Synthetic biology is an emerging scientific discipline where the science and industry are advancing rapidly and in parallel. President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 2018 Academician Conference of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering highlighted the fact that the “life science specialties represented by synthetic biology, gene editing, brain science, and regenerative medicine are creating new transformations.” Synthetic biology is regarded as a nascent field that will lead the third revolution of the biotechnology industry and drive the fifth industrial revolution.
Shenzhen Institute of Synthetic Biology (hereinafter referred to as the “iSynBio”) is an unincorporated scientific research institute led by the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (SIAT), with the Shenzhen Second People’s Hospital and BGI as the core participating units. In January 2019, iSynBio was established by the Institute of Synthetic Biology (the seventh institute under SIAT) based on the “co-construction of schools and institutes” format. iSynBio began with the vision of building and understanding life, integrating BT and IT, and constructing a world-class synthetic biology research institute. It is guided by the concept of “build life to understand it, build life to use it”, and focuses on understanding artificial living systems. The research institute has a strong commitment to developing the field of synthetic biology by reshaping and expanding the knowledge base, and conducting research to understand basic principles, develop new methodologies, and advance medical applications.iSynBio has built a comprehensive “five-in-one” innovation ecosystem model based on multidisciplinary collaboration between multiple participating organizations. The innovative model is made possible with the contribution of several players, including the Institute of Synthetic Biology’s talents, participants involved in scientific research and industry, national ministries and commissions, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and local governments.
(1) Research: In December 2017, Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology established the first institute of synthetic biology in China. Currently, it is home to the world’s largest cutting-edge multidisciplinary team, mainly composed of young “overseas returnees”, who specialize in the field of synthetic biology. In November 2018, Shenzhen approved the integrated development of iSynBio and the institute of synthetic biology at SIAT (Shenzhen Municipal Government invested 750 million RMB over 5 years, making it one of the top ten basic research institutions in Shenzhen).
(2) Platform: Shenzhen took the lead in building the world’s largest scientific and technological infrastructure facility for synthetic biology research. The main building of the facility was completed in January 2021 and will be an advanced platform for the design and fabrication of intelligent life systems, boosting national synthetic biology research efforts. (Shenzhen Municipal Government invested RMB 722 million, excluding infrastructure construction costs)
(3) Education: In October 2019, CAS Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology was officially approved to be included in the 13th Five-Year Plan under the provision for the establishment of colleges and universities in Guangdong Province, and preparatory work for the related construction work has commenced. The faculty of Synthetic Biology is one of the six schools to be established, and will encourage original innovation in synthetic biology and continue to develop high-quality young talents in this field.
(4) Industry: In April 2020, the Shenzhen Engineering Biological Industry Innovation Center selected Guangming Science City to build the first “upstream and downstream innovation and entrepreneurship complex” in China. This initiative will help to bridge the gap between the Institute’s applied research activities and commercial application by addressing the lack of facilities and technology platforms available to early startups, and greatly shorten the time required to transform original innovations into industrial applications (Shenzhen Municipal Government invested RMB 92.16 million).
(5) Capital: To promote the growth of synthetic biology as a discipline and its future industrial applications, we brought together domestic and foreign scientific research talents with excellent investment management talents in order to establish the “XingboShenghui” Synthetic Biology Industry Fund. The fund will help to provide a fertile environment for synthetic biology startups, and further ensure the healthy and rapid development of the synthetic biology industry.
As a high-level scientific research platform independently built by Shenzhen, iSynBio will focus on the goal to establish the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area as an international science and technology innovation hub, and conduct scientific research and development that matches world-class standards. iSynBio will improve the level of technological innovation and innovation capabilities in the field of synthetic biology in Shenzhen. It will focus on addressing the shortcomings of basic research in synthetic biology, overcoming the inherent challenges in the R&D process, and constantly improving the innovative ecological process of “basic research + technological breakthroughs + industrialization of achievements + science and technology finance”. With these unremitting efforts, it seeks to build a sustainable global innovation city.