The Li Lab


Lab Members


Post Docs


Ryan Mull


Ryan obtained his PhD in Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno, under the advisement of Dr. Yftah Tal-Gan in Fall of 2021. During his PhD Ryan explored the development of peptide based alternative approaches to combat antimicrobial resistant bacterial pathogens. He joined the Li lab as a postdoctoral research associate in January of 2022, where he is currently interested in researching the biosynthesis and bioactivity of nonribosomal peptides. In his free time Ryan enjoys reading, playing video games, hiking, and rockhounding.



Josh Turek-Herman


Josh received his PhD in Chemistry from Princeton University in the spring of 2023. During his graduate studies Josh expanded the pathways available to common biocatalysts to enable radical reactivity in Todd Hyster’s lab. He joined the Li lab as a postdoctoral research associate in June of 2023 where he is exploring the biosynthesis of a natural product herbicide. Outside of the lab you’ll find Josh hiking, climbing, running, and baking.




Graduate Students

Rachel M. Johnson

Rachel Johnson number 2

From Cold Spring Harbor, NY, Rachel went south to the University of Miami (the only relevant Miami), where she graduated with degrees in Chemistry and Microbiology & Immunology. After desperately missing autumn in the endless summer that is southern Florida, she went north-ish to North Carolina. In the fall of 2018, she joined the Li lab, becoming the second Rachel Johnson in the lab. When in lab, she is studying structure-activity relationships of hybrid antibiotics. When not in lab, she is having boba tea, impulsively purchasing candles, and missing the sun.




Xiaoyan (Betty) Chen


Xiaoyan grew up in Henan, China and received her B.Eng. in polymer materials and engineering from Sun Yat-sen University. She joined the Li group in April 2019 after a year of rotations. She is currently studying natural product biosynthesis and making hybrid antibiotics. When not in lab, she enjoys strolling around the campus and dancing.





Drake Crawford


Originally from Kingsport, Tennessee, Drake attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering with a Biomolecular concentration in 2019. During his undergraduate work, Drake did three internships with Eastman Chemical Company sparking his interest in attending graduate school. He enrolled at UNC in the fall of 2019 and joined the Li group in January of 2020. With an interest in natural product biosynthesis, he is currently working on the identification of an elusive signaling molecule implicated in bacterial virulence. In his free time, Drake is an avid golfer and currently holds the lab lead with three hole-in-ones.




Will Simke


Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Will went on to receieve his B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UMBC in 2016, followed by a M.S. in Biochemistry athe the University of Maine under the advisement of Dr. Joshua Kelley in 2019. During his Master's, he studied the spatiotemporal regulation of G-Protein Coupled Receptor's using microfluidics coupled with fluoresence microscopy and quantitative image analysis. He joined the Chemistry department in the fall of 2019 and joined the Li group in the Spring of 2020. Will is interestested in understanding the mechanisms of novel enzymes, the mode of action of broad spectrum anitibiotics, and uncovering natural products produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In his free time, Will can be found hiking, gardening, or tending to his chickens.



Olivia Steiner


Originally from Milford, CT, Olivia traveled only a few hours from home to get her B.S in biochemistry at Tufts University (Go Jumbos!) right outside of Boston. While at Tufts, Olivia conducted research in the lab of Dr. Rebecca Scheck, where she studied post-translational modifications and protein bioconjugation strategies. Her coursework, mentors, and research experience at Tufts inspired her to apply to graduate school, and she thought UNC-Chapel Hill was the perfect fit. In the fall of 2021, she enrolled in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) and joined the Li Lab in the spring. Olivia is studying the mode of action of hybrid antibiotics. When she is not in the lab you can find her playing volleyball, traveling, coaching track and field, or spending time outdoors.





Caitlin Vitro


Originally from Carmel, NY, Caitlin attended Binghamton University and earned a B.S. in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biological Chemistry in 2021. During her time at Binghamton, Caitlin spent two years in Dr. L. Nathan Tumey’s lab studying antibody-drug conjugates for autoimmune diseases. Following her passion for chemistry and wanting to escape the frigid winters of upstate NY, she enrolled at UNC in the fall of 2021 and joined the Li group in December of 2021. When in lab, she is studying novel enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of bacterial natural products. In her free time, Caitlin enjoys playing the clarinet, wandering down the aisles of Trader Joe’s, and re-watching TV shows for the hundredth time.





Christopher Brache

toper-gopher Christopher was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida. He attended Florida International University, where he received his B.S. in Chemistry and minor in Mathematics in 2021. While working in Dr. Yuan Liu's lab, Chris studied techniques to map DNA polymerase ß mRNA methylation patterns in response to oxidative stress. After enrolling in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program in the summer of 2022, he joined the Li lab in the spring of the following year. Chris studies the biosynthesis and mode of action of natural-product antibiotics. Outside of lab, Chris can be found on a volleyball court or at home glued to his computer.





Sanchit Saiganesh

San-chit-chat Initially from Bangalore, India, Sanchit moved halfway across the world to sunny California and earned a B.S in Chemistry (and a B.A in German) at UC Santa Barbara. There, he developed a nascent interest in biochemistry after studying non-shivering thermogenesis in mammalian brown adipose tissue in the lab of Dr. Brandon Greene. Following this curiosity led him to join the Li lab in December 2022, where he currently works on elucidating the modes of action of antimicrobial natural products. Outside of the lab, he can be found reading murder mysteries, listening to heavy metal, and trying to continually improve his time in Minesweeper.




Former Lab Manager


Andrew Putz


Andrew's research in the Li lab was focused on elucidating the biosynthesis of bacterial natural products.






Jack Roche

Jack-O-Lantern Jack is an undergraduate from Raleigh, NC pursuing a degree in Chemistry on the Biochemistry track. He joined the Li group in the summer of 2022 and is studying enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of a signaling molecule in bacteria. In his free time, Jack likes to bake, travel, and play the clarinet.






Lab Alumni


Qiang Guo, PhD

Qiangisthemang Qiang was interested in studying host pathogen interaction using plants as model organism. He has accepted an Associate Professorship at China Agricultural University in Beijing, China.




Adam Lescallette

Adam Lescallette

Adam studied the biosynthesis of natural products. He is currently working as a post-doc at Corteva.





Katie Acken

Katie Acken

Katie studied virulence pathways in bacterial species.






Rachel A. Johnson, PhD

Rachel Johnson number 1

Rachel studied the mode of action of hybrid antibiotics. She is currently working with the North Carolina State Government as a Science Policy Fellow.





Henry Bryant, B.S.


Henry is a former undergraduate that helped to explore natural products and their associated biosynthetic pathways.





Jon Patteson, PhD


Jon studied the biosynthesis of numerous natural products in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. He is currently senior scientist at Merck.





Gina Morgan, PhD

Gina Morgan

Gina studied the chemistry and biology of PVF. She is currently a research scientist at Oerth Bio.





Andy Chan, PhD

Andy Chan Andy studied the mode of action of DTPs. He is now at Life Edit Therapeutics.






Ashley Kretsch, PhD

Ashley Krestch Ashley characterized small molecule products from signaling and virulence-related biosynthetic pathways in Pseudomonas and Burkholderia species. She is now a research investigator at Corteva.







Erinn O'Neill, PhD

Erinn O'Neill Erinn studied the biosynthesis of small molecules from plant pathogens. She now works for Agilent.








Kevin Santa Maria

Kevin Santa Maria Kevin Santa Maria investigated novel gene clusters in Streptomyces and Pseudomonas, and developed synthetic biology methods for characterizing their products. He is currently a medical director at International Meetings & Science









Zach Dunn, PhD

Zach Dunn

Zach was a graduate student studying oxyvinylglycine biosynthesis and hybrid antibiotics. He is now a research scientist at Merck.








Elisabetta Massolo, PhD

Eli Massolo

Elisabetta was a post-doc studying the chemistry and biology of NRPS natural products. Eli left the lab in 2017 and is a research scientist at Flamma SpA.








Jillian Tyrrell, PhD

Jillian TyrellJillian was a postdoctoral researcher at UNC. Her work focused on genome-mining to discover and characterize novel biosynthetic pathways. She left the lab in 2015 and is a senior scientist at Illumina.







Wenlong Cai, PhD

Wenlong CaiWenlong was a post-doctoral research using genome-mining and enzymology to elucidate biosyntheses of complex natural products. Wenlong is a post-doc in Wenjun Zhang's lab in UC Berkeley.










Savannah Weeks

Savannah Weeks

Savannah was an undergrad working on multiple projects. She graduated in 2018 and is a PhD student at University of Florida.










Martina Knechel

Martina Knechel

Martina Knechel was an undergrad working on identifying pathways governed by a bacterial natural product. She graduated in 2018 and is a post-bac at the NIH.