Wuhan University (China) WHU wins highest award in China’s first synthetic biology innovation competition

In July 2022, China’s first synthetic biology innovation competition was successfully held. The WHU-mNucleoside team from the School of Pharmacy at Wuhan University won the only and highest Grand Prize in this competition, as well as the Gold Award of the Innovation Competition, the Best Team Award, and the Best Response Award.

The WHU-mNucleoside team consists of seven students: He Yuanyuan, Chen Ruyi, She Yixuan, Wang Jingwen, Chen Mengyao, Zhang Yuxiang, and Sun Xiaoyu. Confronted with the challenge of the first national competition in the field of synthetic biology, they were eager to seize this opportunity and get inspiration through brainstorming while making like-minded friends. With the gradual improvement of the experiments and the practice of responding, the team became increasingly united and gradually achieved excellent results.

When recalling the biggest difficulty of this competition, the team members all mentioned the project selection stage. “We were all deeply aware that scientific research should originate in and apply to real social practice,” the team members said. After careful consideration, the team eventually decided to select the mRNA component modified nucleoside of the third-generation vaccine in the post-epidemic era as the subject.

Based on the concept of synthetic biology, they designed and engineered E. coli bacteria to achieve efficient green biosynthesis of pseudouridine, an important raw material for mRNA vaccine synthesis. Once successful, the relevant achievements will help to enhance the industrial technology level of nucleoside drugs in China and the international competitiveness of related products.

In addition to the wisdom of the members and the cooperation of the team, the school’s perfect experimental platform and financial support also guaranteed the smooth progress of the team experiment. Under the leadership of Academician Deng Zixin, the Key Laboratory of Combinatorial Biosynthesis and New Drug Discovery of the Ministry of Education, Wuhan University focused on natural biosynthesis, combinatorial biosynthesis, anabolic engineering and other fields, which provided a strong support for the team’s research and innovation.

When asked about the most impressive moment in the competition, the team members brought up the thrilling memory in the final stage, where they had to prepare a five-minute presentation to answer the judges’ questions in less than two hours. Faced with the extremely challenging problem of “how to further improve the yield of pseudouridine on the basis of existing experiments, and how to solve the consequent bacterial strain stress”, the team decisively made use of the meal time for discussion. How to break through the restriction of objective conditions? Where is the enzyme engineering transformation and how to continue optimizing the metabolic pathway? How to balance the stress caused by the accumulation of antibiotics, pseudouridine, and other intermediate metabolites when the yield is increased? As problems were thrown out one after another, the team kept calm and worked together to find the best way to solve the problem. Eventually, their hard work paid off: in the face of further questions from the judges and teachers, the team members won satisfying grades.

The moments of winning the Gold Award and the Grand Prize were the highlights for WHU-mNucleoside. During the preparation stage, they spent many late nights in the laboratory, studying the experimental results over and over again. All the hard work turned into happiness and satisfaction, and they became the most shining team among the 27 outstanding teams.

WHU-mNucleoside felt confident about the impact of the synthetic biology competition on the future of science and technology. “The green and efficient advantages of synthetic biology enable academia and industry to interact better, providing a good opportunity for industrialization,” said team member Chen Ruyi. She believed that the competition had attracted more young people to the field of synthetic biology and built a broad platform for communication.

As for future development, WHU-mNucleoside wanted to further study the field of synthetic biology to make it more complete, extreme and meet the needs of the modern era. The relevant opinions of the judges and other teams in the process of the competition also helped them explore more ideas and find the charm of synthetic biology.

“Instead of merely anticipating the future, we should create the future with our own hands.” This is WHU-mNucleoside team’s bold and fearless spirit, as well as the confidence to climb rough mountains and make innovative breakthroughs. At Wuhan University, their ability to push boundaries and explore biological infinity will continue to shine.

The synthetic biology innovation competition is the first synthetic biology competition for college students in China, aiming to exert global influence by hosting activities and competitions related to biological innovation, just like the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM). The event attracted 27 teams from 21 colleges and universities, with 2.2 million people watching the game both online and offline. Nearly 30 scholars, including academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Medicine and Bioengineering, and the European Academy of Sciences, were present at the competition site as judges.