Bo Li earned her B.S. in biological sciences from Beijing University and her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, where she worked with Christopher T. Walsh. She has received a a Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research Fellowship and a National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence Award.
Li’s lab identifies bioactive small molecules produced by bacteria—she and her colleagues explore the chemistry of their production and study the roles they play in the biology of bacteria and human hosts. Bacteria craft these gene-encoded molecules from primary metabolites using complex chemical transformations; the structures and activities of these small molecules have been optimized through millions of years of evolution and enable these molecules to mediate extensive microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions. Li’s multidisciplinary research program uses bacterial genomics and metabolomics as enabling technologies to identify novel bacterial small molecules. First, her team is identifying small molecules from soil bacteria as novel antibiotics to combat multidrug-resistant pathogens; second, they are identifying metabolites produced by the human gut microbiota to unravel the chemical and molecular mechanisms of bacterial symbiosis and pathogenesis. Her work involves understanding fundamental biosynthetic mechanisms and extends to exploiting bacterial small molecules to improve human health and prevent disease.