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This is a brief profile on the topic of synthetic biology in China. Information from reliable English and Chinese media was gathered from on-line sources. With the help of our Chinese teammates, information from Mandarin media was translated to English. The profile is divided into seven parts: SynBio map entries; iGEM competition; biotechnology market; biotechnology funding; regulations of synthetic biology; the perception of synthetic biology; and general information on leading institutes and organizations. We present information so that readers will be able to get an overall picture of the current situation and China’s efforts in promoting synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology in China is still in its infancy compared with other countries, e.g.: the United States (“Synthetic biology”, n.d.). Researchers and the government, however, have realized the importance of developing synthetic biology and are facilitating through various activities such as funding researches, and incorporating into government plans.

China’s impact on synthetic biology is small at present. In the future, however, the country plans to utilize its current technologies, such as genetic sequencing and recombinant DNA, to facilitate the field of synthetic biology (香山科学会议第322次学术讨论会综述, 2008). With technological advancement, independent innovation and thorough regulations are expected to support the development of synthetic biology in China.

Synbio Map

In 2009, the Synthetic Biology Project began mapping the research in the field of synthetic biology. As the field develops, this map expands in region and identifies companies, universities, research institutions, laboratories and other centers across the globe that are active in this emerging field. This map is based on publicly available data from official websites, scientific literature, government reports and records, and newspaper and journal articles. Synthetic biology is, however, a growing field, and therefore, the map is still in the progress fully depicting synthetic biology all around the world.

The map identifies 20 entries in Mainland China, 7 in Hong Kong, and 6 in Taiwan in year of 2013. The entries include universities involving in synthetic biology researches, Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) laboratories, and companies. All of the entries lie in the east coast in China, where the economy is relatively more prosperous than those of the central and western regions. Also, regions such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are more globalized than mainland China. These regions can provide the public and academia more opportunities to communicate with experts from other countries such as the United States.

Compared with leading countries in synthetic biology such as the United States, China has far fewer entries. The most significant difference can be seen in private companies. This may be caused by insufficient information about synthetic biology for the private investors. Overall, SynBio map reflects China’s position in synthetic biology development. Prospectively, Chinese government will put larger capital on synthetic biology and attract more and more high-tech talents to devote themselves into synthetic biology in China.

Participation in the iGEM Competition

Thousands of college students from Mainland China who want hand on experience in synthetic biology participate in the iGEM competition. In recent years, there have been teams from Peking University, Tsinghua University, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Tianjin University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) participating in the iGEM competition. They have made remarkable achievements. For example, in 2007, Peking University team won the world championship. ("Research results of," 2010) Trying to meet this standard, more universities are devoted to do better in the competition by increasing the fund and having more students and faculty involved in the iGEM competition.

Biotechnology Industry

From the start of last century, China had made great efforts to apply biotechnology in industries, agriculture and medical science. Because of these efforts, there are currently five main industries under the larger biotechnology industry: agricultural biotechnology industry, biological pharmacy industry, industrial biotechnology, biological resources technology and environmental biotechnology, respectively (Liu, 2006).
Agricultural biotechnology
As China is a large country with 1.3 billion people, China actively researched on ways to use biotechnology to produce efficient crop field and increase the yield. The most famous instance is the super hybrid rice developed by Dr Yuan, Longping in 1975, which significantly increased the income of Chinese farmer and moreover, has successfully supported 1/5 of the total world population with only 7.2% cultivated area in the world (Gan, 2009).

Medical science biotechnology
Chinese also used biotechnology in medical science to help developing medical treatment and public health. From 1959 to 1965, numerous Chinese researchers focused on synthesis of bovine insulin and successfully accomplished their research. The paper about artificial synthesis of bovine insulin was published to Science in China in April, 1966. This is a hallmark of synthetic biology in China, since the research is a symbol of the era when China started to synthesize protein manually (“新中国档案: 我国首次人工合成结晶牛胰岛素蛋白”, 2009).

Chinese government also invests a large amount of money on medical science to create new, efficient and safe genetic drugs and vaccines. Nowadays, genetic drugs and antibody drugs are replacing the less specific chemotherapy to cure cancer patients. Along with his trend, the rising consumption power and health awareness of the public stimulate the government to actively develop the vaccine market.

Biological pharmacy industry
The import and export volume of China's biopharmaceutical products was US$ 377 million in 2007. This value represents 48% increase from 2006. In 2007, the import volume reached US$ 336 million and the export volume was US$ 41 million. The growth rate of export volume in 2007 had declined from the level of 58% in 2006 to 26% in 2007. Although the export of Chinese biopharmaceutical industry constantly kept a high growth rate, the volume was still very small compared with the import volume. This sharp contrast indicated that China's biopharmaceutical products accounted for a very low market ratio in international market ("Market report on," 2009).

Biotechnology Industry Funding

Chinese government plays an important role in providing funds. The current funding for R&D of Synthetic Biology in China is mainly through the government's National High-tech Research and Development Project, National Program on Key Basic Research Project, and National Science Foundation of China (NSFC). Chinese government officials plan to grow R&D spending from 1.5% of GDP today to 2.5% in 2020 (Pei, Schmidt, & Wei, 2011). In addition to funding from the state, provincial and municipal governments are the other constant sources that contribute to the budget for research. Compare to the abundant industry or private funding in the US, there are only a few private sources in China (Pei et al., 2011). An example of private company in china is Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), which is in cooperation with Royal Dutch Shell Group and Boeing Inc. for the development of biofuel.

Regulations for Synthetic Biology

One of the most reliable regulations on transgenic organisms, Regulations on Administration of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms Safety was published in 2001 by Ministry of Agriculture (“Regulations on Administration of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms Safety”). Other safety assessment and regulation on export and import Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) were also formulated. Since organisms synthesized by synthetic biology are also considered as GMO, it is likely that the government will use these laws and regulations to govern the use and development of synthetic biology.
The difference between synthetic biology and more traditional genetic engineering do exists. Using synthetic biology, scientists will be able to generate novel organisms that possess designed functions for specific use. In this case, it is hard to define if novel organisms are risky or unsafe. Complete laws and regulations that encompass all aspect of synthetic biology can create sustainable and safe development of synthetic biology in China.

Perception of Synthetic Biology

Recently, the Chinese government and many Chinese scientists’ interest in synthetic biology is growing. Many conferences were conducted in the past few years in China, discussing how synthetic biology should be further explored. In February 2008, the Xiangshan Conference on synthetic biology was held and it was the first of its kind in China. In July 2009, the Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology of Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) organized a forum on the design of drug and energy products based on synthetic biology techniques (Zhang, Chang, & Wang, 2011). More forums were held in the following years, where experts and scholars were invited to discuss the current status and development strategies of synthetic biology, with the aim of promoting its further prosperity in China.

Meanwhile, research centers about synthetic biology were established with the financial support of central government, including the Systems and Synthetic Biology Research Center in Tianjin University, Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology of CAS and the Synthetic Biology and Bioinformatics Center in the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (Zhang et al., 2011). Currently there are more than 15 institutes that have projects focused in this field ("Synthetic biology project:," ). They play a big role in the development of synthetic biology in China. The Chinese government also focuses on this emerging discipline. The Ministry of Science and Technology had enlisted it as a major research area in its R&D plans in 2010. Also, there was an increasing number of projects related to synthetic biology in the two most important technology development programs, National High-tech Research and Development Project (863 program) and National Program on Key Basic Research Project (973 program) (Pei et al., 2011).

When it comes to the general public, they are not aware of synthetic biology. As a new developing scientific field, synthetic biology is largely known only within academia. Except for a few media exposure to the public, not many information of synthetic biology is available for the general public. The general public is therefore, not familiar with the pros and cons of potentials in synthetic biology, issues in biosafety, biosecurity, and ethics. To avoid doubt and panic among the public, it is necessary to conduct synthetic biology research in collaboration with social scientists to promote the awareness (Pei et al., 2011).

Research, People and Organizations

Synthetic biology has received a lot of attention from academia and many researchers have devoted into this field. Below are some of the leading researchers in this field:

Most institutes are founded and supported by the government. The Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology, Chinese Academy in Science (CAS) in Shanghai is an example of institutes that first established to use synthetic biology to address issues related to energy, human health and the environment (Zhang et al., 2011). Besides government supported laboratories, individual studies on synthetic biology are carried out in universities throughout China as well.


Synthetic Biology (n.d.). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  Retrieved in July from
香山科学会议第322次学术讨论会综述, 2008. Retrieved in July from (Chinese)
[Chart] Synthetic biology market - global industry analysis, size, growth, share and forecast 2012 - 2018. (2011). Retrieved from

SynBio Map of China
[Map]. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from:

Participation in the iGEM Competition
Research results of pku igem team published in nature. (2010, 04 19). Retrieved from
[Figure] (n.d.). Retrieved from
[Image] (n.d.). Retrieved from
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Biotechnology Market
Gan, L. (2009, 08 25). 袁隆平发明杂交水稻颗种子改变世界. Retrieved from (Chinese)
Liu, Y. (2006, 12 11). Development of biotechnology industry and its impact of china. Retrieved from
Market report on china’s biopharmaceutical industry, 2008-2010. (2009, 03 25). Retrieved from’s-Biopharmaceutical-Industry-2008-2010
新中国档案:我国首次人工合成结晶牛胰岛素蛋白. (2009, 09 17). Retrieved from (Chinese)
[Image] 时代呼唤袁隆平精神. (2011, 10 15). Retrieved from (Chinese)
[Graph] Summary figure global value of synthetic biology market, by product type, 2010-2016 ($ millions). (n.d.). Retrieved from
[Chart] Biotechnology in china: agriculture and biotechnology. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Biotechnology Industry Funding in China
Pei, L., Schmidt, M., & Wei, W., (2011). Synthetic biology: an emerging research field in China. Biotechnology Advances, 29(6), 804-814.

[Image] 天然产物药物合成生物学与组合生物合成技术研讨会议简报. (2012, 03 29). Retrieved from
[Image] 合成生物学的伦理问题与生物安全学术研讨会召开. (2010, 07 01). Retrieved from

Pei, L., Schmidt, M., & Wei, W., (2011). Synthetic biology: an emerging research field in China. Biotechnology Advances, 29(6), 804-814.
SynBio map, 2013. In Synthetic Biology Project. Retrieved in July from
Zhang, L.Y., Chang S.H., & Wang, J., (2011). Synthetic biology: From the first synthetic cell to see its current situation and future development. Chinese Science Bulletin, 56(3), 229-237. Doi: 10.1007/s11434-010-4303-z
[Chart] (n.d.). Retrieved from

Research institute, people, organization and company
Zhang, L.Y., Chang S.H., & Wang, J., (2011). Synthetic biology: From the first synthetic cell to see its current situation and future development. Chinese Science Bulletin, 56(3), 229-237. Doi: 10.1007/s11434-010-4303-z
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