that you have contributed to their success. That’s the thing I didn’t realize as a student. I wanted to do my own research, my own stuff, but now I realize that’s different. Now I know I can contribute to others’ development and successes, and that I feel happy about.”

Zhu’s research focuses on comparative endocrinology, essentially how hormones regulate physiological processes such as growth, development and reproduction.

One project explores a genetic mutation that can cause blindness, while another explores the loss of ovarian follicles while aging, with the hopes of extending the age at which women can have children.

“At the end of the day, you’re really trying to answer fundamental questions in biology and applying that knowledge to humans,” he said.

Zhu is considered an expert in the field of comparative endocrinology. He’s an elected fellow, council member and communication committee chair of the North American Society for Comparative Endocrinology, and also serves as an international honorary editor of the Endocrine Journal. He’s an associate editor for Frontiers in Endocrinology and a member of the editorial board of General and Comparative Endocrinology.

Outside of work, Zhu enjoys opportunities to travel, calling the Netherlands and Japan among his favorite places to visit. He hasn’t watched television in about 30 years and doesn’t have social media accounts.

“I think these days we have too many distractions,” he said.

Married to wife Lily and with two daughters, Jennifer and Mayee, Zhu cherishes family time and frequently pedals to work on his bicycle.

“It’s good exercise,” he said.

Zhu embraces ECU’s mission to educate the workforce of tomorrow and knows the university has the right people and facilities in place to get the job done.

“To me there’s no excuse not to come here and learn to do better for your future,” he said.


Name: Dr. Yong Zhu

Title: Professor

Hometown: Hangzhou, China

Colleges attended and degrees: Xiamen University, Bachelor of Science in marine biology; University of Tokyo, Master of Science in reproductive and comparative physiology, and doctorate in comparative endocrinology


Years working at ECU: 21

What I do at ECU: I conduct exciting research in comparative endocrinology; teach undergraduate students in anatomy and physiology; and graduate students in comparative physiology, endocrinology, biochemistry, cellular biology, molecular biology, advanced gene editing, latest DNA sequencing methods and analyses.

What I love about ECU: A wide range of students and faculty! Some have high aspirations while others have fair expectations for teaching and research. There is a lot of room for motivated students and faculty to grow. The significant contribution of ECU to the development of eastern North Carolina has been recognized.

Research interests: Currently, I am focusing studies on: physiological functions and signaling mechanisms of steroid receptors including genomic and nongenomic steroid receptors; molecular signaling and regulatory mechanisms of oocyte maturation and ovulation; molecular signaling and regulation of primary ovarian follicles development and sex conversion; and molecular signaling and regulation of eye development.

What advice do you give to students? Come to the class, come to the lab motivated to learn knowledge and skills to prepare for your future. You cannot and will not learn if you cannot show up or are not motivated to learn.

Favorite class to teach? Human Anatomy and Physiology