technology are part of this strategy. Zhang noted that since the 1990s, Chinese leaders have prioritized economic development through science and education.
China’s aggressive S&T policies have led to significant advances on many scientific fronts, including synthetic biology. China now contributes about 10 percent (some 400 papers) of the annual papers published on synthetic biology.2 These publications are ranked seventh globally in terms of citations. China has several databanks related to synthetic biology. These include a database of genes that have been identified as essential for an organism’s survival and a separate database on prokaryotic and eukaryotic genes.
In China, several organizations support research in synthetic biology, Zhang said. These include the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) (the major science policy advisor to the central government), the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the national and local offices of the China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology (CAM), and medical universities. Funding for synthetic biology research comes from many sources, including the National Natural Science Foundation of China, state-level labs, and the CAS Knowledge Innovation Program.3 Expenditure on research now totals 800 billion Yuan per year (about $U.S. 100 billion), with 260 million Yuan allocated for synthetic biology.4 This total research budget accounts for 1.8 percent of China’s gross domestic product or GDP (though this is still less than research funding in the OECD, which accounts for 2 percent of GDP, and in the United States, which accounts for 2.7 percent of GDP).5
Despite the many technical challenges facing the field, China sees synthetic biology as ushering in a new era of economic growth powered by technology. According to Dr. Zhang, China has drafted a strategic roadmap that specifies desired achievements in technology, industrial applications, medicine, and agriculture in five, 10, and 20 year periods (See Box 3-1). In the case of synthetic biology, the roadmap includes goals related to the availability of comprehensive databases for synthetic parts, a timeframe for the commercial application of engineered parts, and a timeframe for clinical application of devices and systems.
Guo-ping Zhao, Director, Laboratory of Synthetic Biology, Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, noted that, besides seeking technological advances, future tasks for China include addressing legal, ethical and security questions such as ensuring that the benefits of synthetic biology will be distributed equitably. Dr. Zhao noted that intellectual property, ownership, and sharing arrangements are another concern. Dr. Qiu,
2 Xian-en Zhang, Director General, Basic Research Department, China Ministry of Science and Technology.
3 China is also conducting multi-country research, such as a bilateral project on risk assessment and biosafety needs for synthetic biology in Austria and China (see http://www.markusschmidt.eu/fwf/Home.html, accessed May 15, 2013).