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Yi Lu

Jay and Ann Schenck Professor of Chemistry
Faculty Affiliate, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dr. Yi Lu received his B.S. degree from Peking University in 1986, and Ph.D. degree from University of California at Los Angeles in 1992. After two years of postdoctoral research in Professor Harry B. Gray group at the Caltech, Dr. Lu started his own independent career in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 1994. He is now Jay and Ann Schenck Professor of Chemistry in the Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Bioengineering and Materials Science and Engineering. He is also a member of the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology. His research interests lie at the interface between chemistry and biology. Specific areas of current interests include a) design and engineering of functional metalloproteins as environmentally benign catalysts in renewable energy generation and pharmaceuticals; b) Fundamental understanding of DNAzymes and their applications in environmental monitoring, medical diagnostics, and targeted drug delivery; and c) Employing principles from biology for directed assembly of nanomaterials with controlled morphologies and its applications in imaging and medicine. He has published >320 papers and has been cited >18350 times with H-index of 72. Dr. Lu has received numerous research and teaching awards, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors Award (2002), Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (2007), Royal Society of Chemistry Applied Inorganic Chemistry Award (2015), Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2015), and has been named to the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list from 2015 to 2017.


"Functional DNA Nanotechnology and Its Applications in Environmental Monitoring, Food Safety, Medical Diagnostics and Imaging of Small Molecular Targets and Biomarkers"

Selective sensors and imaging agents are very useful for on-site and real-time detection in environmental monitoring, food safety, medical diagnostics and imaging. While much progress has been made in detecting large molecular targets, such as nucleic acids and proteins, sensing and imaging small molecular targets and biomarkers, such as metal ions and small organic metabolites remain difficult, because they are very large in numbers, subtle in structural differences and traces in quantities. We have identified challenges in both fundamental sciences and in technological developments, and have made significant progresses in meeting these challenges.

In fundamental sciences, designing selective sensors based on a single class of molecules for a broad range of targets remains a significant challenge. Most processes are on a trial and error basis where successes in designing agents for one target can be difficult to translate success in designing agents for other targets. To meet these challenges, we have been able to use in vitro selection or SELEX to obtain DNAzymes, a class of metalloenzymes that use DNA molecules exclusively for catalysis, and aptamers, a class of nucleic acids that rivals antibodies that can bind targets of choice strongly and specifically, and use negative selection strategy to improve the selectivity. By labeling the resulting DNAzymes and aptamers, called Functional DNA with fluorophore/quencher, gold nanoparticles, gadolinium or supermagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, we have developed new classes of fluorescent, colorimetric and MRI agents for metal ions and a wide range of other targets with high sensitivity (down to 14 pM) and selectivity (> 1 million fold selectivity).

In technological development, there are still significant barriers by the public to adopt new devices or technologies developed in academic laboratories. We are exploring ways to overcome this barrier by taking advantages of the wide availability and low cost of the pocket-sized electrochemical devices such as glucose meters to detect many non-glucose targets, ranging from vitamins (e.g., biotin), to toxic metal ions (e.g., Pb2+), adulterants (e.g., melamine), toxins (e.g., aflatoxins), and diseases (e.g., cancer). These sensors have been applied for imaging metal ions and other targets in living cells and in vivo to offer deeper insight into their roles in biology.

Yi Lu