Li Lab

We are a research group in the Department of Biology at the University of Virginia.

Our long-term research interest is to understand how gene expression is regulated in response to internal signals and external stimuli. We use high throughput experimental and bioinformatic approaches to address this question at the genome scale in model plant systems. We integrate experimental data with computational modeling to identify the underlying transcriptional regulatory networks. We hope our research continuously provides insights into plant processes that are important to meet the global challenges of changing climate and ever-increasing demand for food and energy.

Our current focus is on microRNAs, which are a class of small RNA molecules that serve as sequence-specific, trans-acting regulators for proper differential gene expression during organism development and function. When integrated into the RNA-induced silencing complex, microRNAs direct cleavage or translational repression of the target transcripts. In both animals and plants, microRNAs impact a substantial portion of the transcriptome and significantly increase the mechanistic complexity of gene expression in the context of regulatory networks. Dozens of miRNA-target gene circuits have been identified or proposed in the model plant Arabidopsis that are crucial for development and responses to environmental challenges. Studying this branch of gene regulation is therefore critical to fully elucidating how coordinated transcriptional programs are designed and executed.

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