New developments unveiled at forum

Published on 07/10 2017  Source: China Daily USA


More than 40 Chinese and foreign researchers were in attendance at the 3rd Synthetic Biology Young Scholar Forum in Shanghai on July 1 and 2.

Synthetic biology refers to the fabrication of biological entities that do not exist in the natural world, as well as the redesign of existing biological systems.

The forum was jointly organized by several Shanghai-based institutes and universities, including the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, a branch of the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and the national key laboratory on synthetic biology under the CAS. Researchers talked about the latest developments in the field during the forum.

"We used to be in the age of decoding, but now we're in an era of encoding," said Wang Yong, deputy director of the Shanghai-based national key laboratory on synthetic biology under the CAS.

As one of the frontier scientific research domains in the 21st century, synthetic biology has been hailed by researchers as the key to unlocking new technology to solve issues in sectors such as medicine and health, and environment and energy sources.

"Synthetic biology can bring huge progress to the natural performance of plants, animals and human beings. It can also allow them to break through the results of natural selection if a tailor-made cell or system is implanted into a living body," Wang said.

China is only second to the United States in publishing papers and applying for intellectual property rights in this particular field. However, the country lags behind some Western nations in terms of application, said Wang. He expressed hope that the government will in the future unveil policies to encourage talent cultivation and transform research into application.

A team of scientists led by Ye Haifeng, a professor at the School of Life Sciences of East China Normal University in Shanghai, has used synthetic biology technology to create a special cell that can secrete insulin whenever it is irradiated by far-red light. This cell could in the future remove the need for diabetes patients to inject themselves with insulin every day.

"Our lab tests on mice showed that exposure to far-red light for one or two hours can help blood glucose levels return to normal. Exposure to the light for two to four hours a day can enable blood glucose levels to stay within the normal range," Ye said.

A paper on the discovery was published on the website of the US-based scientific journal Science and Translational Medicine in late April.

Ye said that lab experiments involving mice have concluded and tests on monkeys will soon be conducted. The research team is also trying to gain more support from the government and pharmaceutical companies so as to advance the research to the clinical stage.

"Ideally we can insert this cell and a special LED light into a patient's body for diabetes therapy in the future," he said.