Each living species and every phylogenetic clade has a unique set of genes and phenotypes. Understanding how novel genes originate and subsequently evolve is crucial to explaining the genetic basis of novel phenotypes and, ultimately, the diversity of life. However, because the relationship between genes and phenotypes is complex and multidimensional, how and what type of genetic innovations contribute to novel organismal phenotypes remains largely unknown. Research in the Zhao Laboratory aims to understand the origin and evolution of molecular innovations as well as how they contribute to phenotypic innovation and adaptation. One of the focuses in the lab uses de novo genes, which are genes that have originated from non-genic sequences of genomes, as a unique paradigm to tackle these questions. In the long-term, the Zhao lab aims to decipher the principles of gene origination and its underlying positive or negative impact on population dynamics and human health.
Li Zhao is an Assistant Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics at The Rockefeller University, where her lab is focused on understanding the origination of novel genes and the link between genetic innovation and functional innovation. Prior to joining the faculty at Rockefeller, Dr Zhao was a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Davis, working with David Begun. She obtained her PhD at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a Bachelor of Science degree at Inner Mongolia University in China. Dr Zhao is a recipient of the Sloan Research Fellowship (2018), the Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust Research Award (2018), and is a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar (2019).