Dr. Zefan Li

Office Location: 4017 Pinn Hall

Email: zl2at at

My research interest is to use chemical biology, protein engineering, directed evolution and fluorescence imaging to develop novel fluorescent protein-based biosensors for the detection of various UDP-sugars dynamics and distributions in living cells, tissues, and even whole living animals. My long-term goal is to study glycan metabolism and its related regulatory pathways and diseases by utilizing UDP-sugar sensors.
Current position:

Research Scientist, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA           01/2023-present

Previous Education and Professional Experiences:

Research Associate, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA         01/2019-12/2022

Postdoctoral Fellow, Peking University, Beijing, China   07/2017-10/2018

Ph.D. Chemical Biology           09/2011-07/2017
Department of Chemistry, Peking University, Beijing, China

B.S. Chemistry,          09/2007-07/2011
Nanchang University, Jiangxi Province, China


Ying Xiong, Yiyu Zhang, Zefan Li, Md Shamim Reza, Xinyu Li, Xiaodong Tian, Huiwang Ai*. An Engineered Amber-Emitting Nano Luciferase and Its Use for Immunobioluminescence Imaging in Vivo. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 144, 4101–14111 (2022)

Zefan Li, Jing Zhang, and Hui-wang Ai*. Genetically Encoded Green Fluorescent Biosensors for Monitoring UDP-GlcNAc in Live Cells. ACS Cent. Sci. 7, 10, 1763–1770 (2021)

Yaya Li; Weibing Liu; Qi Tang; Xinqi Fan; Yi Hao; Ling Gao; Zefan Li; Bo Cheng; Xing Chen*. Gap-Junction-Dependent Labeling of Nascent Proteins in Multicellular Networks. ACS Chem. Biol. 14, 2, 182-185 (2019)

Zefan Li; Yuntao Zhu; Yuting Sun; Ke Qin; Weibing Liu; Wen Zhou; Xing Chen*. Nitrilase-Activatable Noncanonical Amino Acid Precursors as a Versatile Tool for Cell-Selective Metabolic Labeling of Proteomes. ACS. Chem. Biol. 11, 3273-3277 (2016)

Ming Xiao; Liang Lin; Zefan Li; Jie Liu; Senlian Hong; Yaya Li; Meiling Zhen; Xuanming Duan; Xing Chen*. SERS Imaging of Cell-Surface Biomolecules Metabolically Labeled with Bioorthogonal Raman Reporters. Chem. Asian J. 9, 2040-2044 (2014)