The most populous country and the second biggest economy in the world, China also contributes about ten percent of papers published on synthetic biology globally each year. This work is sourced from multiple organizations, including the Chinese Academy of Science, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology. Synthetic biology research in China is driven by the country’s need to address public health, nutrition, and resource needs, as well as a national strategy to promote progress in science and technology, according to Xian-en Zhang, Director General of the Basic Research Department at the China Ministry of Science and Technology.
This commitment, which began in the 1990s, was recently reinforced by President Xi Jinping, where at the joint annual conference of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering he emphasized that China “must vigorously develop science and technology and strive to become the world’s major scientific center and innovative highland.” President Jinping specifically highlighted the life sciences fields of gene editing, brain science, regenerative medicine, and, of course — synthetic biology, which has been advancing in China since 2008 (and funding of which reached 1.8% of the country’s GDP by 2013).
A strategic roadmap for synthetic biology in China includes goals like developing comprehensive databases for synthetic parts, a timeframe for commercialization of engineered parts applications, and clinical applications goals. In 2017, the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched the Institute of Synthetic Biology, and late last year they announced that China is preparing to set up a professional committee of synthetic biology, which will run under the guidance of the Chinese Society of Biotechnology.
It’s no wonder the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to host the fastest growing synthetic biology market over the next six years. Critical to this growth is access to the right tools and resources — and one U.S. company has already established itself as a key provider of synthetic biology products and services in China. Thermo Fisher Scientific, which provides a slew of life sciences resources — from labware to antibodies to oligos — to the research community through brands like Invitrogen and Thermo Scientific, is about to make its footprint in China a whole lot bigger.
Thermo Fisher introduces GeneArt products to China
Genome editing and DNA synthesis are the cornerstone technologies of synthetic biology, and the Chinese market for these tools is booming. Synthetic biologists in China will now have access to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s line of Invitrogen GeneArt products and services, which include the Invitrogen GeneArt Synthesis Service, GeneArt Strings DNA and Fragment Libraries, and GeneArt Genome Editing Tools.
Through these three products and services, scientists have access to in-house synthesized genes optimized for superior protein production and sequence accuracy (GeneArt Synthesis Service), uncloned, double-stranded, sequence-verified linear DNA fragments that can be used for downstream application such as cloning and protein expression (GeneArt Strings DNA and Fragment Libraries), and a complete toolset (GeneArt Genome Editing Tools) for cell engineering that includes GeneArt CRISPR Nuclease mRNA, GeneArt Genomic Cleavage Detection Kits, GeneArt PerfectMatch TAL effectors, and GeneArt Precision TAL effectors. In just a few short months, access to these tools has already enhanced synthetic biology research in Chinese laboratories — and China is now the biggest non-U.S. market for Thermo Fisher.
“Thermo Fisher’s GeneArt technology was integral in our research on insect resistance and molecular toxicology,” said Yi-Hua Yang, professor at the College of Plant Protection, Nanjing Agricultural University in a PR released in September. “The technology not only enabled us to knock out and validate a receptor for Bt toxins used in insect controls, we were also able to demonstrate that the CRISPR-Cas9 technique can act as a powerful and efficient genome editing tool to study gene function in a global agricultural pest.”
For Helge Bastian, vice president and general manager of synthetic biology at Thermo Fisher, the decision to introduce the Invitrogen suite of genome editing and gene synthesis tools was a natural one given the growing customer demand for efficient, reliable gene synthesis and genome editing tools. “Scientists in China are increasingly using synthetic biology for basic research and more targeted translational R&D initiatives, such as screening for biomarkers in cancer research or developing new approaches to cancer therapies,” he said in September’s PR, adding that “many [Chinese] start-up companies are leveraging our ability to design, write, edit, modify and manufacture the digital code of biology—namely nucleic acids—for game-changing applications.”
With a new suite of tools at Chinese synthetic biologists’ fingertips, those game-changing applications are closer to reality than ever before.