Skip to Content

Coronavirus: Get complete details about the university's response to COVID-19.

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Faculty and Staff Directory

Jie Li

Title: Assistant Professor / Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Bioorganic / Biosynthesis / Bioanalytical / Natural products chemistry and drug discovery
Department: Chemistry and Biochemistry
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Phone: 803-777-5010
Fax: 803-777-9521
Office: GSRC 330
Resources: CV [pdf]
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Jie Li


B.S., 2005, Sichuan University                                                                                                M.S., 2008, Sichuan University                                                                                                Ph.D., 2013, The Ohio State University


Research Interests

Research Areas: Bioorganic chemistry; drug discovery; genome mining; biosynthesis; biosynthetic engineering

We live in a microbial world, and those small organisms are very productive chemists. We seek to harness their tremendous chemical potential to generate structurally novel and biologically active molecules for drug discovery. We further pursue to elucidate the molecular basis for the biosynthesis of these molecules, and then use this fundamental understanding to develop new enzymes for biocatalysis, engineer biosynthetic pathways, and increase our ability to explore chemical diversity and biological activities.

Drug Discovery from Microbial Genome Mining and Metabolomics. Since the first discovery of penicillin, microbial small molecule metabolites have continued to be an essential component of drug discovery programs, especially for antibiotic and anticancer agents. Microbes harbor biosynthetic genes to encode enzymes that catalyze various chemical reactions to generate unique molecular structures. The chemical diversity and biological activity of these small molecules is virtually limitless by virtue of the abundant microbial biodiversity richness and continued evolution that can be accessed. We focus on translating this vast chemical and biological potential into opportunities for drug discovery. Our research approach is based on the opportunities that 1) a large number of unique microbial small molecules still await discovery, especially from underexplored microorganisms; 2) the exponential growth in microbial (meta)genomic data can facilitate the rapid identification of the biosynthetic genes that encode these interesting small molecules; 3) harnessing these biosynthetic genes can enable the construction of these small molecules in the laboratory; and 4) comparative metabolomics can further uniquely complement the (meta)genomic approach. Collectively, we aim to expand the microbial chemical reservoir for drug discovery. 

Natural Products Biosynthesis and Bioengineering. Besides discovering new chemical entities for drug discovery, we further study the fundamental genetic and enzymatic basis underlying how microbes synthesize these molecules, especially the unique scaffolds and/or functionalities observed to be responsible for the biological activities. A subsequent application of this understanding as well as other biotechnologies allows for manipulation and reprogramming of the biosynthetic pathways to increase the chemical diversity of the products and enhance their inherent biological activities. This also provides an opportunity for the development of biocatalysts and for enabling chemoenzymatic total synthesis of important natural products, such as drug leads.  

Selected Publications

Li, J.#; Tang, X.#; Awakawa, T.; Moore, B. S. Enzymatic C–H oxidation-amidation cascade in the production of natural and unnatural thiotetronate antibiotics with potentiated bioactivity. Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 2017, 56, 12234-12239. (# equal contribution). DOI: 10.1002/anie.201705239.

Li, Z.#; Li, J.#; Gu, J.; Lai, J.; Duggan, B. M.; Zhang, W.; Li, Z.; Li, Y.; Tong, R.; Xu, Y.; Lin, D.; Moore, B. S.*; Qian, P*. Divergent biosynthesis yields a cytotoxic aminomalonate-containing precolibactin. Nature Chemical Biology, 2016, 12, 773-775. (# equal contribution; highlighted in the front cover). DOI:10.1038/nchembio.2157.

Tang, X.#; Li, J.#; Millán-Aguiñaga, N.; Zhang, J. J.; O'Neill, E. C.; Ugalde, J. A.; Jensen, P. R.; Mantovani, S. M.; Moore, B. S. Identification of thiotetronic acid antibiotic biosynthetic pathways by target-directed genome mining. ACS Chemical Biology, 2015, 10, 2841-2849. (# equal contribution; featured in “Introducing Our Authors” in the same issue).                                        DOI: 10.1021/acschembio.5b00658.

Li, J.; Pan, L.; Fletcher, J. N.; Lv, W.; Deng, Y.; Vincent, M. A.; Slack, J. P.; McCluskey, T. S.; Jia, Z.; Cushman, M.; Kinghorn, A. D. In vitro evaluation of potential bitterness-masking terpenoids from the Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). Journal of Natural Products, 2014, 77, 1739-1743. (Highlighted in “Labdane diterpenoid found in goldenrod masks bitterness”, Science & Technology Concentrates, Chemical and Engineering News, July 21, 2014, 92, 29). DOI: 10.1021/np5001413.

Li, J.; Pan, L.; Deng, Y.; Muñoz-Acuña, U.; Yuan, C.; Lai, H.; Chai, H.; Chagwedera, T. E.; Farnsworth, N. R.; Carcache de Blanco, E. J.; Li, C.; Soejarto, D. D.; Kinghorn, A. D. Sphenostylisins A-K, bioactive modified isoflavonoid constituents of the root bark of Sphenostylis marginata ssp. erecta. The Journal of Organic Chemistry, 2013, 78, 10166-10177. DOI: 10.1021/jo401573h.


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.