Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cambridge and Trinity Fellow Jason Chin has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, one of nine Cambridge scientists selected in 2022 for their exceptional contributions to science.
Professor Chin is Head of the Centre for Chemical and Synthetic Biology and Joint Head of the Division of Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), and Associate Faculty in Synthetic Genomics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
He has engineered the genetic code of living cells to synthesise modified proteins and construct artificial polymers from building blocks not found in nature. The work heralds the prospect of new medicines and valuable materials.
In 2019 Professor Chin and his team at the LMB refashioned the genetic code of E coli, a bacteria commonly found in the gut of animals and humans, to create an entirely new and simplified genome. This frees up parts of the genetic code for potential therapeutic uses.
All forms of life use 64 codons – the set of instructions in DNA that determine which of 20 amino acids should be combined to form proteins; proteins are themselves polymers composed of amino acids, which in turn catalyse a huge range of functions in an organism. All forms of life that is, except Syn61, so named for the number of codons it uses to make its proteins.
Professor Chin was an undergraduate at Oxford, obtained his PhD from Yale, and did post-doctoral work at the Scripps Research Institute in California.
Before joining the LMB in 2003, he was inspired by Professor Venki Ramakrishnan describing how he and his team had fathomed the structure and function of the ribosome. Trinity Fellow Professor Ramakrishnan, who was President of the Royal Society 2015 – 2020, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009.
‘Venki’s discoveries were a real inspiration for the work we began at LMB’, says Professor Chin, who was encouraged to come to Cambridge by the then Master of Trinity, Sir Gregory Winter, and now heads an international team of students and postdoctoral scientists at the MRC LMB.
Professor Chin’s work has been recognized by several awards, including the Francis Crick Medal and Lecture (Royal Society, 2009), the Corday Morgan Prize (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2010), the EMBO Gold Medal (European Molecular Biology Organization, 2010), the Louis Jeantet Young Investigator Career Award (Jeantet Foundation, 2011), the Sackler International Prize in Physical Sciences (Tel Aviv University, 2019), and the Meyerhof Medal and Lecture (Max Planck Institute Heidelberg, 2021).
The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship made up of eminent scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK and the Commonwealth. The Society’s purpose is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.
President of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, said it was an honour to welcome so many outstanding researchers from around the world into the Fellowship of the Royal Society.
Through their careers so far, these researchers have helped further our understanding of human disease, biodiversity loss and the origins of the universe. I am also pleased to see so many new Fellows working in areas likely to have a transformative impact on our society over this century, from new materials and energy technologies to synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. I look forward to seeing what great things they will achieve in the years ahead.
Main image: Professor Jason Chin by the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.