Xiaobo LI, Ph.D.

School of Life Sciences

The Algal Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory


Email: lixiaobo@westlake.edu.cn


Xiaobo LI, Ph.D.

School of Life Sciences

The Algal Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory


Email: lixiaobo@westlake.edu.cn



Dr. Xiaobo Li has over 10 years of experience in plant and microbial research. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering from Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2007, and his Ph.D. degree in Plant Biology from Michigan State University in 2012. He then worked as a postdoc at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford (2012-2016) and Princeton University (2016-2018).

Dr. Li has received the DeLill Nasser Award from the Genetics Society of America (2016), the Paul Stumpf Award from the International Symposium on Plant Lipids (2016), and the Robert Rabson Award from the American Society of Plant Biologists (2016).

The Li Lab at the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS) and Westlake University started in 2018.


Motivation and long-term goals:Photosynthetic organisms (land plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria) impact the global environment, and provide essential resources for the human society, including oxygen, food, fuels, materials, and medicines. The Li Lab at Westlake University aims to elucidate molecular mechanisms in photosynthetic metabolism, develop transformative technologies for algal systems and synthetic biology, and produce talents for life science research and modern bio-industry. 

Past research achievements: Our molecular understanding of photosynthetic organisms has long been hampered by the lack of high-throughput functional genomics tools. During his Ph.D. and postdoc studies, Dr. Li employed the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii  to bring yeast-style high-throughput genetic approaches into plant biology research. The projects spearheaded by Dr. Li revealed hundreds of candidate genes required for photosynthesis to occur; unveiled a biochemical mechanism required for fatty acid export from the chloroplast; provided over 2,500 mutant strains for ~200 labs in the world; and led to an issued US patent related to algal biofuel production.

Dr. Li has delivered eight invited oral talks on international conferences, and served as a reviewer for multiple top plant biology journals such as The Plant Cell. Dr. Li has also trained a total of 13 graduate students, technicians, undergraduates and high school students; many of them have received prestigious research awards, such as a finalist position in the Intel Science Talent Search.

Future plans: We will perform biochemistry, genetics, and synthetic biology studies in freshwater and marine algae. We will incorporate the most recent advances in high-throughput sequencing and genome editing. Our research includes two major sectors, as shown below.

Sector 1: Impact of environmental stresses on energy metabolism. Under stress conditions, such as cold and nitrogen deprivation, land plants and algae accumulate storage lipids, turn yellow and lower photosynthesis. What are the signaling pathways that lead to these responses? How to maximize photosynthetic productivity under stress conditions? The answers to these questions have implications for both agriculture and algal biotechnology.

Sector 2: Systems biology of marine algae. Half of the photosynthesis on the Earth occurs in the oceans. Besides their role in global ecology, algae in the oceans provide food (e.g. kelp), nutraceuticals (e.g. EPA, DHA), and various other chemicals (e.g. agar) for human beings. Different from green algae and land plants, most marine algae belong to heterokonts and have three or four membranes around the chloroplast. We know little about how this type of cells function. Our lab will develop model systems and high-throughput genetics approaches in marine algae to accelerate our understanding of these organisms, and more broadly, facilitate our sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

Our research is strongly supported by the robotics, multi-omics, and plant/algal phenotyping facilities at Westlake University.


Representative  Publications

1. Li X, Patena W, Fauser F, Jinkerson RE, Saroussi S, Meyer MT, Ivanova N, Robertson JM, Yue R, Zhang R, Vilarrasa-Blasi J, Wittkopp TM, Ramundo S, Blum S, Goh A, Laudon M, Srikumar T, Lefebvre PA, Grossman AR, Jonikas MC. (2019) A genome-wide algal mutant library and functional screen identifies genes required for eukaryotic photosynthesis. Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/s41588-019-0370-6.

· This manuscript presents the world’s first genome-wide, indexed and mapped mutant library for any unicellular photosynthetic organism; this research also reveals 303 candidate genes involved in photosynthesis (65 previously known and 238 novel)

2. Li X#, Handee W#, Kuo MH. (2017) The slim, the fat, and the obese: guess who lives the longest? Current Genetics. 63 (1): 43-49.

3. Li X#, Zhang R#, Patena W#, Gang SS, Blum SR, Ivanova N, Yue R, Robertson JM, Lefebvre PA, Fitz-Gibbon ST, Grossman AR, Jonikas MC. (2016) An indexed, mapped mutant library enables reverse genetics studies of biological processes in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The Plant Cell. 28 (2): 367-387. 

· ESI highly cited paper (defined as top 1% in citation in the field of Plant & Animal Science for the publication year)

4. Handee W#, Li X#, Hall K, Li P, Benning C, Williams B, Kuo MH. (2016) An energy-independent pro-longevity function of triacylglycerol in yeast. PLOS Genetics. 12(2): e1005878. 

· Reported by over 20 websites in China and USA

5. Li X, Jonikas MC. (2016) High-throughput genetics strategies for identifying new components of lipid metabolism in the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Lipids in plant and algae development. Yonghua Li-Beisson and Yuki Nakamura, eds (Springer Publishing), Series Subcellular Biochemistry, 86: 223-247.

6. Yang W#, Wittkopp T#, Li X, Warakanont J, Dubini A, Catalanotti C, Kim R, Mowack EMC, Mackinder L, Aksoy M, Page MD, D’Adamo S, Saroussi S, Heinnickel M, Johnson X, Richaud P, Alric J, Boehm M, Jonikas M, Benning C, Merchant S, Posewitz MC, Grossman AR.(2015) Critical role of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii ferredoxin-5 in maintaining membrane structure and dark metabolism. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 112(48): 14978-14983.

7. Kong F, Yamasaki T, Kurniasih SD, Li X, Ivanova N, Okada S, Ohama T. (2015) Robust expression of heterologous genes by selection marker fusion system in improved Chlamydomonas strains. Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering. 120(3): 239-45.

8. Li X, Umen JG, Jonikas MC. (2014) Waking sleeping algal cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 111 (44): 15610-15611.

9. Li X, Moellering ER, Liu B, Johnny C, Fedewa M, Sears BB, Kuo MH, Benning C. (2012) A galactoglycerolipid lipase is required for triacylglycerol accumulation and survival following nitrogen deprivation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The Plant Cell. 24(11): 4670-4686. 

· ESI highly cited paper

10. Li X, Benning C, Kuo MH. (2012) Rapid triacylglycerol turnover in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii requires a lipase with broad substrate specificity. Eukaryotic Cell. 11(12): 1451-1462.

11. Vieler A#, Wu G#, Tsai CH, Bullard B, Cornish AJ, Harvey C, Reca IB, Thornburg C, Achawanantakun R, Buehl CJ, Campbell MS, Cavalier D, Childs KL, Clark TJ, Deshpande R, Erickson E, Ferguson AA, Handee W, Kong Q, Li X, Liu B, Lundback S, Peng C, Roston RL, Sanjaya, Simpson JP, TerBush A, Warakanont J, Zäuner S, Farre EM, Hegg EL, Jiang N, Kuo MH, Lu Y, Niyogi KK, Ohlrogge J, Osteryoung KW, Shachar-Hill Y, Sears BB, Sun Y, Takahashi H, Yandell M, Shiu SH, Benning C. (2012) Genome, functional gene annotation, and nuclear transformation of the heterokont oleaginous alga Nannochloropsis oceanica CCMP1779. PLOS Genetics. 8(11): e1003064.

12. Miller R#, Wu G#, Desphande RR, Vieler A, Gaertner K, Li X, Moellering ER, Zäuner S, Cornish A, Liu B, Bullard B, Sears BB, Kuo MH, Hegg EL, Shachar-Hill Y, Shiu SH, Benning C. (2010) Changes in transcript abundance in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii following nitrogen-deprivation predict diversion of metabolism. Plant Physiology. 154(4): 1737-1752. 

# These authors contributed equally

The above publications have been cited over 1,000 times.