Yingfu Li, PhD
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences
Canada Research Chair in Nucleic Acids Research
Joint Member, Chemistry
4H32A Health Sciences Centre
- Structural Biology
- Protein/Nucleic Acid Structure/Protein
Our group works at the interface between chemistry and biology. Our overall research interest is to examine unusual functions of nucleic acids and to be creative about them. The molecules that we are interested in studying include artificial or natural single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules with often surprising properties. Our study on DNA or RNA has several distinct features. First, we examine DNA or RNA not for its well-recognized role as the genetic material to store and transmit genetic information for living organisms, but rather for its less-known utility as a simple polymer to carry out catalytic and binding functions. Second, we study DNA or RNA not in their rigid double-stranded form but in their flexible single-stranded configuration. Third, usually there is no natural source to fetch the DNA or RNA molecules for our study, but rather we create our own molecules using a technique called “In vitro selection”. In vitro selection is a simple yet powerful combinatorial approach that allows simultaneous screening of up to 1016 different DNA or RNA molecules in a single mixture for rare sequences with unusual functions.
It has been well demonstrated that nucleic acids, in addition to their roles in the storage and transmission of genetic information, can also act as enzymes (ribozymes and DNAzymes) and receptors (aptamers and riboswitches). My group is interested both in the study of basic functions of these molecules (basic science focus of the lab) and in the exploration of these molecules as novel molecular tools for therapeutics, biomolecular detection, drug discovery and nanotechnology (applied science focus of the lab).