Molecular scientist chases ideas, knowledge in China

By Liu Xiangrui(China Daily) Updated: 2017-01-06

Before, just the protein-coding elements, which accounted for less than 2 percent of the genome, were thought useful, and the remaining 98 percent used to be dismissed by many as "junk DNAs".

Kapranov's work has impacted scientists' understanding of the genomic organization and architecture, while redefining the importance of the "junk DNAs" as functional RNAs that play a big role in epigenetic regulation of gene expression, including diverse cellular processes that do not involve changes in DNA sequence.

In 2010, his discovery was chosen as one of the 10 top scientific findings of the previous decade by Science magazine, and he has published his research results in many top international science journals such as Science, Nature and Cell.

While he was in the US, Kapranov's Chinese research partner suggested that he apply to a Chinese university as part of the central government's One Thousand Foreign Experts project. He felt that a great deal of scientific progress will happen in China and applied for the One Thousand Talents program from Huaqiao University, which offered good working environment and was very supportive of his research.

Kapranov admits that he didn't know much about the country before he arrived.

With support from the university authorities, he was able to build a lab and establish the university's institute of genomics, where he is now director.

In 2014, his research program was successfully included in the Thousand Talent Plan, one of the country's key projects to promote technology innovation.

His lab has become the earliest place in China to have equipment that allows them to sequence single molecules of DNA and RNA. He is mentoring more than 10 master's students working in his lab.

"The challenges are mostly scientific. It's always hard to make discoveries in science, especially when you are at the forefront of a competitive field," he explains.

Kapranov has been active in some international research collaborations in his field, and has worked to involve the university and the province in exchange activities.

Kapranov has spent most of his past three years in Xiamen. He has married Zhuang Lei, a Fujian native, and has dedicated his limited spare time to learning Chinese language.

Citing China's fast progress and its scientific achievements, like its launching of the world's first quantum satellite last August, Kapranov is optimistic about the country's future. He says he plans to stay in China for the long term.

"I love it there."


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