Fengjie Sun

Dr. Fengjie Sun

Associate Professor of Biology

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Dr. Sun has research expertise in plant systematics, evolutionary biology and bioinformatics. He earned a Ph.D. in the area of plant molecular systematics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His dissertation research focused on the determination of the phylogenetic relationships among the species of Cymopterus (Spring parsley, Apiaceae/Umbelliferae) and allies. Sun’s postdoctoral research is in the areas of evolutionary biology, genomics and bioinformatics, focusing on the evolution of RNA structures from many RNA molecules (e.g., tRNA, 5S rRNA, RNase P RNA, SINE RNA, tmRNA, SRP RNA, 6S RNA, and telomerase RNA). He has also used phylogenetic approaches to conduct evolutionary studies of amino acids, the genetic code and the origin of life.

Sun has a tremendous amount of teaching experience. He was an awarded teacher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received two prestigious Heiligenstein Awards of Excellence for Teaching. His name was listed five times on “An incomplete list of teachers ranked as excellent by their students.” Sun has experience mentoring students from underrepresented groups. For example, he supervised an undergraduate student in the McNair Scholar Program at the University of Illinois to study tRNA structure evolution. Sun likes to use his research as a teaching tool and would love to work with undergraduate students who are interested in research. Some of Sun’s recent publications include: (1) BMC Bioinformatics (2010) 11: 153; (2) Journal of Molecular Evolution (2010) 71: 3-5; (3) Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society (2010) 137: 133-156; and (4) Plant Diversity and Evolution (2010) 128: 151-172.

Sun’s teaching philosophy is simple: (1) he respects knowledge, especially biological knowledge, because it is a science that drives us to understand how the world moves forward; (2) he requires students to understand fundamental concepts because these are the building blocks for more advanced knowledge; (3) he is always fully prepared to make learning effective, meaning he has a specific teaching goal, the strategies to carry out this goal and ways to evaluate the performance of both students and himself; (5) he strongly believes that teaching is not simply to teach, but also an endless form of learning.


  • Doctorate – plant molecular systematics – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Master's – botany – Idaho State University
  • Master's – biology – Northeast Normal University
  • Bachelor's – biology – Northeast Normal University

Academic Interests

  • Systematics
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Phylogenetics


  • Sun, F. - J. and S. R. Downie (2010). Phylogenetic relationships among the perennial, endemic Apiaceae subfamily Apioideae of western North America: additional data from the cpDNA trnF-trnL-trnT region continue to support a highly polyphyletic Cymopterus. Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Apiales. 128: 151-172.
  • Sun, F. - J. and G. Caetano-Anollés (2010). The ancient history of the structure of ribonuclease P and the early origins of Archaea. BMC Bioinformatics 11: 153.
  • Sun, F. - J. and G. Caetano-Anollés (2010). The origin of modern 5S rRNA; A case of relating models of structural history to phylogenetic data. Journal of Molecular Evolution 71: 3-5.
  • Sun, F. - J. and S. Downie (2010). Phylogenetic analyses of morphological and molecular data reveal major clades within the perennial, endemic western North American Apiaceae subfamily Apioideae. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 137: 133-156.