Ph.D. Princeton University
B.S. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Hello! My name is Sophia Hsin-Jung Li (李欣融), currently a postdoctoral researcher at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Previously, I obtained my Ph.D. in 2018 from Princeton University and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 with a B.S. double majoring in Chemical Engineering and Biology.
My passion is to combine engineering and biology to understand how biology works and to build novel tools that enable us to probe systems that were previously difficult to approach. Biological systems are complex and studying the individual parts may not be able to elucidate how they work as a whole. We can thus apply the concepts and tools in engineering by both bottom-up and top-down methods. First, building something from scratch requires the knowledge of how pieces work alone and collectively together. Second, systematic characterization allows extraction of simple rules from the complex biological phenomenon. I am interested in using methods of both directions to discover mechanisms that drive complex behaviors a cell or a symbiotic ecosystem exhibit.
I am currently working with Prof. Matthias Lutolf and Prof. Alex Persat at EPFL to study host-microbe interactions using a novel in vitro mini-gut model. I combine stem cell engineering, biophysics, and microbiology to capture critical physiological features of the human host gut outside the body. It allows me to study the spatiotemporal dynamics of host-microbe interaction that are difficult to observe in vivo. My goal is to investigate how microbes affect the host physiology in the context of health and diseases to identify novel key regulators and potentially contribute to innovative therapeutic intervention.
My Ph.D. work at Princeton University with Prof. Zemer Gitai and Prof. Ned Wingreen focused on metabolism and growth. Using non-pathogenic Escherichia coli as a model system, I investigated how cells adapt to different growth conditions; specifically, how cells regulate their ribosome abundance and efficiency under nutrient limitations. To address these questions, I had to learn, optimize and implement several complex new technologies, and therefore established collaborations with experts in each technology. I have obtained skills in several techniques (with related sample preparation, data processing, and statistics), interpretation of biological data and designing well-controlled experiments. The technology includes the operation of chemostats, RNA-Seq, ribosome profiling, metabolomics and proteomics using LC/MS. The collaborations lead to multiple co-author publications with different labs in and outside Princeton University (See CV). I collaborated with Dr. Raphael J. Morscher and Prof. Josh Rabinowitz to develop a method for probing translation by mitochondrial ribosomes at single nucleotide resolution, which allowed us to identify defects in mitochondrial tRNA modification (Morscher et al. Nature 2018). My thesis work provides new insights into how bacterial cells make tradeoffs between growth efficiency and adaptability to changing environmental conditions (Li et al. Nature Microbiology 2018). Moreover, based on my thesis work, I lead a team of undergraduates and junior graduate students to systematically quantify the regulation of gene expression through the central dogma. I won the Best Student of the Year in 2017 for my scientific achievement during graduate school from the Department of Molecular Biology .
Outside of the lab I enjoy sports, travel, and reading. I am a second-dan Taekwondoist certified by the World Taekwondo Federation. I like tennis, biking, hiking, and skiing. I have traveled to many European cities and the Middle East. My next big trip would be visiting Peru or Africa!
I attended the 60th Lindau Nobel Conference at Lindau, Germany in 2010. During the conference, I was fortunate to be in a film with Sr. Tim Hunt. Our conversation about systems biology is recorded by Nature and is available on Youtube.