Dr. Yingfu Li’s research group works at the interface between chemistry and biology. Their overall research interest is to examine the unusual functions of nucleic acids and to be creative about them. The molecules that they are interested in studying include artificial or natural single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules with often surprising properties.
Their study on DNA or RNA has several distinct features. First, they 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, they study DNA or RNA, not in their rigid double-stranded form, but in their flexible single-stranded configuration. Third, as usually there is no natural source to fetch the DNA or RNA molecules for their study, they create their own molecules using a technique called “in vitro selection”. This 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). The Li group is interested both in the study of basic functions of these molecules and in the exploration of these molecules as novel molecular tools for therapeutics, biomolecular detection, drug discovery, and nanotechnology.