Frontier fields such as life sciences, artificial intelligence, quantum science, astronomy and energy were celebrated on February 29, when the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) released the country’s top 10 science advances in 2023. Five achievements led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) were selected. The selected achievements are:

1. The enemies within: endogenous retroviruses and programmed aging

The accumulation of HERVK viral RNA (left) and viral-like particles (RVLP) in senescent human cells

In a study published in Cell on January 6, 2023, researchers from the Institute of Zoology and the Beijing Institute of Genomics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed that the youngest subfamily of endogenous retrovirus ERV is awakened during aging. They proposed a new theory of programmed and contagious aging induced by the resurrection of ERVs.

They also found ways to control them: a multi-dimensional intervention strategy that could alleviate aging by blocking ERV reactivation and transmission.

The resurrection of ERV may shed new light on the “Pandora’s box” of aging, which opens up a new scientific field, and paradoxically brings new hope for preventing and treating aging-related diseases. In the future, more puzzles related to the activation of ERVs during aging need to be solved through the continuous efforts of scientists utilizing new techniques.

2. New gene discovery points way to better alkaline tolerance in crops

Genetic modification of AT1 enhances alkaline stress tolerance. [IMAGE: IGDB]

Chinese scientists have identified a key gene involved in crop alkaline tolerance that may greatly improve crop yield in sodic environments through the use of genetic engineering.

This study, led by Professor Xie Qi’s team from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with seven other institutions, has been published in Science.

The researchers discovered that an atypical Gγ subunit negatively regulates alkaline stress via modulating the efflux of H2O2 under environmental stress.

In addition to illustrating an ecologically important molecular mechanism, this study has great potential for guiding the breeding of alkaline salt-tolerant crops for marginal lands. In this way, it could contribute to global food security, with the potential to transform more than one billion hectares of saline land worldwide.

3. Researchers develop new tools for precise large DNA insertions

The development and optimization of PrimeRoot editors. a. Schematic overview of the PrimeRoot editor; b. Editing efficiency evaluation of PrimeRoot approaches in rice and maize; c. Schematic overview of efficient PrimeRoot.v3. [IMAGE: IGDB]

Gao Caixia’s group from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has developed new genome editing technology that achieves the efficient and precise targeted insertion of large DNA segments in plants.

The new technology, called prime editing-mediated recombination of opportune targets (PrimeRoot), combines an optimized dual-ePPE editor protein previously published by the group with a highly efficient tyrosine site-specific recombinase, Cre. It can achieve one-step, precise targeted insertion of large DNA segments in rice and maize with an efficiency of up to 6 percent and has been used to successfully insert DNA segments up to 11.1 kb.

The results were published in Nature Biotechnology on April 24, 2023.

4. China’s observatory records entire process of brightest afterglow during death of massive star

This artistic display image shows China’s LHAASO recording the entire process of the brightest afterglow during the death of a massive star. [IMAGE: IHEP/HANDOUT VIA XINHUA]

An international research team led by Cao Zhen, Principal Investigator of China’s Large High Altitude Air Shower Observatory (LHAASO), peered into the extremely bright and rare gamma-ray burst named GRB 221009A, based on the observation of one of China’s major scientific facilities, LHAASO, and the study was published online in the academic journal Science.

Through research, scientists reconstructed the glorious event. About 2 billion years ago, a massive star more than 20 times heavier than our Sun used up the fusion energy from its nuclear fuel, instantly collapsed, and triggered a massive explosion, thus unleashing a burst of cosmic fireworks known as a gamma-ray burst (GRB) that lasted hundreds of seconds.

This burst is the brightest ever recorded, with its brightness surpassing that of previous GRBs by several tens of times. Over 60,000 gamma-ray photons, generated from the collision between the fireball and interstellar matter, were finally collected by LHAASO.

5. Researchers reveal neural mechanism of metabolic modulation by light

The neural pathway for metabolic modulation by light in mice [IMAGE: PROFESSOR XUE’S TEAM]

GT in humans can be reduced by the same neural pathway which suppresses BAT thermogenesis. [IMAGE: PROFESSOR XUE’S TEAM]

A research team led by Professor Xue Tian from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed the neural mechanism of photoreception suppressing thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue (BAT), thereby reducing glucose tolerance (GT) in mice and humans. This work was published in Cell.

This study revealed the specific neural pathway of light modulation on glucose metabolism, which can serve as potential therapeutic targets for metabolic diseases in future research.

Sources: Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xinhua

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