Dawei Li, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Training & Education

Dr. Li received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, studying the genetics of psychiatric disorders with Dr. Lin He. For postdoctoral research, he studied statistical genetics with Dr. Jurg Ott at Rockefeller University and psychiatric genomics with Drs. Hongyu Zhao and Joel Gelernter at Yale University, before joining the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in 2012.

Research Interests

In my past studies, I developed a meta-analysis approach and applied it to genetic datasets of complex disease. I also developed pipelines for calling CNVs and identified the first set of CNVs associated with opioid dependence. These studies led to the discovery of more than a dozen disease-associated genes and variants. Many of them were applied to translational research in both academia and industry.

Since I was a graduate student, I have speculated a relationship between virus and brain disease. Thus, after I started my own lab at University of Vermont, I decided to study it. The first step was to develop a bioinformatics method to detect viruses in the brain. After two years, my lab successfully developed a novel method for detecting viral integrations in the human genome. However, the next challenge was the lack of diseased brains available in Vermont. Rather, there were many genome data from cancers. I applied our method to cancer genome datasets, which led to my new project: identifying virus-caused cancers by viral integration analysis. To also study disease-related self-antigens derived from endogenous retroviruses, I also set up a new bioinformatics pipeline applied to next-generation sequencing data. The methods can be applied to various disease models.


MMG233: Genetics and Genomics


Cao* J, Li D*. Searching for human oncoviruses: histories, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. 2018 Jun;119(6):4897-4906. PMID: 29377246. (* corresponding author). (A article summarizing the methods of discovering the seven known oncovirues, and discussing the strategies for discovering new oncoviruses)

Sulovari A, Liu Z, Zhu Z*, Li D*. Genome-wide meta-analysis of copy number variations with alcohol dependence. Pharmacogenomics Journal. 2018 May 22;18(3):398-405. PMID: 28696413. (* corresponding author). First genome-wide meta-analysis in any addictive substance.

Sulovari A, Chen YH, Hudziak JJ, Li D*. Atlas of human diseases influenced by genetic variants with extreme allele frequency differences. Human Genetics. 2017 Jan;136(1):39-54. PMID: 27699474. (* corresponding author).

Sulovari A, Kranzler HR, Farrer LA, Gelernter J, Li D*. Eye Color: A Potential Indicator of Alcohol Dependence Risk in European Americans. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. 2015 2015 Jul;168(5):347-53. PMID: 25921801. (* corresponding author). 

Li D*, Zhao H, Kranzler HR, Li M, Jensen KP, Zayats T, Farrer LA, Gelernter J. Genome-wide Association Study of Copy Number Variations (CNVs) With Opioid Dependence. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Mar;40(4):1016-26. PMID: 25345593. PMCID: PMC4330517. (* corresponding author) First genome-wide CNV study in any drug dependence.


All Li publications

Dawei Li, PhD

Contact Information

Office: 8 Hills

Phone: 802-656-9838



Lab Team

Xun Chen, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Jason Kost, M.S., Bioinformatician
Cong Gao, B.S., Rotation graduate student
Jeffrey Brabec, B.S., Rotation graduate student