Logo

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.

Research

We aim to understand the unique property of germ cells. Germ cells are the only cell type whose lifespan is not limited as they are reprogrammed with totipotency in the next generation. To ensure the sustainability of a species, germ cells need to fulfill three additional new properties that are distinct from any other cell type.

First, the germ cells must faithfully replicate their genome, avoiding invasion from foreign genetic elements, and only recognizing gametes from their own species to fertilize.

Second, the germ cells need to diversify their offspring. Mutations primarily come from meiotic recombination, transposon insertions/deletions, and spontaneous point mutations and structural variations. It has been found that the number of mutations increases with age in men.

Third, some acquired traits are inheritable. Although once discredited, Lamarkian inheritance has been resurrected by recent advances in our understanding of epigenetics. It has been shown that germ cells are sensitive to the environment & can pass epigenetic information across generations.

We want to understand the basic principles underlying these unique properties from two specific angles. The first is through an RNA biology oriented approach. We strive to understand how various germ-line RNAs prepare and shape epigenetic information flowing across generations. The second focuses on comparative biology. We have established alternative model organisms, such as chickens and lizards, for studying germ cell biology. We are adopting an interdisciplinary approach that includes genetics, epigenetics, cell biology, RNA biochemistry, reproductive biology, early embryology, evolutionary biology, and bioinformatics. Currently, our ongoing projects are centered on two related topics: PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) and sperm RNAs. piRNAs are a recently discovered type of small RNA that offers great promise in advancing our understanding of germ cell biology, whereas sperm RNAs may offer important insight into the transgenerational flow of epigenetic information. Finally, beyond infertility and contraception, what we have learned in germ cells can be applied to other cell types to promote regeneration or anti-aging. At the same time, understanding the mis-activation of some germline properties can offer insight into some diseases, such as cancer.

Blurbs

"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

"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

"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

"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