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China: The Future of Science?

Posted by Jawad Arshad

            1-ascientiststIn his recent State of the Union, President Barack Obama stated, "the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow." The nation that is battling the United States for this title may very well be in China. As China continues to soar economically, its focus on science has become increasingly obvious. In fact, it is predicted that China will overtake the United States with regards to scientific prowess in only 30 to 40 years, which is an exceedingly fast timescale [1]. In fact, China is making aggressive strides in R & D spending. China went from creating 8% of the world’s high-end technology in 2003 to over 24 % in 2012 [2]. This puts the United States' 27% stake at risk given that China is increasing its overall R & D spending by 18% every year. Furthermore, the United States share of total global R & D spending fell from 37 percent to 30 percent. Meanwhile, China's share jumped from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 14.5 percent in 2011 [2].  

               One of the major players in this quickly evolving Chinese scientific scene is the company BGI. BGI is known for multiple different reasons. Perhaps the most interesting are the company's insights into cloning. BGI specializes in producing hundreds of clones of animals such as pigs, making it one of the largest livestock cloning companies in the world [3]. However, what makes it even more interesting is that the company not only owns an American company that makes gene sequencing machines but that it also uses these capabilities in rural China to change the way that people live. In a converted shoe factory in Shenzen, China is able to take 3,000 mostly college graduates and create solutions to genomic problems ranging from orchids to animals while simultaneously training individuals who had no previous knowledge in genomics and whose average age is only 26 [4]. This revolution in Chinese science is not simply taking place as many expect with laboratory scientific practices such as mice but as in BGI’s case in a laboratory stacked with hard drives and large sequencing arrays with DNA that arrives from every part of the world [4]. With both technological and economic changes on the horizons BGI specifically and the new wave of Chinese scientific interest in general appears to be poised to have their time in the sun.







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