JUSTL participant: Dr Maggie Wai Ming Li

21 May 2020

Dr Maggie Wai Ming Li is a Research Associate in Prof Chow Lee’s laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Northern British Columbia, Canada. She obtained her PhD in 2002 in the laboratory of Dr Marcel Bally at the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, where she conducted research on the use of liposomes as a delivery system for cancer vaccines. After finishing her PhD, Dr Li was a post-doctoral fellow in Prof David Banfield’s laboratory (Division of Life Science, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) working on protein trafficking in the budding yeast, after which she took on a position in Prof Andrew Miller’s lab first as a Visiting Assistant Professor and then as a Research Associate.

JUSTL Programme & Current Work

Dr Maggie Li was one of the more senior JUSTL participants when she attended the programme in 2013. For this reason, she did not have a mentor, but worked on her own project, making use of the superior microscopy facilities at the MBL. Indeed, research that she initiated during her time at the MBL yielded some very exciting results and she is still working on aspects of the project today.

It was a great chance to learn top-notch science and to meet great people in the field.

Dr Li’s project at the MBL involved imaging small RNAs in zebrafish embryos during their early development. She visualized these small RNAs with molecular beacons, which are small RNA molecules that have a complementary sequence to the RNA of interest. Molecular beacons generate fluorescence when they are hybridized to their target RNA, and in this way the localization of different RNAs can be tracked in live normally developing embryos. Since her time at the MBL, Dr Li discovered that molecular beacons are a very powerful tool to inhibit microRNAs in zebrafish during early development, and she has recently begun to explore the possibility of using molecular beacons as specific inhibitors for different types of RNA in other model systems such as in mammalian cells.

Regarding her JUSTL experience, Dr Li really treasures the opportunity she was given to go to Woods Hole to work on her research. “It was a great chance to learn top-notch science and to meet great people in the field. The most memorable experience was to work with a light sheet microscope [new technology at the time] and with people who shared the same passion. I remember working late into the night and chatting with others about their projects with such enthusiasm and high spirit. There was one person who was also working late at night trying to capture some amazing images in the microscope facility. It turned out that he was not using a commercial microscope but he actually built the microscope himself. What also amazed me was that under such a friendly and highly motivated environment where everyone was so engaged and passionate about their project, I could not tell whether the person was a PI, post-doc or a student. It was truly an amazing experience.”