Chemist Bo Li wins Rita Allen Foundation award for biomedical research

Bo Li (photo by Lars Sahl)
Bo Li (photo by Lars Sahl)

UNC-Chapel Hill assistant professor of chemistry Bo Li was recently selected as a 2016 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar. The award recognizes outstanding young leaders in biomedical research who are advancing an understanding of the human condition.

Li is the first winner of the award from the College of Arts and Sciences. Previous Carolina winners include:

  • Mark Zylka, 2007, department of cell biology and physiology, UNC School of Medicine.
  • Ian Davis, 2008, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and School of Medicine.

The Rita Allen Foundation Scholars Program supports research in the fields of cancer, immunology and neuroscience. It has supported more than 150 scientists since 1976, embracing innovative research with above-average risk and groundbreaking possibilities. Scholars have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Medicine and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Li’s research focuses on molecules produced by bacteria and the ways in which they may help defend the human body against infectious diseases and modulate the human nervous system. The Rita Allen Foundation award will support a project to mine the genomes of bacteria that reside in the human digestive tract. Very little is known about the molecules being produced by these bacteria. Li and her lab group will search sequences from the Human Microbiome project for genes involved in the production of molecules that may interact with receptors in the brain.

Li joined UNC’s department of chemistry in 2013 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. She has a B.S. in biological sciences from Beijing University and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2009.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the scholars program, which began in 1976 as one of the first philanthropic fellowship programs of its kind for early-career biomedical researchers. Read more about the 2016 scholars.