Rao Zihe (1950- ) is a native of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Rao is a molecular biophysicist and structural biologist. He graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 1977, and received his master degree from the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 1982. He received his doctorate from Melbourne University in 1989. He served as a professor of Tsinghua University, the director of the Institute of Biophysics, CAS, Chairman of the Academic Committee of the Institute of Biophysics, CAS, and director of the National Laboratory of Macromolecules. He was elected as an academician of CAS in 2003 and of the Third World Academy of Sciences in 2004. Currently he serves as President of Nankai University.
Rao mainly engaged in research on the relationship between protein structure and function and on protein engineering and drug design. In particular, he has concentrated his efforts on proteins related to human disease and important physiological functions. His work on the first crystal structure of SIV Matrix Antigen was published in "Nature" as the first author. In this work, he presented the model of the assembly of capsid proteins of SIV for the first time. In the same year, his work on the structure of a calcium binding human factor IX epidermal growth factor-like protein was published in "Cell" as the first author, which described the first crystal structure in the EGF family, and elucidated the biological mechanism of the binding of calcium and EGF. His work on the crystal structure of the Fc receptor of IgA was published in "JBC" as a cover article. He also made contributions in research on crystal structure of Mitochondrial respiratory membrane protein complex II which provides a bona fide model for study of mitochondrial respiratory system and human mitochondrial diseases related to mutations in this complex. During the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, Rao's team solved the first crystal structure of a SARS coronavirus protein the 3C-like Protease and its complex with an inhibitor. This important work provides a structural basis for rational anti-SARS drug design and has since been published in "PNAS". As chief scientist or principal investigator, Rao has been awarded several important research grants, including from the National Frontier Research Program ("973"), the National High Technology Research and Development Program ("863"), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). To date, he has published over 180 research papers as first author or corresponding author in international periodicals. He also has applied for 8 intellectual patents. Rao was awarded the "Qiushi" Outstanding Scientist Prize in Life Sciences and "Yangzi" Distinguished Professor Prize in 1999. For his outstanding contributions in basic research on SARS, he was awarded Trieste Science Prize, the highest prize awarded by Third World Academy of Sciences. In 2003, he was awarded Ho Leung Ho Lee Award for Science and Technology Advancement.