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Our lab is interested in the structural and functional studies of naturally occurring modifications in nucleic acid, the most important biological macromolecules. The diversified chemical modifications discovered in DNA and RNA (including tRNA, mRNA, rRNA and all the other non-coding RNAs) play critical biological roles and are directly related to many diseases. We hope the atomic-level understanding of their 3D structures and their metabolic pathways will lead to better elucidation of their functions and shed light on the potential drug discovery based on them. In addition, these modifications are the most evolutionarily conserved properties in the early stage of cellular life, providing important clues to study the prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life.  

We are also interested in developing novel RNA based catalysts for organic reactions and studying their catalytic mechanisms. Hybrid catalysis, which combines the high efficiency of active transition metals and the high chirality of biopolymer scaffolds (protein, DNA and RNA), represents a new generation of catalytic strategy. These scaffolds can transfer their chirality and promote a transformation with good enantioselectivity. Based on the ‘RNA World Hypothesis’ and the beautiful homochirality of life, most likely it’s RNA that originated the chiral transformation in the early stage of life. Comparing to DNA and protein, RNA can fold into more diversified structures that can dynamically bind and activate the substrates, meaning that RNA can play more roles than merely the chiral scaffolds. By optimizing both RNA and metal ligands, we are trying to develop some high efficient catalysts for general organic reactions. 

To achieve these goals, we use multidisciplinary research approaches and techniques that include organic synthesis, biophysics, biochemistry and structure biology.