Dr Xue-Xian Zhang staff profile picture

Contact details +64 (09) 414 0800  ext. 43593

Dr Xue-Xian Zhang PhD

Senior Lecturer

School of Natural and Computational Sciences

I obtained my PhD degree in 1993 from the State Key Laboratories of Agricultural Microbiology (Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China). In 1997, I was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship and have performed research on soil microbial ecology for two years in RWTH (Aachen, Germany). Then I spent 3 years at the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK) working as a post-doctor at the Department of Plant Sciences. I came to New Zealand at the beginning of 2003, and firstly worked in the School of Biological Sciences, the University of Auckland, and then relocated to Massey University at Albany in 2007. 

I am a microbiologist currently working in the fields of bacterial molecular genetics, bacterial pathogenicity, experimental evolution, and the ecology of microbial communities in the soil. I have strong research interests to develop new strategies that can help prevent bacterial infectious diseases of plants as well as humans.

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Contact details

  • Ph: (09) 4140800 ext. 41191
    Location: 02, 14
    Campus: Albany


  • Doctor of Philosophy - Huazhong Agricultural University (1993)

Research Expertise

Research Interests

My research focuses on bacterial adaptation to their natural environments, such as soil and eukaryotic hosts. Specifically, modern tools in molecular biology are used to elucidate the genetic and physiological responses of bacteria to the environment, aiming to provide insights into the nature of the complex environment itself. The work is largely performed in a model organism of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 (a plant growth-promoting bacterium) and was recently extended to pathogenic bacteria of plants and humans, and the microbial communities in the soil.

The microbiological research performed in my lab range from molecular biology to ecology and evolution. The molecular biology work has been focused on the genetic characterization of genes involved in nutrients acquisition, and the research was supported by a Marsden Fund grant of the Royal Society of New Zealand (2006-2010). My experimental evolution work uses the fast-growing bacterium as a model system, whereby some important questions in biological evolution have been addressed. These include the evolutionary mechanisms of cooperation (and cheating), bet hedging, the roles of immigration in biological diversification, and the effects of genetic constraints on evolutionary trajectories. Moreover, I have been actively involved in ecological research on the dynamic changes of soil microbial community in response to climate changes.

With the widespread increase of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new strategies to prevent and treat healthcare-associated infections are urgently required. Two projects in my lab are targeting infectious diseases of humans. One project focuses on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an environmental pathogen that causes a wide range of healthcare-associated infections and pulmonary infections in people with chronic lung diseases, particularly cystic fibrosis (CF). We are testing a new hypothesis that urocanate, a histidine metabolite, accumulates in human tissues and acts as a signalling molecule that initiates bacterial infection. Results from this project will define the mechanism used by P. aeruginosa to identify susceptible host tissues and express pathogenicity traits at the correct time and place. This knowledge will form a basis for the development of new strategies to prevent bacterial infectious diseases. Specifically, analogues of urocanate or inhibitors of the bacterial receptor have the potential to interrupt the normal process of host recognition, and thus prevent bacterial infection.

The other project aims to reduce the rate of hospital-associated infections (HAI), which currently affect ~10% of hospitalised patients in New Zealand public hospitals. We are exploring a novel strategy in preventing HAI, which involves the use of self-sanitising copper-containing surfaces on items commonly touched in hospitals, and provide sustained protection against microbial contamination. More specifically, we perform experiments that can help increase our understanding of rapid bacterial killing on metallic copper and the potential of pathogens to develop resistance.

Research Opportunities

  • Targeting the mechanism of host recognition to prevent bacterial infections  (28/02/2014) Elucidate the regulatory roles of HutC in the expression of bacterial virulence factors and the association between urocanate concentrations in human tissues and predisposition to bacterial infection.


21st Century Citizenship, Resource Development and Management, Health and Well-being

Area of Expertise

Field of research codes
Biogeography and Phylogeography (060302): Biological Sciences (060000): Community Ecology (060202): Ecology (060200): Evolutionary Biology (060300): Evolutionary Impacts of Climate Change (060306): Gene Expression (incl. Microarray and other genome-wide approaches) (060405): Genetics (060400): Host-Parasite Interactions (060307): Infectious Agents (060502): Microbial Genetics (060503): Microbiology (060500)


Microbiology, Experimental Evolution, Microbial Ecology, Bacterial Genetics

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

Position Current Completed
Project Leader 3 9

Research Outputs


Zhan, Y., Deng, Z., Yan, Y., Zhang, H., Lu, C., Yang, Z., . . . Lin, M. (2019). NfiR, a New Regulatory Noncoding RNA (ncRNA), Is Required in Concert with the NfiS ncRNA for Optimal Expression of Nitrogenase Genes in Pseudomonas stutzeri A1501.. Appl Environ Microbiol. 85(14)
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Yulo, PR., Desprat, N., Gerth, M., Liu, Y., Zhang, X-X., Rainey, P., . . . Hendrickson, H. (2018). Experimental Evolution of Cell Shape in Bacteria.
[Journal article]Authored by: Hendrickson, H., Zhang, X.
Jiang, Y., Liu, M., Zhang, J., Chen, Y., Chen, X., Chen, L., . . . Sun, B. (2017). Nematode grazing promotes bacterial community dynamics in soil at the aggregate level. ISME Journal. 11(12), 2705-2717
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Liu, Y., Gokhale, CS., Rainey, PB., & Zhang, XX. (2017). Unravelling the complexity and redundancy of carbon catabolic repression in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Molecular Microbiology. 105(4), 589-605
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Gerth, ML., Liu, Y., Jiao, W., Zhang, XX., Baker, EN., Lott, JS., . . . Johnston, JM. (2017). Crystal structure of a bicupin protein HutD involved in histidine utilization in Pseudomonas. Proteins: Structure, Function and Bioinformatics. 85(8), 1580-1588
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Liu, S., & Zhang, XX. (2016). Small colony variants are more susceptible to copper-mediated contact killing for Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of Medical Microbiology. 65(10), 1143-1151
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Liu, Y., Rainey, PB., & Zhang, XX. (2015). Molecular mechanisms of xylose utilization by Pseudomonas fluorescens: Overlapping genetic responses to xylose, xylulose, ribose and mannitol. Molecular Microbiology. 98(3), 553-570
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., Gauntlett, JC., Oldenburg, DG., Cook, GM., & Rainey, PB. (2015). Role of the transporter-like sensor kinase CbrA in histidine uptake and signal transduction. Journal of Bacteriology. 197(17), 2867-2878
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Sun, R., Zhang, XX., Guo, X., Wang, D., & Chu, H. (2015). Bacterial diversity in soils subjected to long-term chemical fertilization can be more stably maintained with the addition of livestock manure than wheat straw. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 88, 9-18
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Liu, Y., Rainey, PB., & Zhang, XX. (2014). Mini-Tn7 vectors for studying post-transcriptional gene expression in Pseudomonas. Journal of microbiological methods. 107, 182-185
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Rainey, PB., Desprat, N., Driscoll, WW., & Zhang, XX. (2014). Microbes are not bound by sociobiology: Response to Kümmerli and Ross-Gillespie (2013). Evolution. 68(11), 3344-3355
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Alsohim, AS., Taylor, TB., Barrett, GA., Gallie, J., Zhang, XX., Altamirano-Junqueira, AE., . . . Jackson, RW. (2014). The biosurfactant viscosin produced by Pseudomonas fluorescensSBW25 aids spreading motility and plant growth promotion. Environmental Microbiology. 16(7), 2267-2281
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Sun, B., Wang, F., Jiang, Y., Li, Y., Dong, Z., Li, Z., . . . Zhang, XX. (2014). A long-term field experiment of soil transplantation demonstrating the role of contemporary geographic separation in shaping soil microbial community structure. Ecology and Evolution. 4(7), 1073-1087
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., Ritchie, SR., & Rainey, PB. (2014). Urocanate as a potential signaling molecule for bacterial recognition of eukaryotic hosts. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences. 71(4), 541-547
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Jackson, RW., Zhang, XX., & Silby, MW. (2013). Identification and Mutational Activation of Niche-Specific Genes Provide Insight into Regulatory Networks and Bacterial Function in Complex Environments. 2, 875-882
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2013). Exploring the sociobiology of pyoverdin-producing pseudomonas. Evolution. 67(11), 3161-3174
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Sun, B., Wang, X., Wang, F., Jiang, Y., & Zhang, XX. (2013). Assessing the relative effects of geographic location and soil type on microbial communities associated with straw decomposition. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 79(11), 3327-3335
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., Chang, H., Tran, SL., Gauntlett, JC., Cook, GM., & Rainey, PB. (2012). Variation in transport explains polymorphism of histidine and urocanate utilization in a natural Pseudomonas population. Environmental Microbiology. 14(8), 1941-1951
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Rainey, PB., Beaumont, HJE., Ferguson, GC., Gallie, J., Kost, C., Libby, E., . . . Zhang, XX. (2011). The evolutionary emergence of stochastic phenotype switching in bacteria. Microbial Cell Factories. 10(SUPPL. 1)
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Rainey, PB., Beaumont, HJE., Ferguson, GC., Gallie, J., Kost, C., Libby, E., . . . Zhang, X-X. (2011). The evolutionary emergence of stochastic phenotype switching in bacteria. MICROBIAL CELL FACTORIES. 10,
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Sun, B., Dong, Z-X., Zhang, X-X., Li, Y., Cao, H., & Cui, Z-L. (2011). Rice to Vegetables: Short- Versus Long-Term Impact of Land-Use Change on the Indigenous Soil Microbial Community. Microbial Ecology. , 1-12
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2010). Bet hedging in the underworld. Genome Biology. 11(10)
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Knight, CG., Zhang, XX., Gunn, A., Brenner, T., Jackson, RW., Giddens, SR., . . . Rainey, PB. (2010). Testing temperature-induced proteomic changes in the plant-associated bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Environmental Microbiology Reports. 2(3), 396-402
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., Liu, YH., & Rainey, PB. (2010). CbrAB-dependent regulation of pcnB, a poly(A) polymerase gene involved in polyadenylation of RNA in Pseudomonas fluorescens. Environmental Microbiology. 12(6), 1674-1683
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
McDonald, MJ., Gehrig, SM., Meintjes, PL., Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2009). Adaptive divergence in experimental populations of Pseudomonas fluorescens. IV. Genetic constraints guide evolutionary trajectories in a parallel adaptive radiation. Genetics. 183(3), 1041-1053
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Silby, MW., Cerdeño-Tárraga, AM., Vernikos, GS., Giddens, SR., Jackson, RW., Preston, GM., . . . Thomson, NR. (2009). Genomic and genetic analyses of diversity and plant interactions of Pseudomonas fluorescens. Genome Biology. 10(5)
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2008). Regulation of copper homeostasis in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Environmental Microbiology. 10(12), 3284-3294
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2008). Dual involvement of CbrAB and NtrBC in the regulation of histidine utilization in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Genetics. 178(1), 185-195
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Moon, CD., Zhang, XX., Matthijs, S., Schäfer, M., Budzikiewicz, H., & Rainey, PB. (2008). Genomic, genetic and structural analysis of pyoverdine-mediated iron acquisition in the plant growth-promoting bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. BMC Microbiology. 8
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Fukami, T., Beaumont, HJE., Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2007). Immigration history controls diversification in experimental adaptive radiation. Nature. 446(7134), 436-439
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2007). The role of a P1-type ATPase from Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 in copper homeostasis and plant colonization. Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. 20(5), 581-588
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Giddens, SR., Jackson, RW., Moon, CD., Jacobs, MA., Zhang, XX., Gehrig, SM., . . . Rainey, PB. (2007). Mutational activation of niche-specific genes provides insight into regulatory networks and bacterial function in a complex environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 104(46), 18247-18252
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., Scott, K., Meffin, R., & Rainey, PB. (2007). Genetic characterization of psp encoding the DING protein in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. BMC Microbiology. 7
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2007). Construction and validation of a neutrally-marked strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Journal of Microbiological Methods. 71(1), 78-81
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Tett, A., Spiers, AJ., Crossman, LC., Ager, D., Ciric, L., Dow, JM., . . . Bailey, MJ. (2007). Sequence-based analysis of pQBR103; A representative of a unique, transfer-proficient mega plasmid resident in the microbial community of sugar beet. ISME Journal. 1(4), 331-340
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., & Rainey, PB. (2007). Genetic analysis of the histidine utilization (hut) genes in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. Genetics. 176(4), 2165-2176
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, XX., George, A., Bailey, MJ., & Rainey, PB. (2006). The histidine utilization (hut) genes of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 are active on plant surfaces, but are not required for competitive colonization of sugar beet seedlings. Microbiology. 152(6), 1867-1875
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Zhang, X-X., Lilley, AK., Bailey, MJ., & Rainey, PB. (2004). Functional and phylogenetic analysis of a plant-inducible oligoribonuclease (orn) gene from an indigenous Pseudomonas plasmid.. Microbiology. 150(Pt 9), 2889-2898
[Journal article]Authored by: Zhang, X.


Moon, CD., Giddens, SR., Zhang, XX., & Jackson, RW. (2008). Molecular Mechanisms Underpinning Colonization of a Plant by Plant Growth-Promoting Rhizobacteria. In Plant-Bacteria Interactions: Strategies and Techniques to Promote Plant Growth. (pp. 111 - 128).
[Chapter]Authored by: Zhang, X.


Yi, K., Yi, T., Sun, XS., Yang, GP., Liu, JM., Wang, YJ., . . . Zhang, X.(2018). . : China: 种复合微生物菌剂及其制备方法和应用 - Manufacture and application of a composite microbial fertiliser
[Patent]Authored by: Zhang, X.Contributed to by: Zhang, X.


Preston, G., Spiers, A., Zhang, XX., Jackson, R., Gal, M., Knight, C., . . . Rainey, P.(2002, September). Pseudomonas in the underworld: The secret life of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25. PSEUDOMONAS SYRINGAE AND RELATED PATHOGENS: BIOLOGY AND GENETICS. (pp. 347 - 353).
[Conference]Authored by: Zhang, X.
Bailey, MJ., Rainey, PB., Zhang, XX., & Lilley, AK.(2000, August). Population dynamics, gene transfer and gene expression in plasmids, the role of the horizontal gene pool in local adaptation at the plant surface. PHYLLOSPHERE MICROBIOLOGY. (pp. 173 - 191).
[Conference]Authored by: Zhang, X.

Consultancy and Languages


  • English
    Last used: now
    Spoken ability: Excellent
    Written ability: Excellent
  • Chinese
    Last used: 2000
    Spoken ability: Excellent
    Written ability: Excellent

Supervision and Teaching

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Supervisor 2 0
Co-supervisor 3 1


I am coordiating two papers 122.231 (Genes and Gene Expression) and 203.342 (Molecular and cellular Biology), and also invovled in the teaching of 162.214 (Biology of Microorganisms) and 246.302 (Research Themes in Natural Sciences)

Courses Coordinated

Current Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • Kiran Sreeja Jayan - Doctor of Philosophy
    Characterization of genes for the utilization of histidine and its metabolites in a human pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1
  • ~ Naren - Doctor of Philosophy
    Regulation of histidine catabolism in Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25

Co-supervisor of:

  • Indika Serasinghe Mudiyanselage - Doctor of Philosophy
    Identification and characterization of lactic acid bacteria in New Zealand natural sauerkraut for development of a probiotic starter culture
  • Huei-Yi Lai - Doctor of Philosophy
    The genetic and selective basis of divergent patterns of gene expression occurring in experimentally evolved populations
  • Amber Paulson - Doctor of Philosophy
    Discovery of virulence factors from a novel insect pathogen, Yersinia entomophaga

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Co-supervisor of:

  • 2015 - Yunhao Liu - Doctor of Philosophy
    Molecular mechanism of xylose utilization in a plant growth-promoting bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25

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