Published time: 2016-04-12 Source: Wang Jian
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Wang Jian: Original Innovation as a Basic Need of Mankind

 I describe myself as “afraid of death”. I hope to live healthily to 100 years old or longer. People may have excess demand for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and for wealth accumulation, but never stop wanting better health or a longer life. Given the fact that the rate of birth defect in China always stands at 5 per cent, what can we do with the question of life and death?

BGI was founded to meet people’s demand for health and longevity – to try to control our own life cycle. When basic living needs are met, questions concerning the need for health and longevity have become significant enough to have a social impact. Should it be prioritized in economic and social development? Will it serve as an engine for social advancement? Can life economy become another model in economics? Whether the life cycle of birth, aging, disease, and death be controlled or partly controlled? We came to realize since the early days of BGI that the problem with life cycle is cognitive, and needs to be addressed based on knowledge of the most basic as well as the most frontier science, and scientific research. It is a huge challenge, though, to apply such research in industries.

By participating in the sperm project over the years, we have realized that “big data” is a new approach to understanding life. By big data, I do not mean internet data, but rather a description of what each life stage is like. Collecting these data requires huge amounts of funding. There is still no system-atic data, following hundreds of years of scientific inquiry, on how a fertilized egg turns into an embryo. No single computer anywhere in the world can explain a fertilized egg, a single cell, a piece of DNA, or a certain moment in life.

During the years in Shenzhen, we did the best in the most difficult times. The US stopped selling new equipment to us in 2012, and refused repairing old units in 2013, which meant that our equipment would literally become garbage unless we could repair it by ourselves. Followed by the doubling in price of clinical disposable materials in 2013, we deeply felt how important tools are for life. Since then, we started working on establishing an innovation chain of big data analysis, human intelligence and its application, and opened up a new scenario where scientific and technological research is no longer separated from industries.

DNA as a double-helix is stable. If the relationship between a certain gene and a disease is spotted, it would be rightfully assumed that a body carrying the gene is somehow connected to the disease, making intervention possible. Therefore, scientific research, as a kind of public welfare undertaking, cannot be separated from the industry.

Let me give you a simple example which is both scientific and industrial. In 1997, scientists discovered that about 1-2 per cent of the cells and genes of a fetus can be detected from the mother’s blood in the ninth or tenth week of pregnancy. Tests of the blood can find out in what ways the fetus is different from the mother and what diseases it may have.

I said just now that I am “afraid of death” because one cannot delay birth or death. China has 85 million people with disabilities, more than the poverty group, yet the number is always rising. While it is easier for some people to rise above the poverty line, how can we remove disabilities?

In response to the fundamental needs of human beings on issues of the life cycle, BGI started out from the perspectives of life cognition and big data, and constantly adjusted ourselves to serve the ultimate objective of benefiting the mankind. The industrial prospects and social effects will be unprecedented. The job of BGI is to fight against aging and sustain health so that everyone will appreciate the significance of science and technology in protecting life, and appreciate the contribution that a whole new lifestyle and healthcare methods may have on future industrial growth and social progress of mankind.

BGI has gone through three stages of development. In stage I, growth was completely driven by technological advancement and paper publication. Stage II shifted the focus to meeting market de-mands as we did in recent years. And in stage III, we hope to fulfill aspirations of ordinary people – no birth defects, systematic monitoring to prevent cardiovascular diseases, and early tests to detect tumors.

Let us think about what it takes to live to over 100 years old, and what it has to do with China’s innovative growth as well as demand-driven development of mankind. Let us plan for it together.