Dr. Shen Yue, Chief Scientist of Synthetic Biology at BGI-Research.
Continuing our celebration of BGI Group’s 24th anniversary, we are delighted to feature a conversation with Dr. Shen Yue, Chief Scientist of Synthetic Biology at BGI-Research.
The field of synthetic biology has emerged as a frontier where innovation knows no bounds, and Dr. Shen is a pioneering figure in this field, having devoted over a decade to unraveling the mysteries of synthetic biology. From her early days at BGI to her role in groundbreaking projects including the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project, Dr. Shen has been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of what's possible.
In this conversation, she shares her journey, insights into the transformative potential of synthetic biology, and her ambitious plans for the future. Join us as we delve into the world of synthetic biology with one of its brightest stars.
Question: What prompted you to start researching synthetic biology?
Shen Yue: After joining BGI in 2010, I learned that scientists in the field of synthetic biology had managed to recreate a prokaryotic life form from scratch. During interactions with my colleagues, I gradually developed an interest in this new field.
In the same year, Dr. Yang Huanming, Co-founder and Member of the Board of Directors of BGI Group and Director-General of BGI, invited Professor Drew Endy from Stanford University, a prominent scientist in the field of synthetic biology to give a lecture at BGI. During this interaction, he asked why BGI, with its vast resources and information from decoding numerous genes, had not ventured into the field of synthetic biology.
This question greatly boosted our confidence and motivated us to explore this direction. I also began the exploration and practice of synthetic biology.
Question: Since 2010, BGI has been involved in the field of synthetic biology, participating in an international collaborative project with six countries – the yeast genome Sc2.0 project. Recently, there have been breakthroughs in the tools used in this field. Could you share the story behind this journey?
Shen Yue: In late 2010, Professor Jef Boeke, who initiated the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project, introduced us to this scientific endeavor. During that period, synthetic biology was in its very early stages. The co-founders of BGI believed the significance of this project and envisioned that it would promote the fundamental technologies of synthetic biology. So, we became one of the early members of this community.
During the project, we realized that the existing DNA synthesis technology could not support such a large workload. Wang Jian, Co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of BGI Group, suggested that we needed to develop our own tools. Then we started to focus on developing tools for fundamental research.
After the first special issue of the synthetic yeast genome project published on Science, we successfully developed the first prototype of high through DNA synthesizer in 2018 and have further enhanced our system since then.
Question: What are the representative applications of synthetic biology at present?
Shen Yue: One of the significant potentials of synthetic biology is that, based on gene analysis, it can substantially shorten the drug development cycle, such as the vaccine development of COVID-19.
Synthetic biology also exhibits disruptive potential in many cutting-edge directions, such as DNA storage, which can be considered a highly representative downstream application to provide a solution for storing the increasing amount of information.
Question: What are your plans for the next steps in your research work?
Shen Yue: It has been 13 years since my first encounter with synthetic biology, and I believe this is a direction that is both challenging and full of promise. This year, we have set a new goal: we plan to construct a yeast recoding genome within a year.
Question: What would you like to say to young individuals aspiring to enter the field of life sciences in the future?
Shen Yue: I hope that more young people can ignite their curiosity on the foundation of existing technological platforms. At the same time, if you want to create something different, you need to have a persevering spirit, be willing to accept challenges, endure setbacks, and find the motivation that arises from failures.