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Chinese scientist find new genome editing tool

Reporter: Ning Hong 丨 CCTV.com

06-24-2016 05:02 BJT

The Human Genome Project may have been launched in 1990, but the international scientific community is still tirelessly working to identify and map the entire DNA sequence. And this new editing method discovered by a Chinese scientist might just accelerate the process.

Han Chunyu has just become famous overnight. It all began in early May when he published an article in Nature Biotechnology, one of the world’s top scientific journals, explaining a new gene editing tool called “NgAgo”.

"There is an analogy which I think is very good. There is a pair of golden scissors, and people are thinking how to make it even shinier. But there are other kinds of scissors, and what we found is a new one. Whether it is good or not, it is still a new pair," Han said.

The so-called “golden scissors” of gene editing is the CRISPR. The tool is currently the most widely adopted technology in genome editing, and the scientists who discovered it have been leading candidates of the Nobel Prize. But the NgAgo might just zoom past CRISPR. Not only does it have a low tolerance to mismatches, it is easy to use as well.

Compared with CRISPR, the NgAgo might be a more orderly and perhaps simpler way to go about genome editing. But that remains to be seen until there are more papers and data to back that claim. However, what surprises me is the condition of Han’s lab.

Old and rusty, Han’s lab is inside of a small building at the Hebei University of Science and Technology. The most valuable equipment in his lab is a microscope and a centrifugal machine which is 10 years old. Han’s team only consists of three people. One of them is Gao Feng, who was once his student.

“Sometimes the experiments are successful. But if it lasts overnight, then you must stay awake all night,” said Gao Feng, Hebei University of Science and Technology.

Although the university has decided to offer Han a new and bigger apartment, he still lives in his old one, because it is quite near the lab although it is less than 60 square-meters in size. And for him, that is enough.

"A lot of the research depends on your brain. The best machine is you brain, isn’t it? So our focus is to develop this machine. And also the one Gao Feng has,” Han said.

As his work is gaining traction, many organizations have invited him to join them. Yet he still prefers to stay here in Hebei. For him, an fault-tolerant environment gives him more freedom.

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