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Julang Li

Position/Title: Professor
email: jli@uoguelph.ca
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 52713
Office: ANNU 248

Meet Julang ( 60 second OAC video )

With a background in veterinary medicine, Julang is developing biotechnology applications to improve disease resistance and enhance production in livestock. Using a combination of cell biology, molecular biology and biotechnology, she is helping the livestock industry produce healthier animals. Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, and farmers are interested in alternative approaches to treat their livestock by enhancing their disease resistance. One of Julang’s programs is working toward this goal. Her lab’s other areas of research include investigating the development of ovarian follicles and oocyte maturation, and the differentiation of skin-derived stem cells.

Academic History

  • Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Ottawa (1997) 
  • M.Sc. in Neurophysiology, Changchun Veterinary College, China (1988) 
  • Undergraduate degree in Veterinary Medicine, Foshan Veterinary College, China (1982)

Affiliations and Partnerships

  • Dr. Justine Turner, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta Area: potential of biopeptides as therapeutics for short bowel syndrome 
  • Dr. Crystal L. Levesque, Department of Animal Science, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota Area: intestine health and microbiota 
  • Dr. Paul W. Wales, Department of Surgery, and Group for the Improvement of Intestinal Function and Treatment (GIFT), Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario Area: potential of biopeptides as therapeutics for short bowel syndrome 
  • Dr. C. M. (Martin) Nyachoti, Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Manitoba Area: improving animal production performance 
  • Dr. Kui Li, State Key Laboratory of Animal Nutrition, Institute of Animal Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, China Area: enhancing animal disease resistance

Awards and Honours

  • Premier’s Research Excellence Award (2005-2010) 
  • President’s Distinguished Professor Award (2005-2007) 
  • Visiting Lecturer Award, University of Calgary, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (2005)

Research and Impact

Understanding the physiology and mechanism of livestock reproduction will help improve human and animal fertility, as well as contribute to the understanding of animal development. Julang’s research on fertility and ovarian function in pigs has garnered attention from human in-vitro fertilization researchers. In addition, Julang is working with the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement to help identify markers in the saliva and blood of female pigs to select those with high fertility potential. 

Her research program on bioactive peptide production aims to develop alternatives to antibiotics for livestock. Starting in 2017, Canada banned the use of antibiotics as a growth promoter in feed, so farmers need other options to protect their livestock from disease. 

Julang’s research on livestock has a variety of human applications. She is collaborating with human health researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta to learn how peptides can be used to help patients with intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and colitis.

Curent Research Projects

Using peptides as substitutes for antimicrobials 

Peptides can be used to boost disease resistance as well as tissue repair and development. Despite their benefits, peptides are not a cost-effective treatment option for livestock. One milligram of peptides can cost several thousand dollars — more than the value of the animal being treated. A more affordable option is to grow microorganisms that produce peptides. Julang’s lab is looking at ways to engineer food-grade microorganisms such as yeast and lactococcus (a type of lactic acid bacteria found in milk) to produce peptides for livestock feed additives. These peptides can improve disease resistance through their antimicrobial effects, enhancing intestinal development and improving tissue repair. 

This project is funded by NSERC, OMAFRA, Ontario Pork, AB Vista, AAFC and Foshan University. 

Ovarian follicle development 

Julang has a strong interest in factors that influence ovarian follicle development and its role in fertility. Her research focuses on the role of microRNA in the replication of cells in the ovarian follicle, hormone production and oocyte maturation. She is also studying the role of antimicrobial peptides and why they’re found in high levels in the ovaries, which don’t typically contract infections. 

This project is funded by NSERC. 

Stem cell differentiation potential 

Skin stem cells can be stimulated to differentiate into oocytes and other types of ovarian cells. Oocytes account for less than one per cent of all cells in the ovary. The follicle is composed of supporting cells, which aid in the formation and development of oocytes. Julang is studying how to induce skin cells to become supporting cells that can produce estradiol, a type of estrogen. Implanting these cells in mice helps them produce estradiol, which may help women with premature ovarian failure and help alleviate menopausal symptoms. 

This project is funded by CIHR.

Graduate Student Information

Julang’s priority is her graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. She is currently looking for graduate students to work on her disease-resistance project to help find alternatives to antibiotics. Her favourite students to work with are those who are passionate about research and eager to make contributions to 

their field. Some of her former students have become professors in the United States and abroad, while others are working in postdoctoral positions. Aside from working in academia, her graduates also work in government and industry. She considers her graduate students to be part of her team and enjoys discussing research projects, experimental design and analysis with them. Her students are involved in all aspects of the research process. Julang wants her students to develop strong research skills and become well-rounded graduates who are prepared for further education or employment. She tries to motivate and guide them based on their career goals, and her door is always open for students who need mentoring.

Featured Publications

  • Queenie C.K. Cheung, Zongfei Yuan, Paul W. Dyce, De Wu, Kees DeLange, Julang Li (2009) Generation of epidermal growth factor expressing Lactococcus Lactis and its enhancement on intestinal development and growth of early-weaned mice American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(3):871-9 
  • Queenie C.K. Cheung, Patricia V. Turner, Cheng Song, De Wu, Hugh Y. Cai, Janet I. MacInnes, Julang Li (2008) Enhanced Resistance to Bacterial Infection in Protegrin-1 Transgenic Mice Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 52(5):1812-9 
  • Paul Dyce, Lihua Wen, Julang Li (2006) In vitro germline potential of stem cells derived from fetal porcine skin Nature Cell Biology 8(4): 384-390 
  • Derek Toms, Shengyu Xu, Jason Baley, De Wu, Julang Li (2015) Progesterone receptor is targeted by microRNA mir-378-1 Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 399:95-102 
  • Andrea Bedford, Tao Chen, Evanna Huynh, Samantha Medeiros, Kees de Lange, Julang Li (2015) Regulation of intestine development by EGF in vivo: potential mechanisms involved Journal of Biotechnology 196-197:9-19. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.