Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin)


Synbio@Tianjin University

The National Collaborative Innovation Centre of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin), a partnership between Tianjin University and Nankai University, was established in 2012. It is one of the first 14 institutions selected for a national initiative that promotes collaborative innovation in universities. Led by Yingjin Yuan, vice president of Tianjin University, Synbio, the synthetic biology research platform, of the centre is leading synthetic biology research in China. Professor Yuan is a leading expert in bioengineering and the chief scientist of state 973 and 863 programmes on synthetic biotechnology. The research group on synthetic biology at Tianjin University was formed in 2006, when Prof. Yuan’s group were invited to participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM), a premier international student competition in synthetic biology, initiated by MIT. They won the gold medal next year, and since then they have been expanding their team and leading synthetic biology research in China. Recently, they have won the Science Fund for Creative Research Groups from the National Natural Science Foundation of China to build an innovative research team on synthetic biology and bioprocessing engineering, the first of such a team in China. The International Joint Research Center of Synthetic Biology and Biosafety Strategy Research Center of Tianjin University were established in Tianjin University this year. The excellent research environment has already attracted a group of talented researchers, many from abroad. They look forward to being a top attraction to talented researchers in the field.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field that integrates biology and engineering, particularly, chemical engineering, which applies engineering principles to design and synthesize biological components. Synthetic biology also offers an unprecedented opportunity to engineer biosystems to fuel us, feed us, and heal us. Genome synthesis is an important sub-field of synthetic biology. As a key partner in the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project (Sc2.0), one of Prof. Yuan’s research thrusts is synthesizing yeast chromosomes. The Sc2.0 is an ongoing international scientific collaboration aimed to build the world’s first synthetic, designer eukaryotic genome. It is organized by Jef Boeke from New York University, who was a professor at Johns Hopkins University back then. Prof. Yuan first learned about Sc2.0 through Boeke’s postdoc and was highly attracted by the potential influence on fundamental science and its industrial applications. The synthetic genome has increased genome stability and genetic flexibility, while maintaining cell fitness. By re-designing the yeast genome, the understanding of fundamental properties of chromosomes, gene content and genome structure, could be promoted, addressing some key evolutionary questions and even regulating the process of life. Prof. Yuan’s group are responsible for synthesizing yeast chromosomes V and X, and their participation accelerated the whole programme.

Built on this work, they have successfully constructed a series of heterogeneous biosynthesis pathways for natural products, chemicals, medicines and fuels. For example, they have achieved a high yield of purified lycopene, an important antioxidant nutritional chemical, and are close to commercialization. They also developed the novel artificial biosynthetic pathway of salvianic acid A, another medically valuable derivative known for its antioxidant effects. Their goal is to construct artificial cell factories, enabling low-cost and efficient production of a wide range of products. The Synbio research platform is also geared towards providing solutions to societal challenges, such as energy security and environmental pollution. Engineering of artificial microbial consortia and exoelectrogens achieved high- performance microbial fuel cells. They have also constructed synthetic pathways of several green fuels and chemicals in photosynthetic cyanobacterial systems.

The Synbio platform of Tianjin University is the host of a synthetic biology module library, SynbioML, which contains around 8,000 artificial synthetic genetic parts, 20,000 functional modules and 1,000 chassis for diverse applications. Researchers can easily search for modules on the website and obtain them for free for further design and construction. They have also built up state-of-the-art infrastructure with advanced equipment. Furthermore, as one of the first four research platforms under the National Collaborative Innovation Centre of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin), they can leverage the centre’s rich resources and offer ample opportunities of research collaborations, including cross-disciplinary and international collaborations. The establishment of an international collaborative research centre on synthetic biology will bring in more of such opportunities.

The Synbio platform is keen to integrate frontier science into student training. Prof. Yuan have set up the“Build A Genome” (BAG) course at Tianjin University. It is a great model to help students gain familiarity with molecular biology and computational approaches to genomic problems, while developing their troubleshooting skills. This is an innovative educational programme that engages undergraduate students in the Sc2.0 project. By producing building blocks for synthetic chromosomes, students obtain first-hand experience essential to promote their independent research skills. In 2014, the Ministry of Education approved the PhD program on synthetic biology in Tianjin University, the first of its kind in the world.

The Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin) retains sole responsibility for content © 2017 Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin).

1 December 2017 - 30 November 2018

Region: Global
Subject/journal group: All

The table to the right includes counts of all research outputs for Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin) published between 1 December 2017 - 30 November 2018 which are tracked by the Nature Index.

Hover over the donut graph to view the FC output for each subject. Below, the same research outputs are grouped by subject. Click on the subject to drill-down into a list of articles organized by journal, and then by title.

Research collaboration: Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin) is a research collaboration whose article contributions are accrued to its participating partner institutions.

Note: Articles may be assigned to more than one subject area.

236 38.81

Outputs by subject (FC)

Subject AC FC
Physical Sciences 50 7.07
Chemistry 211 35.41
Life Sciences 7 1.97
Earth & Environmental Sciences 3 0.64

Highlight of the month

Carbon shares the load in bendy batteries

© Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty

© Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty

Bendy batteries could be made more durable by protecting vulnerable components in a flexible carbon frame.

Lithium-based batteries can hold a lot of power, but lithium crystals can grow inside the cell with detrimental effects. Bending the battery leads to more crystal growth and increases the likelihood of a short circuit.

A team including researchers from the Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering in Tianjin built an anode by combining lithium with graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms. The graphene provided a flexible frame that absorbed the stresses caused by bending and prevented the growth of lithium crystals. The team tested their anode in a battery and found that it lasted 1000 hours, whereas a cell made using a purely lithium anode short-circuited after just 200 hours.

 Durable, bendy batteries could be used in wearable electronics and flexible solar cells that can withstand damage.

Supported content

  1. Advanced Materials 30, 1703891 (2017). doi: 10.1002/adma.201703891

View the article on the Nature Index

See more research highlights from Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin)

More research highlights from Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin)

Top articles by Altmetric score in current window

Multigenerational memory and adaptive adhesion in early bacterial biofilm communities

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


In vitro DNA SCRaMbLE

Nature Communications


1 December 2017 - 30 November 2018

International vs. domestic collaboration by FC

  • 77.39% Domestic
  • 22.61% International

Note: Hover over the graph to view the percentage of collaboration.

Top 10 domestic collaborators by FC (70 total)

  • Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin), China
  • Domestic institution
  1. Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China (25.28)
  2. Lanzhou University (LZU), China (8.89)
  3. University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), China (7.62)
  4. Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), China (6.67)
  5. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), China (6.53)
  6. Peking University (PKU), China (5.66)
  7. Tsinghua University, China (4.36)
  8. Beijing National Laboratory for Molecular Sciences (BNLMS), China (4.10)
  9. Sichuan University (SCU), China (4)
  10. State Key Laboratory of Polymer Physics and Chemistry (PPCL), China (2.83)

Note: Collaboration is determined by the fractional count (FC), which is listed in parentheses.

Participating institutions

Collaborative Innovation Center of Chemical Science and Engineering (Tianjin) is a research collaboration whose article contributions are accrued to its participating partner institutions below.

Return to institution outputs