Our logo reflects our mission of having a productive, collaborative environment that works to make discoveries that may ultimately help improve the health of humans and animals. The mountain in the middle held up by the giant hand represents our highly supportive, nurturing working environment. The shining sun represents how our research illuminates the unknown world, filling in the gaps of current research and expanding the boundaries of RNA biology. The two flowing nuages represent previously-invisible force, meaning that once we see, we can apply those to change the world.  We also want people to hold high moral integrity, with the aim of benefiting humankind.



Our overarching goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying RNA-mediated epigenetic regulation in germ cells. Germ cells, with their unlimited life span and reprogrammed totipotency, ensure the sustainability of a species. In order to accomplish this, germ cells must: 1) faithfully replicate their genome; 2) diversify offspring through meiotic recombination; and 3) respond to their environment and pass epigenetic information to offspring (epigenetic inheritance). We are using a combination of “wet” and “dry” lab approaches, as well as diverse animal species, to track how RNAs protect, diversify, and shape the information flow across generations.

Our ongoing projects focus on two main topics:

  1. PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) – A recently discovered class of small RNAs that have been shown to be essential for fertility in a diverse range of organisms, from worms to humans. piRNAs have primarily been shown to silence deleterious selfish elements, known as transposable elements including endogenous retroviruses. Our goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying piRNA biogenesis and the evolution of new piRNAs upon novel retrovirus invasion, as well as uncover other functions of piRNAs.

  2. Sperm RNAs – Although sperm was believed to only pass on DNA to the next generation, sperm RNAs also play a role in inheritance. This sperm RNA-mediated epigenetic inheritance likely contributes to inherited disorders associated with gene-environment interactions, such as neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. Our goal is to elucidate the regulatory processes that determine the sperm transcriptome during normal development and under environmental perturbations.

We hope to use the knowledge we gain to uncover novel causes of infertility and new anti-viral mechanisms, as well as advance our understanding of inheritance. At the same time, the RNA-mediated regulatory mechanisms we discover in germ cells can be applied to other cell types to promote regeneration or anti-aging and provide insights into diseases such as cancer.


"In working closely with Xin, it is clear that his leadership and mentorship encourage a collegial, collaborative working environment that truly nurtures his lab members' passions and potential. The Li Lab is continuously innovating and breaking the current boundaries of science to uncover exciting new directions in the RNA field. Having worked in a number of labs, it is quite rare to see the level of collaboration, innovation, and productivity present here.” - John, current in MD/PhD program at University of Minnesota

"Having stayed in a few labs, the Li lab has always been my favorite as both Dr. Li and the graduate students are always willing to listen to you and help. I joined the lab with nothing but an interest in sequencing and despite the lab members spending so much time training me, they did so without any sense of impatience. The environment within the lab is super friendly, it is not only a lab, but also a home for everyone."  - Hanwen, current in Master's program at Imperial Business School

"Throughout my PhD training, the Li lab has provided me with the very best support by leading the cutting-edge research in the field, adopting multidisciplinary approaches to solve challenging projects, and publishing multiple research papers, helping me to be competitive for my future career.” - Yu

"As an undergraduate, I find the lab environment to be very collaborative; despite Dr. Li, graduate students, and the lab technician always being so busy, they always find time to help you. I have learned a lot and acquired plenty of new skills since joining this lab!” - Yifan, current in DVM program at the Ohio State University

"I have the opportunity to engage in intellectual conversations that enable individual growth both inside and outside of the lab on a daily basis.” - Kadijah