China-led 2nd phase of international phenome project gets underway

2023-11-03 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

The second phase of the International Human Phenome Project, a major international science initiative initiated and led by Chinese scientists, was launched on Wednesday, Fudan University said.

A phenome is the set of all traits expressed by an organism, cell, tissue or organ.

For example, if one of a pair of twins grows up in a low-altitude region while the other in a high-altitude place, they will have completely different phenotypes — not only in appearance but also in their proteins, metabolism and organ function. This is the influence of environmental factors on people's phenotype, and such influences are closely related to their health, diseases and longevity.

Jin Li, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of Fudan University, announced the list of new members of the Chinese human phenome research collaboration group at the opening ceremony of the fourth International Human Phenome Symposium and the fifth China Human Phenome Conference that opened at Fudan University on Wednesday.

More than 10 academicians and more than 400 scholars and experts from home and abroad attended the event.

Initiated in 2017, the first phase of the project has built a unified standard system and a cross-scale scientific research platform for global scientists to jointly explore the mysteries of the human phenotype.

While in phase two, global scientists will carry out substantive collaborative research in order to answer key questions around the human phenotype and its regulatory mechanism, which is at the core of the mystery of life and health, according to Fudan.

During the first phase, a map showing the strong connection of more than 1.5 million phenotypes, most of which were discovered for the first time, was constructed. It provides key clues for the scientific community to decipher the relationship between phenotypes and life phenomena, such as disease and aging.

Chen Xingdong, a researcher at Fudan University's Human Phenome Institute, said that his team found that a variety of metabolites have close correlations with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, which may provide insights into the pathogenesis of such diseases, and facilitate early screening, and precise prevention and treatment.

The researchers said that in the second phase of the project, a more complete map will be constructed, which, in combination with the human genome map, is expected to provide more complete information for new drug research and development and disease prediction, and help people establish standards for health assessment in a more scientific way.

Flavio A. S. Onfray, a professor from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Chile, said that China is definitely a leader in the phenome research field.

This kind of research tries to involve different people to capture all the diversity of humanity and it's important for researchers to have such international networks with fellows from Europe, Asia and the Americas to standardize the data obtained from the research and integrate them to look for new solutions, said Onfray.

"So I think what China is doing in this field is of high interest, not only for developing countries like Chile, but also for international partnerships like with the United States or European countries," he said.

Hoh Boon-Peng, a professor from the International Medical University of Malaysia, said he noticed that Chinese scientists have dominated a substantial percentage of the world's top impact publications over the past years. This is evidence of the advancement of science in China that is, if not leading, at least on par with the top countries in the world.

"We really need an Asian country to lead in life science instead of counting on Western countries as human diversity is huge, and the data collected in such research programs should not be limited to Western people only," he said.

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