Dr. Bibo Li, a Biology assistant professor in the department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, was honored as the recipient of the College of Science 2009 Outstanding Research Award.
Dr. Li holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Peking University in Beijing, P.R. China and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Molecular Biology from Cornell University Medical College in New York.
Dr. Li came to CSU in 2006 after research and faculty positions at The Rockefeller University in New York and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute. Her primary research interests are to understand the functions of telomeres – the protein/DNA complex located at the ends of the linear chromosomes. Telomeres act like the plastic seals at the ends of shoelaces. Without the plastic seal, a shoelace will fray. Without the telomere, chromosomes become unstable and usually have random breaks or rearrangements, which lead to lethal or carcinogenic consequences. Hence, telomeres play an important role in chromosome stability maintenance and have been implicated in cancer prevention. Telomere DNA, bearing simple repetitive sequences, is normally synthesized by telomerase. However, the activity of telomerase is highly regulated such that in most human cells it is not high enough to maintain the normal telomere length. As a result, telomere lengths shorten progressively as cells proliferate. Eventually, when telomere lengths are too short to maintain chromosome stability, cells become aged and no longer grow. Hence, telomere biology has also been implicated in aging process.
Telomeres also seem to be important for pathogenesis in several microbial pathogens. Dr. Li is currently studying telomere functions in Trypanosoma brucei (T. brucei), a protozoan parasite that causes African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), a fatal disease in humans that is currently incurable and nagana, a disease affecting cattle. It has long been believed that telomeres play a role in variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) expression regulation. Dr. Li’s recent discovery provided evidence that was lacking to support this hypothesis for nearly thirty years. She identified T.brucei RAP1 as an intrinsic telomeric protein and showed that RAP1 is essential for monoallelic expression of VSG, providing direct evidence for the first time that telomeres are critical for T.brucei pathogenesis.
As our Outstanding Researcher for 2009, Dr. Li is a distinguished scholar whose work has made significant contributions to her field. Her paper “RAP1 Is Essential for Silencing Telomeric Variant Surface Glycoprotein Genes in Trypanosoma brucei” was published in the April 3 issue of Cell, the most prestigious biological science research journal, and featured as the cover story.
To illustrate the importance of Dr. Li’s research, the pathogen T.brucei is one of the top causes of death in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Southern Sudan. It is also responsible for the nagana epidemic infecting the cattle population of West Africa.
The faculty, staff and students of the College of Science are delighted to recognize Dr. Bibo Li as the recipient of the 2009 College of Science Outstanding Research Award.