Behind the "synthetic starch"

  Expert: Synthetic biology is in the ascendant

  "Beyond photosynthesis, plants and soil, Chinese scientists have used carbon dioxide as raw materials to directly synthesize starch..." Recently, the Chinese Academy of Sciences held a press conference to introduce this exciting scientific research result. The paper was also published in the authoritative academic journal "Science" Published on.

At the moment when we are striving to achieve the goal of carbon peak and carbon neutrality, synthetic starch has given people endless beautiful imaginations, and some netizens even exclaimed: "Drinking the northwest wind" will no longer be a joke in the future."

  Although there is still a long way to go from the laboratory to the factory, synthetic starch is still a breakthrough and original major scientific research achievement, behind which is the global ascendant synthetic biology.

Deng Zixin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters that synthetic biology is an emerging engineering science in the field of life sciences. Its essence is to rationally design, transform and even re-synthesize biological systems according to specific goals under the guidance of engineering thoughts, by constructing artificial biological systems. To study the basic issues in life sciences and deal with the major challenges facing mankind. Therefore, it is considered by many countries to be a disruptive science and technology in the future.

  At present, synthetic biology at home and abroad is creating more and more scientific and technological achievements.

Many experts and scholars told reporters that in the field of synthetic biology, China has relatively important scientific research results almost every few months.

After starch, we may usher in more new "synthesis".

  Text, picture/Wu Wei, all-media reporter of Guangzhou Daily (except signature)

Major breakthrough:

  "Start from the most primitive place"

  As we all know, starch is the most important component of food, usually produced by crops by fixing carbon dioxide through natural photosynthesis.

The synthesis and accumulation of starch in nature involves more than 60 biochemical reactions and complex physiological regulation.

  According to the press conference of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ma Yanhe, a researcher at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led the team to design from scratch using a method similar to “building blocks” and construct an 11-step reaction of unnatural carbon fixation and starch synthesis pathways. , For the first time in the laboratory to achieve the total synthesis from carbon dioxide to starch molecules.

After nuclear magnetic resonance and other tests, it is found that the structural composition of synthetic starch molecules is consistent with that of natural starch molecules.

  Preliminary laboratory tests show that the efficiency of synthetic starch is about 8.5 times that of traditional agricultural starch.

Under the conditions of sufficient energy supply, and according to current technical parameters, theoretically, the annual starch output of a 1 cubic meter bioreactor is equivalent to the annual starch output of my country's 5 acres of corn land.

  Ma Yanhe's scientific research breakthrough has aroused heated discussion in the scientific circle of our country.

Chen Guoqiang, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering of Tsinghua University, told reporters: “Synthetic starch is a breakthrough scientific progress. Its breakthrough lies in the fact that the synthesis of starch is all carried out outside the cell. In the past, the polymerization of more complex compounds like starch Generally it needs to be done inside the cell. Ma Yanhe’s team put all experimental operations outside the cell for the first time. This is a major breakthrough and a very typical case of synthetic biology. In addition to the synthesis of starch outside the cell, they also built a complete The metabolic pathway of using extracellular enzymes to promote its reaction is a good breakthrough."

  Professor Qin Chongjun, Director of the Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, also said: “Synthetic starch is definitely a major scientific breakthrough. Although it is not a Nobel Prize, it still has its originality and shock. At present, The achievements in the field of synthetic biology in our country are large and small, but there are not many that have reached such a shock as artificial synthetic starch. Artificial synthetic starch is a conceptual and original breakthrough, and it is indeed very rare. Most of the past scientific research breakthroughs belonged to Extensible, the scientific framework has been set. Researchers just follow the path, but synthetic starch is a conceptual breakthrough. It starts from the most primitive place, which is different from other scientific research in nature. "

 From laboratory to factory:

  "May have to exhaust a scientist's life"

  Despite the success in the laboratory, experts admit that it is still a long way to go from the laboratory to the factory for synthetic starch.

  Zhou Qi, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the results of artificially synthesized starch are still in the laboratory stage, and the transition from the concept of "0 to 1" to "1 to 10" needs to be realized as soon as possible in the future.

  Qin Chongjun told reporters: “The distance from the laboratory to the factory for this kind of achievement is amazing. The synthetic starch is only a preliminary path through, but the issue of cost accounting must be considered. At present, the cost is reduced to energy and natural PK is still very difficult. It may require an exhausting scientist's life to work hard."

  Qin Chongjun said: "In the field of scientific research, conceptual breakthroughs are possible. This is the same as the treatment of cancer. The technology has been continuously improving. The life span of patients has been extended, but it is not good enough to be cured. From academics to applications will be improved. A process of continuous efforts, the application will definitely involve cost issues.'Using a 1 cubic meter can to produce starch, 5 acres of corn can be planted without planting' is a vision, which is far from being achieved now, and may be realized in the future. Scientific breakthroughs are far from theoretical breakthroughs to practical applications. Any scientific progress is always realized in the process of accumulation. As soon as there is a scientific breakthrough, it must be applied immediately. This is also unscientific in itself."

  Chen Guoqiang said: "The challenge of artificial starch synthesis in the future is to test the stability of various enzymes in extracellular synthesis. How to do the separation and purification of various enzymes, how to keep the enzymes active outside the cell, and how to deal with the enzymes after each step in the synthesis. The vitality of the decay...These problems need to be solved outside the cell. There are many steps to synthesize starch, and the current cost is very high, and it is also unacceptable for industrialization."

  Chen Guoqiang went on to say: “Another problem with synthetic starch is that as the molecular weight continues to rise, glucose is continuously integrated into the polymer starch chain, the viscosity will become greater and the difficulty of polymerization will become higher and higher, artificial synthesis Starch may not be polymerized with very high molecular weight starch. From the molecular weight point of view, there is still a gap between synthetic starch and common starch. These problems will be solved in future work. But no matter what, only It is a great job to be able to artificially synthesize glucose outside the cell."

 Synthetic biology:

  "Unnatural but better than natural"

  Behind the artificial starch is the rapid progress of synthetic biology at home and abroad in recent years.

  Deng Zixin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters: "Gene-based life sciences have undergone three revolutions. Now that human beings have entered the engineering of biological systems, synthetic biology has begun to use purpose-oriented and engineering-oriented concepts, and has a full perspective on biology. Dimensional research is a highly integrated discipline comparable to mechanical engineering and civil engineering. Scientists artificially design and construct new life systems, making it have non-natural but superior to natural functions."

  According to Deng Zixin, my country has already developed drugs using biosynthetic technology. “The manufacturers in my country that did not have vitamin e can only import them; now, vitamin e has been manufactured through biosynthesis technology, and my country has also become a vitamin e producer. Big country. Biosynthesis broke the complicated procedures of foreign chemical synthesis in one fell swoop. The cost is very low, the process is very safe, the investment is small, the efficiency is high, and all aspects have been greatly improved."

  Deng Zixin firmly believes that in the future, examples such as vitamin e will surely emerge in endlessly. "Traditional chemical synthesis will produce some toxic derivatives. The use of synthetic biology is not only lower in cost but also more environmentally friendly and safe. In the future, synthetic biology will definitely do a lot. ."

  He also said, "Synthetic biology is actually to clarify the genes for product production, and'persuade' a certain microorganism to grow into a certain compound that is not produced in nature, so that it has better effects than natural compounds."

  Chen Guoqiang said that there are also many achievements of synthetic biology abroad. The most typical example is the mRNA vaccine developed abroad during the new crown pneumonia epidemic.

The basic principle is to introduce the mRNA expressing the antigen target into the body through a specific delivery system, express the protein in the body and stimulate the body to produce a specific immunological response, so that the body can obtain immune protection.

"Before the new crown pneumonia epidemic, the mRNA vaccine technology was actually born, but it has never had the opportunity to be used in clinical practice. Therefore, this technology has always remained in the field of academic achievement; in the face of the epidemic, this technology can finally be used in clinical practice and has produced results. Very ideal. Based on mRNA technology, humans will certainly develop various vaccines, anti-cancer drugs, antibodies, etc. in the future. I think this must be the most successful example of synthetic biology abroad." Chen Guoqiang believes that in China, The biosynthesis of some compounds and drugs, monoclonal antibodies, and the modification of chromosomes in yeast cells are all successful cases in the field of synthetic biology.

  "In the field of synthetic biology, there are many academic achievements and innovations, but applications require opportunities and a certain period of accumulation. The research of mRNA vaccines has actually been going on abroad for more than ten or two decades, but there has been no chance of clinical trials until the epidemic. Happened." Chen Guoqiang told reporters.

 Exploration and originality:

  "A breakthrough means hope"

  During the interview, several scientists emphasized that great scientific breakthroughs may not necessarily be successful in application, but they all make mankind one step closer to the truth.

Therefore, regardless of whether synthetic starch can be industrialized in the future, scientists have found a new way for mankind.

  "Original and shocking scientific breakthroughs are always exciting." Qin Zhongjun told reporters.

In 2018, Tan Zhongjun used CRISPR technology to create a yeast strain with only one chromosome.

This major breakthrough in synthetic biology was published in the journal Nature.

  Chen Guoqiang said: "Any scientific and technological transformation from laboratory to industry requires time and accumulation, and many mistakes may be made during the process. Even many scientific and technological breakthroughs can only stay in scientific research, not necessarily in scientific research. To achieve commercial success in the short term. We need to take a long-term view. Many technologies often take generations of effort from the laboratory to the factory."

  For example, he said: “Everyone now uses PCR technology for nucleic acid detection, also called polymerase chain reaction. Before, scientists only knew that such a reaction could be achieved in cells. Until one day, a scientist got this reaction. When he did it outside the cell, it became the current PCR technology. It has been more than 50 years from PCR discovery to technology application. Now the entire life science field is using PCR technology for gene amplification and gene cloning. ."

  "There are only a few sciences that can be applied soon after discovery. Everyone should wait patiently. It is a breakthrough after all. Since it is a breakthrough, it can give us hope. This is a very important thing." Tan Zhongjun told reporters. "Quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity have been discovered for hundreds of years. There are not many fields of application at present, but no one can deny the great epoch-making significance of this scientific discovery."