"I must be true to myself."
This is the motto of Dr. Liu Chuanyu, Researcher and Executive Director of the Institute of Cell Omics at BGI-Research, and the guiding principle that has been the foundation of his decade-long journey at BGI.
Dr. Liu Chuanyu, Researcher and Executive Director of the Institute of Cell Omics at BGI-Research
In March 2022, Dr. Liu and his team were part of an international research team that published a study in Nature, announcing the discovery of a transgene-free, rapid, and controllable method to convert pluripotent stem-cells into bona fide 8-cell totipotent embryo-like cells. This breakthrough paves the way for advances in organ regeneration and synthetic biology.
Dr. Liu and his team also played a vital role in completing the first whole-body cell atlas of a non-human primate and discovering how the social division of labor within ant colonies reflects in the functional specialization of brains at cellular levels. Both studies were published in Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution, respectively.
These revolutionary studies were made possible by the advanced single-cell technology created by Dr. Liu and his team at BGI-Research. "We started from scratch, and the whole team had to learn about single-cell technology from the beginning," Dr. Liu recounted his early days developing the technology. "At that time, we had several technical options to choose from, and the route we chose would determine the efficiency of the R&D process and whether it will succeed eventually."
This is one of the many choices he has to face in his career, not only because of his leading role in the team but also for his devotion to science starting in his teenage time.
Nature, chemistry, and biology were his favorite subjects in middle and high school. He describes them as the knowledge of “how we feel the world around us.”
With an unwavering passion for science, Dr. Liu pursued a career in this field and joined BGI's innovation class as a junior student in biotechnology. Reflecting on his journey, he recalls the significance of April 18, 2013. "I will always remember this date," he said. "It was the day I joined BGI’s innovation class as a junior student in biotechnology."
After obtaining his bachelor's degree, Dr. Liu continued his pursuit of knowledge by enrolling in the joint cultivation program offered by BGI-Research and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences to earn his master's and Ph.D. degrees. It was during this time that he began to truly understand and appreciate the essence of science. As he reflects, "I began to realize that science is not just about getting results, but also about exploring the unknown and constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know."
The training he received opened up a whole new world of genome sequencing technology development, including single-cell omics technology, and its application to scientific research. As he puts it, "This was the time when I made the transition from being a student to becoming a scientist."
During his post-doctoral period at BGI-Research, Dr. Liu continued his research into single-cell omics technology. "Initially, all technical routes looked feasible," he recalled, "but it required systematic evaluation to determine which one was better or more efficient."
Dr. Liu Chuanyu works in a laboratory.
He put his trust in his team and science. The effort made by him and his team has successfully given birth to a new high-throughput microfluidics-based technology and platform, a complete revolution of the previous manual operation.
Today, in his management role, he bears greater responsibility for leading the team towards a brighter future. "In the coming days, single-cell omics technology will be applied to more clinical scenarios for disease prediction and treatment evaluation," Dr. Liu said, "making it relevant to everyone."
Reflecting on his journey from student to young scientist to project leader, he offers three pieces of advice. First, he stresses the importance of scientists being open-minded and willing to learn from other disciplines. Second, he believes in being down-to-earth and doing the best work possible.
Lastly, regardless of success or failure, "one must be true to oneself."