On September 13, the winners of the 2021 Xplorer Prize were announced, and 50 young scientists were awarded. Xu Yanhui, Cancer Hospital of Fudan University and Institute of Biomedical Research, stands out for his performance in the field of life sciences.

The “Xplorer Award” is a public welfare award funded by the Tencent Foundation and led by scientists, and is currently one of the highest funding programs for young scientific and technological talents in China. This year, two young scientists from Fudan University won the award: Xu Yanhui in the field of life sciences and Shen Weixiao in the field of mathematical physics.

While congratulating Professor Xu Yanhui, let us listen to his story of relentless exploration in the field of life sciences.

With the rapid development of life sciences today, have human beings fully understood the life activities carried out in our bodies every day? In the world of structural biology, Professor Xu Yanhui of Fudan University Cancer Hospital and Institute of Biomedical Research has opened up territory and depicted the essence of the “operation” of biological macromolecular machines at the forefront of scientific research.

“Most previous gene transcription studies have used only a simplified model, essentially explaining everything with a special case. Our research results restore the essence of life activities at a broader level. ”

The research of Xu Yanhui’s team has refreshed the previous understanding of the academic community and expanded people’s understanding of gene transcription – since the beginning of last year, Xu Yanhui led the team to publish 4 long articles in the journal Science, revealing the basic mechanism of transcription initiation, of which the latest research results as the cover article subvert the traditional view of promoter recognition in classic textbooks, and also provide a theoretical reference for the study of abnormal gene expression in regulation and intervention in diseases. “In a paper published in the journal Science, Xu’s team analyzed the cryo-EM structure of 25 complexes, covering different preinitiation complex (PIC) assembly stages, different functional states and promoter types, and comprehensively answered several important scientific questions in the transcriptional initiation stage.” Rao Zihe, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a review of Xu’s latest article published in the journal Science.

Xu Yanhui’s research in the field of structural biology has continued for more than 20 years, starting from graduate school. “In cells, there are tens of millions of proteins. Only by obtaining the three-dimensional structure of these proteins can its function be well understood. His latest research breakthrough is precisely through cryo-EM technology to reveal the molecular mechanism of important protein complexes in the transcription initiation process, and its structure and the functional correlation it suggests have important guiding significance for subsequent transcription mechanism research, pushing the relevant research in the field of molecular biology to a new height.

The basic law of the transfer of genetic information between biological macromolecules in the cell is called the “central law”, which is the most basic and important law describing cell life activities in molecular biology, and has been the focus and hot spot in the field of life science in the past half century. “This is the research direction that we do structure and biology, and all scholars will definitely think of and be interested in, because this is almost the most complex system in the cell, and it is an important scientific question that urgently needs to be answered by structural biology.”

“Our understanding of this living world is far from understanding its true complexity.” In the process of constantly pioneering the frontier of life sciences, Xu Yanhui often laments the complexity and subtlety of life design, “Now what we know is only a very small part, and the prospects are actually extremely broad.” ”

Life is composed of various organ tissues, organs are composed of cells, cells contain various biological macromolecules, and the three-dimensional structure at the molecular level determines their function. Go deeper, and there are endless uncharted territories for humans to explore. Even Xu Yanhui often felt that he was on the road.

When it comes to the deepest feelings in the process of carrying out the project, sometimes Xu Yanhui himself sees the results of these studies, even for him as a researcher, it is a big shock: “It turns out that the life process is so complex and the design is so exquisite. ”

In fact, the in-depth understanding of these life phenomena is like a “map” groped in the dark, illuminating the way forward for those who come after – at the application level, whether it is the intervention or treatment of diseases, everything is based on the correct interpretation of our life process. This is precisely the purpose of Xu Yanhui’s research project: basic research in life sciences makes our understanding of the objective world more profound. Based on these deeper understandings, all that is needed for future drug development and biotechnology breakthroughs is a timing.

After more than 20 years of in-depth research, Xu Yanhui stands at the forefront of structural biology, illuminating the starry sky of the mysteries of life with a lantern, and drawing a way forward for subsequent scientific research.

The original intention of the “Xplorer Award” is to encourage young scientific and technological workers to explore the unknown world, and attract more young people to devote themselves to the research of basic science and cutting-edge technology.

Xu Yanhui’s office is located in Room 715, Mingdao Building, Fenglin Campus, Fudan University, opposite Room 712, where his laboratory is located. He rarely travels, spends most of his time in the laboratory, follows up the experimental results with the students, discusses the analysis of the results, conducts follow-up experimental analysis, participates in the whole process, and makes progress with his classmates.

“The various problems and technical problems to be crossed, try more, and they will be solved in the process of exploration.” Going to work, working, reading, writing papers, discussing topics, day after day, this is Xu Yanhui’s scientific research routine. When others asked him the secret of posting an article, he replied with a smile: “The road is simple, there is no so-called one-trick fatal, only a thousand tempering, invest time to do it.” Go the extra mile, it’s really that simple. ”

Starting from choosing the direction of structural biology during his graduate studies, Xu Yanhui has steadily moved forward step by step. The unparalleled sense of achievement brought by “exploring the unknown world” and the sense of gain of “experiencing the magical and wonderful microscopic world” are also Xu Yanhui’s original intention to always adhere to basic scientific research. As Yang Zhenning said in his grand finale speech at the first Xplorer Prize ceremony, for young researchers, “if you master your own abilities and interests, and then choose the path you want to take based on your understanding”, it is the easiest to succeed.

“It’s very easy to do research,” he often tells his students, “as long as you’re willing to put in the time and passion to do it.” ”

Xinmin Evening News reporter Zhang Jiongqiang

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