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Li Zhao is an Assistant Professor and Head of Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics at The Rockefeller University. Her lab focuses on understanding the origin and evolution of novel genes and phenotypes. One of the major directions is to use de novo genes, which are originated from non-genic sequences of genomes, as a unique paradigm to decipher the complex relationship between genetic and functional innovation. Since many protein-coding de novo genes produce small proteins or micropeptides, they provide a unique opportunity to investigate the origin, expression regulation, structure, and functions of these novel products. One of the lab’s special interests is to understand how these genes contribute to evolution, health, reproduction, and immune systems. Her lab thus develops and employs a broad spectrum of computational and empirical approaches to generate and analyze large-scale data and uses experimental tools to study these questions in various systems.
Dr. Zhao received her Ph.D. from Chinese Academy of Sciences, where she studied the evolution of novel genes and genome architecture. During her postdoctoral training with David Begun at University of California Davis, she used computational and population genetic approaches to study the evolution of de novo originated genes within species, revealing patterns of the earliest stages of gene origination. Dr. Zhao is a recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowship (2018) and the Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust Research Award (2018). She is a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar (2019) and a Vallee Foundation Scholar (2020).