Chinese Genomics Researcher Yunlong Cao Named in Nature’s 10 List

Nature, one of the world’s top science journals, released its “Nature’s 10” list of 2022 on December 14, highlighting 10 individuals who helped shape science throughout the past year.

Nature selected several people who have made outstanding contributions to global public health issues. In this third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese genomics researcher Yunlong (Richard) Cao helped track the evolution of the novel coronavirus and predicted some mutations that led to a new variant.

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Yunlong Cao is from the Biomedical Pioneering Innovation Center (BIOPIC) of China’s Peking University. He graduated from the Physics Department of Zhejiang University, then studied under biophysicist Xiaoliang (Sunney) Xie in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology of Harvard University, obtaining his doctorate. Cao is currently an Assistant Professor at Peking University. He has been focusing on the development of single cell sequencing technology. His research results help track the evolution of the novel coronavirus, predicting various mutations that lead to new variants.

On May 18, 2020, Xiaoliang Xie and Yunlong Cao’s team and other research teams published a research paper entitled “Potent neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 identified by high-throughput single-cell sequencing of convalescent patients’ B cells” in Cell.

This study reported the screening results of neutralizing antibodies of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Using high-throughput single cell RNA and VDJ sequencing platform, 14 monoclonal antibodies with strong neutralizing ability were screened from more than 8,500 antigen-bound IgG1 antibodies in 60 COVID-19 rehabilitation patients.

This study proved for the first time that high-throughput single cell sequencing can be directly used for drug discovery, and has the advantages of rapid processing and obvious effect, which is expected to completely change the way people screen neutralizing antibodies of infectious disease viruses.

On June 17, 2022, Xiaoliang Xie and Yunlong Cao’s team published a research paper entitled “BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 escape antibodies elicited by Omicron infection” in Nature. In this study, it was found that the new subtypes of Omicron mutants BA.2. 12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 showed stronger immune escape ability, and there was a significant neutralization escape phenomenon in plasma after rehabilitation of Omicron BA.1 infected people.

On October 30, 2022, Xiaoliang Xie and Yunlong Cao’s team published a research paper entitled “Imprinted SARS-CoV-2 humoral immunity induces convergent Omicron RBD evolution” on pre-print website bioRxiv.

This study shows that the advantage of XBB over BQ.1 might be partly due to changes outside the receptor binding domain (RBD) of spike protein. XBB also has mutations in some genomes encoding the N-terminal domain (NTD) of spike protein. XBB can escape neutralizing antibodies against NTD, which may cause it to infect people who are immune to BQ.1 and related subtypes. However, it is worth noting that BQ.1 is mutating in the NTD region at an extremely fast rate. These mutations greatly enhance the ability of these variants to escape the neutralizing antibodies produced by vaccination and previous infections.

Like Yunlong Cao, Lisa McCorkell has made outstanding contributions in the field of public health. As a founding member of the “Patient-Led Research Collaborative,” a group of researchers who conduct and inform studies into the condition, she has helped raise public awareness of novel coronavirus pneumonia and raised research funds. Dimie Ogoina is an infectious disease physician at Niger Delta University in Amassoma. His research work on monkeypox infectious diseases in Nigeria provides key information to fight the monkeypox outbreak.

Several other individuals were selected for promoting extraordinary scientific achievements and important policy progress. One of them is Jane Rigby, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who played a key role in the James Webb Space Telescope mission to go into space and work normally, helping advance humanity’s ability to explore the universe to a new level.

In this year’s list, there are also names closely related to the development of climate change and other global crises. They include António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Saleemul Huq, the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, and Svitlana Krakovska, the head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.