Two outstanding scientists at CAS, John Speakman and Pei Duanqing, have won world acclaim for their scientific achievements.

John Speakman, professor of the CAS “Thousand Talent Program” of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy. The election was announced on May 9, 2018.

Founded in 1663, the Royal Society is the oldest national science academy in the world and currently includes 1,600 of the world’s most eminent scientists. It announces new fellows each year who have made significant lifetime contributions in science, engineering and technology.

New fellows are elected on the basis of their scientific achievements by a committee of existing fellows of the society. Over the last 350 years, 8,000 scientists have been elected to the Fellowship, including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Professor John Speakman [Image from Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology]

Other than Speakman, four other CAS scientists have been elected to the Royal Society, including former CAS President Zhou Guangzhao, CAS President Bai Chunli, Professor Chen Zhu, and Professor Li Jiayang.

Professor Speakman said that it was a special honor to be elected to the Royal society and he was extremely grateful to his peers and nominators for recognizing his work. “It has been lots of hard work,” he said, “but I have also been very lucky to have had several extremely good mentors during my career. The ability to come to work in China and focus all my time into research has been extremely important.”

Professor Speakman’s work concerns energy balance in animals and humans and its many consequences. He has published over 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers and four books. Speakman explained that “Energy use is a fundamental aspect of everything that animals do, and is consequently an important unifying currency by which we can understand many aspects of animal behavior and physiology.” In the 1980s and 1990s Speakman was instrumental in developing and expanding a method for quantifying the amount of energy that animal and humans expend in their daily lives.

He has applied this method in collaboration with many researchers around the world to measure the energy requirements of a diversity of animals including African wild dogs, cheetah, mole rats and lemurs. He has worked in China with several research groups in CAS to measure energy demands of the giant panda (with Wei Fuwen), endangered langurs (with Huang Chengming), genetically modified pigs (with Jin Wanzhu and Zhao Jianguo) and the Tibetan Plateau pika (with Wang Dehua and Zhang Yanmin). This work in comparative biology has led to fundamental insights into what factors limit animal performance, and in particular the role played by the ability to dissipate body heat.

He has also been instrumental in advancing our understanding of the evolutionary background of the obesity epidemic and the role of energy balance in the process of ageing – including studies into the fundamental mechanisms underpinning the actions of calorie restriction.

In CAS his focus has been the role of different macronutrients and physical activity in driving energy imbalance. This work has included studies of mice and humans. With funding from the Strategic Priority Research Program B (Evolution-Genotype-Phenotype-systems biology: eGPS), he has shown that only dietary fat causes loss of body weight regulation. Controversially, his work has suggested that fast food restaurants are not an important cause of the obesity epidemic.

Just five days after the election of Speakman, another CAS scientist Pei Duanqing, director and researcher of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), according to an announcement by EMBO on May 14.

Pei is the ninth Chinese scientist elected an EMBO member. He is also the only Chinese scientist elected to EMBO membership from this year’s nominations.

Pei Duanqing, director and researcher of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, CAS. [Image from Laidiankexue]

Eight Chinese scientists have been elected as EMBO members. They are:

Yang Huanming, CAS Academician, 2006.

Li Jiayang, CAS Academician, 2013.

Shi Yigong, CAS Academician, 2013.

Wang Xiaodong, member of United States National Academy of Sciences, 2014.

Shao Feng, CAS Academician, 2015.

Cao Xuetao, academician of China Academy of Engineering, 2015.

Gao Fu, CAS Academician, 2016.

Wu Hong, dean of the School of Life Sciences, Peking University, 2016.

EMBO is a famous and unofficial academic organization in the international biomedical community. It was founded in 1964 and is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany. Currently EMBO has more than 1,800 top researchers, 87 of whom have won the Nobel Prize. EMBO aims to support outstanding researchers, promote exchange of scientific information, and help establish a European research environment in which scientists can achieve their best working conditions.

Every year, EMBO nominates and selects new members. Among them, 85 to 90 percent reside in 29 Member States of EMBO. Ten to 15 percent of the members reside in non-member countries and are recognized for their outstanding scientific research. Top scientists outside Europe are elected as EMBO Associate Members to emphasize the importance of scientists communicating globally.

The nine new EMBO Associate Members are researchers currently working in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan and the United States. Pei is the only Chinese scientist among them.

Pei Duanqing has been engaged in basic theoretical research of cell fate regulation for a long time, and has done systematic and original work in the induction of pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and their mechanisms. His academic achievements include the world’s first discovery of the phenomenon of EMT/MET coupling in the process of iPSC, and the publication of the first iPSC paper in China. He discovered and clarified the mechanism in which vitamin C greatly increases iPSC induction efficiency. He also achieved the world’s first establishment of the iPSC inducing method with human urinary epithelial cells as the starting cell and established a variety of iPSC libraries for genetic diseases. He directly induced human urogenic epithelial cells into neural stem cells. He revealed for the first time in the world the scientific principle of chemical stem cell preparation, developed a simple, efficient and standardized method for preparing stem cells and provided a new scientific perspective and solution for research and optimization of the preparation of the induction of pluripotent stem cells.

Pei is the head of the National Stem Cell and Transformation Research Key Special Expert Group, a member of the Clinical Conversion Research Committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, a member of the Human Genetic Editing Research Group, a member of the American Academy of Regenerative Medicine and a lifetime member of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America.

Source: CAS

Hot Issue
International Cooperation
Research Progress
Science Story
News in Brief