Interview on Chinese scientist who discovered most of genes
Francis H.C. Crick, a British physicist, in collaboration with James D. Watson, a young biochemists in the United States, discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, known as “Watson –Crick Model” on January 18, 1953, This set a stage for the rapid advances of molecular biology.
During the late 70s to the early 80s, with the development of biochemical technology, a large amount of sequence data was produced. At the same time, mathematical statistical method and computer technology made great progress, so some computer scientists used the computer technology to solve the problems encountered in the biology, especially in the biological molecular sequence. They began to study the sequence of bimolecular as well as research how to predict structures and functions based on sequences. At that time, bioinformatics came into being.
Tang Yuanhua is one of the scientists who want to use theories to explain all the phenomena of life on earth. He originally majored in math, but an accident chance made him change to research biology. In 1988, as Dr. Tang Yuanhua studied biostatistics in American, he happened to listen to a lecture given by James D. Watson on introducing the Human Gene Project (HGP), known as Apollo Program in the area of life science, leaving a profound impression on him. Since then, he started to pay attention to life science, and organized some discussion on life science in university. He hoped that one day there would be a set of theory to describe life science. So he made a decision to change his major to learn biology as a undergraduate, and later became a postdoctoral student at the medical school, devoted to be a scholar proficient in life science. Dr. Tang Yuanhua calls himself as a bioinformaticist, and he believes that ATGC is to life science what 0 and 1 are to computer technology. The essence of life is information.
After his graduation, Tang Yuanhua has been devoted to HGP. From 1996 to 1999, he worked in Incyte, a firm engaging in genetic date in California, where he led his team to discover more than 6,000 human genes. Later, during 1999 to 2004, he with his team discovered over 2,000 human genes again in Nuvelo. At present, a total of 30,000 human genes have been discovered, among which include more than 20,000 traditional encoded proteins. It is conservatively estimated that the genes discovered by Tang Yuanhua and his team account for over 20% of total genes, so Tang Yuanhua is also known as a scientist who discovered the most genes in the world. When he recalled his experience, he said with smile, “at that time, I indulged myself in discovering new genes, and always went to company to work even in weekends, which made me almost miss the birth of my second child. When my wife gave me many calls, I back home to send my wife to the hospital in a hurry, as a result, within half an hour, my baby was born.” Once new genes and genes are discovered, Tang Yuanhua will have a sense of pride and name theses genes by himself. He hopes that the genes will be used to guide health and treat diseases in the future,
During the period of 2013-2015, Tang Yuanhua was assigned to BGI to work, so he went back and forth between the United States and China. At that time, China has notched up rapid development in bioinformatics and was deepening the research, but it still took some time to catch up with other countries. It was until the $1,000 genes were sequenced that Tang saw a huge opportunity, and felt it was time to make the genomic benefit people. In the meantime, he, together with Zhao Guoping, an academician of Chinese National Human gene Center at Shanghai, discussed the possibility of conducting the research on population gene database, and did a lot of research. In 2015, he with Dr. Xu Jian from Silicon Valley of the United States led the team to found First Dimension Bioscience (Suzhou) Co., Ltd (First Dimension) in Suzhou BioBAY, striving to be a leading genetic big date company in China.
Dr. Tang introduced that First Dimension is a company featuring digital life and genetic data, with the goal of using gene sequencing information to help human keep health and fight against disease. The company takes cancer’s genetic testing as its starting point and Chinese people’s a germ-line genetic database as its medium-term goal so as to provide the services of genetic industry to all Chinese. Of course, its long-term goal is to dramatically improve people's health and life cycle.
Since its inception, First Dimension has began to build a authorities cancer genes information database in China, namely “Chinese Cancer Gene Cloud Platform”, creating a statistically significant baseline targeting Chinese common cancer mutations and treatment effect. At present, the cancer cloud platform has completed the sequencing of more than 1,000 cancer patients and compared data of more than 1,000 healthy people, now still accumulates the more data. The cancer cloud platform is a free and open public-benefit data platform, which can provide free cloud storage, data analysis process, database resources and other services for cancer genomics researchers. Dr. Tang said, we hope that through such a platform, the people freely and openly communicate with each to jointly promote the development of analysis research in the cancer gene field, and improve the cancer gene big database that is conducive to treating cancer patients.
The gene has a bearing on human illness and death. It can be used to predict and prevent diseases, as well as help human keep fit. According to the 2015 China Cancer Statistics, there were about 4.292 million more people suffered from cancer and 2.814 million patients died of cancer in China in 2015. If people’s average life expectancy is 74 years old, the risk of suffering from malignant tumors in human life is as high as 22%.
Dr. Tang said that cancer results from genetic and environmental factors. The genetics of tumor genes do not necessarily lead to cancer. Some parents who are fit in physical, but have a tumor gene, can give birth to a child with a disease. The incidence of cancer in the family with the tumor gene is much higher than normal. However, the early screening of genetic tumors for these high-risk populations can prevent tumors, thus reducing the incidence and mortality of tumors. Based on this idea, FD-FIRST targeting screening the cancer gene was developed to help clients fully screen the risk of genetic tumors. If it is to be promoted to the Chinese market, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved each year. In addition, FD – ExomeTM of full exon sequencing has been developed. It through high-throughput gene sequencing and gene big data analysis techniques can scan the all exons of 30000 genes in the human body and comprehensively analyze 19 kinds of diseases and 8 kinds of non-pathological genetic risk.
“In the next 15 years, genomics will be as popular as today's phones, and everyone will be based on their own gene data to know their physical conditions.” Tang predicts, “The doctors will also make personalized health management plans based on genomic data. But if ordinary people want to learn the essence of life, they still need to the help of genetic counselors.” At present, our country is short of genetic consultants , so it is necessary to cultivate talents in this field.
When it came to the next plan of the company, Dr. Tang Yuanhua said, the company will stay true to the original itself to provide genetic information service for the masses through the establishment of large databases , aiming to help people keep fit and fight against diseases, as well as improve people's health life cycle . We also hope that we will further deepen development and notice some “small and refined” products so as to promote the healthy development of the whole industry.