If your homework is to create a life form, what would you create? This is what synthesis biology study for. Since the discovery of “DNA double helix” and “human genome project”, synthesis biology study is triggering the third bio-tech revolution.
A group of “odd” synthesis biologists at Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT)，Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), are using the differentiation advantages to trace the source, break the ceiling of subject research, search for the fundamental principles of life creation and aim “synthetic life” directly.
During the academician forum of High-Tech Fair in the afternoon today, joining by the domestic life medical specialists, they witness the launch of Shenzhen association of synthetic biology together.
As the main initiator, the director of synthesis biology center of SIAT, Chenli LIU just received a significant award, innovation breakthrough award of the second Zhongyuan Union life medical award 2017, in the domestic life medical field. The award is to give commendation to LIU’s creative contribution on answering the fundamental scientific questions using the concept of synthesis biology study to “create” the nature of things. LIU is the only one who receive such award in Guangdong province.
Researcher LIU received the authoritative award in domestic life medical field, innovation breakthrough award of the Second Zhongyuan Union life medical award.
Academician laboratory launched at SIAT
Synthetic biology is listed as one of the top six disruptive technologies with great potential for application in the 21st century.
Take artemisinin as an example, people are aware that artemisinin can fight malaria with high efficiency; however, the occupation of cultivated land and the complexity of extraction process of phytoextraction make extraction extremely difficult. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) academician Jay D. Keasling created a microorganism can produce anti-malaria drug, artemisinin, with innovative design, reform the traditional method of artemisinin extraction.
“Synthesis biology study can solve a lot of global challenges, such as grain production, energy production, and medicine people required.”Keasling said, dendrobium, tianshan snow lotus, ginseng, polygonum multiflorum, poria cocos, lucid ganoderma, pearl, Chinese caterpillar fungus and desert cistanche all contain active molecules, which contain tremendous potentials to become innovative medicines.
“To use engineered design concept, to design genetic material of organism, to re-create until synthetized newly, be break the boundary of species, and to create ‘replicants’ is the ultimate goal.” Junbiao DAI, synthesis biology center researcher said so while being interviewed by Shenzhen Economic Daily reporter.
In LIU’s perspective, there are two ways to use synthesis biology. One is to create for usage, the other is to create for understanding. Now they are working on the “understanding” part. “The overall concept of synthesis biology study is to recreate; however, to make rapid progress, the first thing is to make clear the basis and understand the principles behind.”
Synthesis biology can not only be used to regenerate traditional Chinese medicine as the part of “create for usage”, but also to be dived deep into the basic principles as the part of “create to understand”. Meanwhile, it helps to gather the top scientists and industries from different culture and background globally to be around only here in Shenzhen, as ocean supports all the rivers, can have such attraction towards different kinds of creative element.
Since SIAT has been established for 11 years, a lot of distinguished academics are gathered here from all over the world to form 7 national creative platforms and 19 CAS or province level of platforms. Nowadays, synthesis biology center recruits scientists returned to China after finishing studies at Harvard University, Yale University and other outstanding international universities. By the form of a hard core domestic power force, it creates an edgy innovative team with multi-cross over subjects.
Other than academician lab, the center has 3 enterprise joint lab, included members with frontier and leading projects, such as the design principle of synthetic life form, synthetic yeast chromosome, artificial reconstructive bacteria as cancer treatment and artificial reconstructive phage as multidrug-resistant bacteria infection treatment. Some of the technology reach the advanced level globally.
Multi-tasks cross complementation
Synthesis biology center has 12 principle investigators (PIs), they all share the same identity as synthesis biologist, but with different specialists.
The reporter saw that they were all coming from different research area, for example, Chengli LIU came from microbiology research field, Junbiao DAI studied synthesis genomics, Yingfei MA focused on bioinformatics, Shuqiang HUANG coming from chemical analysis is working on microfluidic chip, Nan LI with chemical biology background studies for proteomics, Xiongfei FU stays on physics. The average age of this team is only 36 years old.
Nan LI told the reporter that when he was doing post PhD works at molecular biology lab in Europe, he knew only a little about synthesis biology. “I thought about it, what would I do if I study synthesis biology?”
“When I truly integrate into the filed, I thought it was so cool! Synthesis biology recreate the concept of life is the future of biology studies. To be a part of this, is such an honor.” Nan LI uses his method of proteomics dive into the test of synthesis biology.
Shuqiang HUANG decided to join synthesis biology center after finishing his post PhD works at department of biomedical Engineering of Duke University in America. He said that the beauty of synthesis biology is because it has cross background. Interdisciplinary research is the one and only solution for a better and in-depth understanding of scientific question.
Xiongfei FU said: “We are driven by purpose, and we all use our own talent and different perspectives to dissect the problem. It seems like an army group with different arms from the sea to the air, all united solving the same problem.”
“Our lab doesn’t have ‘wall’, both resource and culture support the atmosphere of interdisciplinary research. Therefore, new ideas are easily sparkled.”