Zhongwei Li, Ph.D., is Interim Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professor of Biomedical Science. He teaches biomedical science courses for first year medical program and graduate programs. His research primarily focuses on RNA damage control and prevention of human diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson. His goals are to develop RNA damage biomarkers and identifying protective genes to cope with degenerative disorders. In addition, he is studying bacteria aiming to develop treatment of infectious diseases, including identification of bacterial genes involved in infection, different pathways for bacterial RNA metabolism, and methods for quick diagnosis of bacteria in clinical settings.
- 1982: B.S., Microbiology, Liaoning University, Shenyang, China, Concentrations: Biology, Chemistry, Microbiology
- 1984: M.S., Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Shenyang, China. Thesis: “Symbiotic nitrogen fixation by Frankia and woody host plants Casuriana and Alnus species.” Advisor: Dr. Jian Ding Concentrations: Microbiology, Plant Physiology.
- 1989: Ph.D., Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Shenyang, China. Dissertation: “Interaction of Bradyrhizobium japonicum with soybean host: Identification of genes of B. japonicum responsible for the synthesis of surface lipopolysaccharides that affect infectivity.” Advisor: Dr. Xianwu Zhang, Concentrations: Molecular genetics of microbe-plant interactions.
- 2001: M.S., Computer Sciences, University of Miami, Miami, Florida. Advisor: Dr. Victor Milenkovic Concentrations:Computational Biology.
- 2013-Present: Professor, Department of Biomedical Science, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2007-2013: Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Science, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2002-2007: Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Science, Charles E. College of Science, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2002-Present: Member, Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2003-2010: Assistant (2003-2007) and Associate Professor (2007-2010), (secondary). Department of Biological Science, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2003-2010: Assistant (2003-2007) and Associate Professor (2007-2010), (secondary). Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
- 2007-2010: Associate Professor (adjunct), Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL.
- 2001-2002: Instructor (adjunct), Mos Institute of Technology, Philadelphia, PA.
- 2000-2002: Specialist, DuPont Central Research and Development. Wilmington, DE.
- 1996-2000: Research Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology,University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, FL.
- 1995-1996: Postdoctoral Associate, Division of Molecular Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine. (Advisor: Dr. Ronald S. Duman).
- 1991-1995: Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Connecticut Health Center. (Advisor: Dr. Murray P. Deutscher).
- 1989-1991: Assistant Researcher, Department of Microbiology, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
- 1985: Research Associate, Department of Microbiology, Institute of Forestry and Soil Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Li Z, Malla S., Shin B and Li J (2014) Battle against RNA oxidation: molecular mechanisms for reducing oxidized RNA to protect cells. WIREs RNA 5:335-46. PMCID: PMC3991771.
- Alluri, RK and Li, Z. (2012) A novel one-step mechanism for tRNA 3' end maturation by the exoribonuclease RNase R of Mycoplasma genitalium. J. Biol. Chem. 287: 23427-23433. PMCID: PMC3390619.
- Wu J, Jiang Z, Liu M, Gong X, Wu S, Burns CM and Li Z. (2009) Polynucleotide Phosphorylase Protects Escherichia coli against Oxidative Stress. Biochemistry 48:2012–2020. PMCID: PMC2697445.
- Lalonde MS, Zuo Y, Wang J, Gong X, Wu S, Malhotra A and Li Z. (2007) Exoribonuclease R in Mycoplasma genitalium can carry out both RNA processing and degradative functions and is sensitive to RNA ribose methylation. RNA 13:1957-1968. PMCID: PMC2040080.
- Gong X, Tao R, Li Z. (2006) Quantification of RNA damage by reverse transcription polymerase chain reactions. Anal. Biochem. 357:58-67. PMID: 16860776.
Li Z, Gong X, Joshi VH and Li M. (2005) Co-evolution of tRNA 3' trailer sequences with 3' processing enzymes in bacteria. RNA 11:567-577. PMCID: PMC1370745.
Li Z, Reimers S, Pandit S and Deutscher MP. (2002) RNA quality control: degradation of defective transfer RNA. EMBO J. 21:1132-1138. PMCID: PMC125898.
Li Z, Pandit S and Deutscher MP. (1999) RNase G (CafA protein) and RNase E are both required for the 5’ maturation of 16S ribosomal RNA. EMBO J. 18:2878-2885. PMCID: PMC1171368.
Li Z, Pandit S and Deutscher MP. (1998) Polyadenylation of stable RNA precursors in vivo. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 95:12158-12162. PMCID: PMC22801.
Li Z and Deutscher MP. (1996) Maturation pathways for E. coli tRNA precursors: a random multienzyme process in vivo. Cell 86:503-512. PMID: 8756732.
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His research focuses on RNA damage control and its impact on human health. RNA damage occurs at much higher levels than that of DNA under oxidative stress (OS) and in patients with age-related diseases. The potential impact of RNA oxidation on human health has just started to become recognized. He has initiated a study to elucidate molecular mechanisms that reduce damaged RNA and protect cells under OS using the bacterium, Escherichia coli, and cultured human cells. Such mechanisms may be involved in preventing a number of diseases related to molecular damage. In the past a few years, his group have developed methods to determine RNA damage levels. Also, they have shown that RNA oxidative damage is strongly associated with cell viability. They have identified a number of proteins that control RNA oxidative damage, and demonstrated that RNA degradation is a major mechanism for elimination of oxidized RNA in bacteria and in humans. The progress by his research group has set up a foundation for long-term research in this understudied area.
The second area of his research is bacterial RNA metabolism and infectious diseases. Bacteria appear to carry out RNA processing using diverse mechanisms that are excellent targets for developing novel antibiotics. His group have identified genes for RNA processing and infection in bacterial pathogens such as Yersinia pestis and Mycoplasma genitalium and have elucidated the unique function of RNase R of M. genitalium in RNA degradation and in tRNA processing. This work has been published in Journal of Biological Chemistry as a “most read paper” of the journal. Currently, he is also working on a project for bacterial identification in clinical samples.
He has established courses that focus on molecular mechanisms of human diseases for both medical and graduate programs at FAU. Recently, he has developed a new course that catches the growing requirement in analysis of genomic and medical data for biomedical research and development.
Honors and awards
- 2008 Nominee for Researcher of the Year Award, Florida Atlantic University
- 2001 Way-To-Go Award, DuPont Central Research and Development.
- 1990 Research Excellence Award, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang, China.
- 1989 Presidential Distinguished Dissertation Award, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
- 1988 Outstanding Young Investigator Award, Joint Symposium of the 4th International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) and the 6th Chinese Biochemistry Conference, Nov. 6-11, 1988, Nanjing, China.
- 2001-present Board Member, Vice President and Financial Officer of the Association of Chinese Bioinformaticians, USA.
- 2004-present Member, The RNA Society.
- 2005-present Member, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).
- 2010-present Lifetime Member, Overseas Chinese Society for Microbiology (Sino-Micro).
Grants and contracts
- 1990-1992 Principal Investigator, New Investigator Award, National Scientific Foundation, China: “Structure of Rhizobium fredii surface polysaccharides and their roles in infection of soybean.” RMB 35,000.
- 1992-1995 Key Personnel, NIH 7R01GM016317-28: “Enzymology and control of amino acid activation”, PI: Dr. Murray P. Deutscher.
- 1996-2000 Key Personnel, NIH 5R01GM016317-32: “Enzymology and control of amino acid activation”, PI: Dr. Murray P. Deutscher.
- 2003-2005 Principal Investigator, Contract DAAD13-02-C-0080 Subtask 15, funded by US Army Research, Development & Engineering Command (RDECOM) through University of South Florida Center for Biological Defense: “Genomics study of enterobacterial BT agents: identification of genes and sequence tags as targets for novel diagnosis and therapy.” $124,527.00 (Direct: $90,090.00 including subcontract of $24,999 to Dr. L. Liao; Indirect: $34,437.00).
- 2004 Principal Investigator, New Project Development Award, Florida Atlantic University: “RNA metabolism in Mycoplasma.” $15,000.00 (Direct $15,000.00).
- 2006-2008 Principal Investigator, Contract W911SR-06-C-0023 Principal Task Area 3, funded by US Army Research, Development & Engineering Command (RDECOM) through University of South Florida Center for Biological Defense: “Identification of genes essential for growth and prediction of antimicrobial targets in Yersinia pestis.” $226,483 (Direct: $164,945; Indirect: $61,538). No-cost extension to Aug. 2008.
- Jun. 8, 2005-May 31, 2009 Principal Investigator, Research Project in NIH SCORE Program S06GM073621 (Program Director: Dr. Gregg Fields): “RNA damage and quality control under oxidative stress.” $827,610.00 (Direct: $600,000.00; Indirect: $227,610.00). No-cost extension to May 2010.
- Sept. 26, 2007-Sept. 25, 2009 Principal Investigator, Contract W911SR-07-C-0084 Subagreement #6415-1012-61-A, funded by US Army Research, Development & Engineering Command (RDECOM) through University of South Florida Center for Biological Defense: “Identification of genes essential for growth and prediction of antimicrobial targets in Yersinia pestis.” $168,126 (Direct: $120,071; Indirect: $48,055). Awarded, pending for laboratory inspection. No-cost extension to Sept. 2010.
- Sept. 1, 2011-Aug. 31, 2012, Principal Investigator, Florida Dept. of Health and the James & Ether King Biomedical Research Program Bridge Fund grant: “RNA quality control against oxidative damage”. $103,500 (Direct: $90,000; Indirect: $13,500).
- Sept. 1, 2011-Aug. 31, 2014, NCE Aug. 31, 2015. Principal Investigator, NIH/NIGMS R15 grant: “RNA quality control against oxidative damage”. $317,900 (Direct: $220,000; Indirect: $97,900).
- May 16, 2013-May 15, 2014, PI (Co-PI: Diane Baronas-Lowell, Herbert Weissbach), FAU HARI SG, $20,000.
- Apr. 9, 2014-Apr. 8, 2015, PI Sponsor for FAU Undergraduate Research Grant, $920.
- May 1, 2014-Apr. 31, 2016, Co-Investigator (PI: Y. Shibata), FAU Research Seed Grant, $25,000.
- Jun. 1, 2014-May 31, 2017 Co- Investigator (PI: Y. Shibata), NIH/NIAID R15 grant, $380,552.
- May 1, 2015-Oct. 31, 2016 Principal Investigator, Contract, TA Diagnostics, LLC. “Tests for feasibility of bacterial identification using a proprietary medical device”. $69,308.