(Continued from PART 3)
Question 3: Looking ahead, what is the direction of life science development?
Dr. Xu Xun: We believe that in the next 20 years, genomics will still be a central part of life science. Genomics is a must for us to understand birth, aging, sickness and death and ultimately answer questions around the origin, evolution, adaptation, and diversity of life.
BGI technician operates automated equipment in a laboratory. BGI will continue to develop and use innovative tools to discover more in life science.
For the next 20 years, genomics is expected to address four core questions in biology:
The relationship between the genome and human health. We know the genome determines our life, but we don't know how the code of our DNA ultimately determines our health. Why do people have a lifespan limit? Why do people age? Are these determined by our genome? What is the relationship to the environment? We can only answer these questions from the big data offered by genomics.
The heterogeneity and function of tissue. The human body is made up of 37 trillion cells, each of which regulates transcription differently. Even within a same tissue, cells’ transcriptional regulation varies dramatically. Therefore, the study of tissue heterogeneity is important to understand how cells of multicellular organisms, including human, cooperate with each other and perform organ functions. The development of single-cell and spatiotemporal omics technology has enabled us to explain tissue heterogeneity and multicellular origin.
On species evolution. There are many mysteries of evolution that remain unexplained today. Life on earth originated in the ocean then moved to land. What changed during this transition? What are the key genes that determined the transition? Primitive creatures such as axolotl have a strong ability to regenerate. It can regenerate after its limbs are severed or even brain is cut in half. Why do these “lower” species have such regenerative ability, but not humans? The core of understanding regeneration is aging. To address these questions, we need to learn from the data of biodiversity. Therefore, we have initiated the Digital Earth Project and are collecting the spatiotemporal omics data of key biological structures, to help explain the key milestones events in the evolution.
On the origin of consciousness. What are the carriers of memory and emotion in the brain? Why do humans have advanced intelligence, but not for monkeys? What is the difference between the brain structure of monkeys and humans, that leads to such significant differences in consciousness, emotion, and memory?
These four core questions are for genome science and BGI's scientific research in the next 20 years. For this, we will continue to develop and use innovative tools such as spatiotemporal omics, to discover more with big data.