‘All my colleagues gathered together’

Fourteen talented scientists at the University of Groningen and the UMCG have each received a VENI grant of up to €250,000 from scientific research backer NWO. Bioinformatician Yang Li (38) is working on systems genetics of metabolic flow rate.

What was the first thing you did when you were awarded the grant?

‘I was so happy and I still am. I called my husband and daughter first. After that I informed my co-workers. We were all waiting for the news. The next day all my colleagues gathered together and congratulated me with celebratory ice-creams in the hall.’

veni yang

What is your research about?

‘My research is about finding the genetic factors that are responsible for differences in phenotype (e.g. height, disease or an abundance of metabolites). I am interested in developing computational and bioinformatic approaches for analysing multidimensional biological data for connecting genetics (DNA) to phenotypes. For this VENI project I am particularly studying how DNA variations influence metabolic flow rate through metabolic pathways.’

Why is it so interesting?                    

‘Metabolic reactions exist in every living organism, but we have very limited knowledge on how they are regulated. This project is the first to study genetic regulators of metabolic flow rate in a genome-wide fashion. We hope to answer questions like: which metabolic reactions should be optimized for improving the yield of desired metabolic products; which ones should be redirected to prevent development of certain diseases; or which pieces of DNA are actually responsible for a disease? The analysis not only requires novel methodologies, but if this study is successful, it will also open up a whole new area of biomedical research.’

In about three years I will have discovered…

‘Genetic candidates for improving biotechnological production systems and an advanced strategy to design efficient microbial factories to produce biofuels, pharmaceuticals and feedstock. Moreover, it may also open up new ways to identify novel therapeutic targets against metabolic diseases.’

Why are you a scientist and not, for example, an entrepreneur?

‘I enjoy being a researcher and I learn new things every day. Every day I face new challenges and discover new problems. Then I think of all the ways to interpret and solve them. It’s fun.’


RUG Veni’s

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