This podcast is brought to you by the Albany public library main branch and the generosity of listeners like you. What is a podcast? God daddy these people talk as much as you do! Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning.
Hey, everybody. This is Razib Khan with the unsupervised learning podcast and today, I'm here with Dr. Xiaotong Yao of Weill Cornell medicine. Xiaotong, could you introduce yourself to the listeners?
Sure. Hi, Razib thank you so much for inviting me. It's an honor. I've never done a podcast before. And for some being invited by you. It's, it's a really a great honor. Love your work. And myself. I am Xiaotong and I grew up in Beijing and a from a very early age, I got interested in biology and did my undergrad in biology. And then, since 2013, started studying computational biology in the US, mainly in the New York and New Jersey area. And it's basically using computer science to look at the data generated by biological assays and trying to answer biologically relevant questions. And after my master's, I joined Weill Cornell medicine for a PhD in computational biology. And I've been focused on cancer genomics, and I recently defended my thesis in cancer, whole genome sequencing techniques. And right now I'm working for a liquid biopsy company, and trying to do the same, but from patients blood rather than tumor tissues. So it's a really exciting time to be in this field. And I say like, I totally got transformed the during the years to study and working in the US in this scientific field.
Well, I mean, the field as a whole has really developed and grown, I think over your career, and I want to talk about that a little. But let's go back to China. You said you you grew up in Beijing? Yeah. And so are you are your parents from Beijing? Are they from other parts of China? Okay, they're both born in Beijing. Okay. And so you're, you're a native Beijinger? Yeah. So what have you seen? You know, I'm assuming you're, you know, you're not super old. You're not Malaysian or anything. But, I mean, have you seen Beijing change a lot in your lifetime?
Yeah, it was, it was crazy. Um, when I was young, like in my elementary school we used to have a joke that we should just put a zipper in our roads, so that they don't have to reopen and closes every week. Because wherever you go during the 90s, in, in Beijing, and I guess in any major Chinese city, like the everywhere, it's just building is tearing down old buildings and building up new ones like in unbelievable speed. That's what you see, you know, that's what you see on the on the streets. And in terms of culturally, it's also like, a lot of flooding in of these international different cultures that like a diversity of things people start to listen to, like Japanese Korean music, watching Hollywood films, is is really a, like, that's where I grew up from. But to my dad, it's like a whole new whole new world and people are loving it.
Also, have you? I'm assuming you actually, I don't know. Have you been able to go back to China at all to visit the last couple of years with Coronavirus and whatnot?
He has since the pandemic began We haven't. The last time I went back was the end of 2017. Yeah, it was a really a painful process because of the student visa of US.
And so, um, so you seen it used in China, you've seen Beijing change a fair amount over your lifetime? And, you know, I think so the next time you go, I mean, do you anticipate it will change even more I mean, 2017 Like maybe you'll go back in 2022 I don't know, I mean,
I expected myself to still recognize most of the streets. But it's, it's definitely going to change. Like, last time I went back, it was after maybe three or four years studying here. And yeah, I had a little bit of a cultural shock for a few minutes. Because there's some of the old streets that are new are just completely transformed into a new form. Even even the places near my home, so, yeah, that's pretty amazing.
So, you know, China's obviously advanced economically, culturally, you know, scientifically, over the last 20 years, the transformation has been pretty incredible. Yeah, here in the United States, you know, obviously, we witnessed it firsthand. And we've seen the increase in citations of people with, with names like yours, to be honest, there. I mean, they're not very uncommon. They're all over the place. So China's been a presence institutionally, and just demographically, in terms of all the Chinese scientists that have contributed, you know, to the growth of various fields, I want to ask you, um, your background is in biology, biotechnology, I believe. And, you know, in the 20th century, in a lot of countries, and a lot of developing countries have prestige within engineering, physics, physical sciences. But I'm my impression, and I'm just saying it's my impression, is that China has seen that there is an opportunity in the genomics and computational biology space in particular, because that's such a new and young field, and it's putting a lot of resources into that, like, what do you think about that?
Oh, exactly. Yes, I have the same observation. This is the one field that is so young, that were not lagging behind decades, from the Western countries. You know, physics and chemistry, the other, you know, fields in the natural sciences, we've been like trying to catch up. For years, but the gap is so big, it hasn't been that successful. But genomics really, when I think about it, it's amazing that this field only began like, slightly more than a decade ago, since the sequencing technology become democratized the over the globe, and China has been contributing talents, and even original masters ideas from the very beginning. So the gap there is incredibly small. But at the same time, you know, the population size of China is there. Um, so just the potential to impact on the public health. From this standpoint, it's really a very strategic investment to, you know, move in. Yeah.
And I'm sure that you're, um, you're in touch with your your friends, colleagues in China, like, what are what are you hearing from them in terms of their excitement on various topics? Like, what do they see going forward? For example? You know, I was excited to see that, um, you know, there's publications coming out with low pass sequencing on infants, you know, newborns all across China. These are like massive sample sizes at low coverage. And I'm assuming we're gonna see a push to have a large proportion of the Chinese population sequence, correct?
I think so. Yeah, that's what I heard, although, you know, I haven't really seen too much too much of it to come into curation. Like personally, for me, I have a slight bias towards it. Don't get me wrong. I'm where I work in the cancer field. And I feel like at the Constitutional genomics, sequencing, will, you know, on the healthy population will not produce as much direct impact. For example, I would say that it is extremely useful for like, inherited disease, or even the disease caused by de novo mutations. That is that is in the child, but not in their parents. Even my father in law, he's an internal medicine doctor, and he has been treating patients with just unidentified metabolic diseases that are congenital, and he would even start to send their samples to sequencing companies, even though it's like using Sanger sequencing. That was the older generation of [sequencing], but they could actually pinpoint certain mutations that he can later, you know, you know, at least suggest for some therapeutic opportunities for the patient. which I think is a really incredible. Yeah. But at the same at the same time, for me personally, I would think that, you know, cancer field is a - will bring a even direct impact. Because we know better that the cancer is really a disease of somatic mutations. And, okay, don't the epigenetic people don't come after me, please? Yeah, and I...
Let me let me walk this back a little for the listener, because I think I know what your I know what you're saying. So, so so so we have this situation where, you know, we're imagining that people are going to get sequenced, you know, at birth, or like really young. And then from these from these sequences, you have a battery of diagnostic predictions. But your point is, for a lot of people, there's not going to be anything actionable, there's not going to be not going to be anything that really you get about family history, I mean, maybe on the margin, but it's on the margin, you know, you can like do a little bit of better genomic prediction here snd there, that's the argument, there are going to be a minority of people who have de novo mutations novel to them. Some people who have carriers, other issues, congenital diseases, a minority of people like that. You're talking about cancer, genomic, you're talking somatic mutations, that we all have somatic mutations, like if you look at a person who's elderly, their skin, like various aspects of their physique, everything, they are just they... don't look the way they did when they were 20, obviously, and part of that is just mutations that are accumulating in your cell line. So these are somatic mutations or mutations in your body, in your tissue. They're not mutations of the germline. And so when we're talking about germline, that's a different thing. So those are mutations you would pass on to your offspring from the sperm and the eggs. And that's, that's a whole different category. And so that would be the stuff that would be detected when you sequence an infant, because an infant, I mean, aside from de novo mutations, it has mutations carried from the parents, whereas like, throughout your whole body, there are all these different cell lines and these mutations, and the worst form of them are cancer, right? And so can you can you tell the listener? Actually, I think a lot of listeners know, but can you review for the listener, like what a cancer is from a genomic perspective?
Sure, sure. Yeah. So all of our bodies cell come from the one fertilized egg, so it just keeps dividing and dividing becomes different parts of our body. And even when, when we're adults, some of them still keep dividing, and but some of them should just fix it in the state and carry out their functions until the cell is too old, and it will be cleared out. But sometimes, during this process, there could be mutations accumulating in these in these tissues, that will give it a malignant function, that it breaks out from the usual rules, and they will just grow on themselves uncontrollably, and these masses of cells will become, eventually a tumor. And the whole idea behind the tensor genomics is to sequence a lot of them from a ton of different cancer patients. So that we can find the ones that occur more than once that they occur more than we would expect by random chance. And we can know what type of mutation could cause cancer and the using them we can treat a specific cancer patients with a specific mutation with a special drug that we designed for them. So that's basically the whole idea behind this.
Yeah. And so my, my first I mean, theoretically, actually, this was understood for a long time ago, but you know, price was an issue. I think, the late Steve Jobs was one of the first people that was that actually made use of the cancer genomics, correct.
He was definitely like, one of the first first batch Yeah, that was around that time. Yeah.
And so the price has obviously declined a lot in terms of the sequencing space over the last decade, like have you like talk about like, how that's impacted you as a computational biologist, because I think like in 2010, when, when jobs was doing it a 30x, a high quality medical grade genome would be like $20,000, and now it's like $100, or something like that, like, how has that changed your practice as a cancer genomics person?
Oh, of course. Yes. So my PhD research was in whole genome sequencing. And like you said, whole genome sequencing the cost has really been decreased to a point where we can expand it a population that we can survey to maybe tenfold, than, like 10 years ago, and that is really critical for for the next phase of cancer genomics, you know, the National Cancer Institute, NCI has been doing the Cancer Genome Atlas project since the early 2010. And they have been, you know, they have to bargain for just a subset of the genome that, you know, that are presumed that protein coding and more important. But instead, we're now seeing that much more of these non protein coding genes and regions in the genome are actually functionally very important. And even if they're not functionally important is sequencing the whole genome will give you a beautiful complete profile of, of all the mutations that has been accumulated in the life history of that tumor tissue, which can inform us of some vulnerabilities, extra vulnerabilities that tumor has to accumulate to, to get to this stage. And we're now having new drugs that can even target these vulnerable vulnerabilities. So the the potential of doing whole genome sequencing is great. Everybody has known that for years, and we're finally at the stage where we can do that on a huge scale. And I think that's really gonna transform things.
Okay, so you've been, you know, you've been doing biology now in various forms, like learning it doing it for like, 10 or 11 years, something like that, a decade, more than a decade. When did you realize just out of curiosity, what did you realize, okay, like, this is my thing. This is the lane I'm gonna go down, like, Was it during the PhD? Or was it earlier?
I, um, I think is so I wanted to study since I was in high school. And one thing I want to mention, you know, for Chinese, teenagers in high school, there's this big thing called the the Olympiad of things. of all different disciplines, like physics, chemistry, biology is one of it. And that participated in that competition. So basically, the undergrad biology courses I've, I've gone through them, at least, once already in my high school times. And so that was when I got, you know, when I know myself being extremely interested in this field, but I had no idea what I'm going to do, say after college, but during college, you know, during my sophomore year, my mom was diagnosed with relatively late stage, breast cancer, Silver Lining being that her cancer is a kind of a endocrine, endocrine type of breast cancer. So the most common and the people know the most about how to treat, but even even then, when I look at her say, the pathology reports, the doctor's decision, you know, I have no idea, you know, how, how to help her, I felt extremely helpless. All I can do at that I'd avoid it was just being by her side. And, you know, luckily she, she pulled through, and she's been healthy for more than 10 years now. Which is amazing, but can motivated me to go into the cancer genomics field, because I know, knowing more is gonna help more people like my mom. And that's basically how I made up my mind.
Alright, so I was one of those, you know, there was there was a personal push there, which is, which is not uncommon for a lot of people in science as they're, as they're proceeding. So you, you start out in China, and then you came to the United States, and this is a common pathway. So we are we are talking in 2021 right now. Do you think, let's say that you're 10 years younger, and you're an undergraduate in China, do you think there could be a different path where you stay in China now?
Huh, um, maybe - let's say, you know, there has been a wave of, say private universities or relatively independent research institutes that are being built at as at this very moment in in China that is really competitive in this region. Search culture. The problem is when you want to do like a really basic research in China, the old problem before is that it's really hard to do it in the, in the universities because of because of the, you know, extra burden from the, from the operations, and from a cultural standpoint, but now like, there's really a push on building this culture where the, the researchers themselves have more autonomous power over what they want to research. And there's a great deal of funding for basic research. So I think the environment is definitely becoming better. But still it I won't see their will, because of this, there will be a decline in students coming from China to do research in the USA, because just in this field, the US is still the top the world leader and you know, it really the learning experience that you have here is going to be a kind of a benefit for a lifetime. Hmm,
okay. I mean, so America, the US obviously does have... Well, I mean, it's almost a century I think, like, I think you could say it's almost a century of like, institutional growth of, you know, these research traditions within the universities. And so it's gonna take a while for other places to catch up. I mean, they're, you know, there are some equivalents in Europe with, you know, Max Planck and Oxbridge and some places in France. And then, of course, Japan is its own thing, although, Japan is kind of a, you know, to be frankly, relatively insulated society. So, you know, there are foreign scientists in Japan, but it doesn't seem like most people end up aspiring to live there. Um, China's obviously developing I mean, frankly, the eastern seaboard of China is a developed country. And, you know, they're opening these universities in Shenzhen. And I don't want to say who but you know, like, there's, there are scientists, there are scientists, I know, who are American, born and raised in this country who are moving, who are moving to those Institute's now. So so that's the thing that's happening. What do you what do you think about, like the prospects in the next 10 to 20 years for Chinese Science? And, you know, like, I'm going to be entirely candid, there has been some issues with Chinese Science with an emphasis on quantity over quality, which, look, it's an issue with American science, too. But in terms of incentives to publication and stuff like that, sometimes, you see, like, just so many publications coming out, and you're just like, okay, like, what's, what's the quality control here on that? So, I mean, what do you think like, what are your concerns and hopes there?
Yes. So whenever some kind of scandal like that broke off, it just hurts me a lot. Because there are just so many talented PI students in China that are just working as hard as they can. But then this reputation of Chinese researchers, is tarnished by these few few people that are motivated by the wrong incentives. And that is definitely a thing to change. For example, the thing I mentioned about a cultural shift in researching is that, you know, let's not only focus on how many, no matter what kind of journal or paper you're pushing out, but give you the time, you know, take your time. Make maximize your impact and originality. And the things are happening like in one of the best institutes that I loved back in China was the National Institute of Biological Sciences, called NIBS that's in Beijing is completely early on. It was completely founded by the Beijing local government. And they have a - you know, they have all the control over how they evaluate their PIs, how they do the hiring process, how they do the, you know, exiting process, and they took the most advanced kind of form. They only evaluated people in like three or four years. You know, you take your time you do your research, and at the evaluation, even if your paper is not fully peer reviewed. If you you can show your work that matters. You can still keep your job. So that is like us. Something that's being, like, adopted, and it's actually showing the effect of it. And I think more and more institutions will will see and, you know, follow that kind of positive example. So I have a good outlook on it. But just, you know, the heart problem with, with with China, in every, in any discipline is that, you know, we have a huge population base. So when we talk about, you know, the postdoc crisis in the US, you timed that by 10, you probably get to the scale in China. So, all the students wants to get graduated, and all the doctors required by their hospitals to have academic research, while piling up on their extreme burden of a clinical duties, and it's gonna push, you know, people in the wrong direction. So, you know, it's all about loosening up and everybody transformed their focus. You know, and I think that, that that is happening, but it's gonna take time.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So it sounds like, you know, you're, you're gonna make your life in the in the near term here in the United States, like, what do you? Okay, so you got some of your education in China. And then you got your graduate education here in the United States. So your undergrad in China graduate education in the United States? What and now you're, you're you're working at a company, it sounds like, what is your... what is the what are the things that you have noticed that are the biggest differences between your experience in China, in biology and your experience, the United States in biology, I'm just kind of curious as to how like, things are different elsewhere versus here.
Let's say, you know, back when I was in China, I didn't, you know, in my undergrad, I didn't study as hard as I should. I only really started getting into labs. While I'm, while I'm here. I think one thing is that you just naturally becomes, you know, guided or motivated or carrying with a purpose or mission with you every day, I don't know if that's [the effect] the university had on me, or is the New York City kind of thing. But you're just become so thirsty and searching for searching for a problem that you're truly interested in? This kind of would you call it the self motivation? It really becomes different than once I once I moved to here, I think that is only for me. I have, because I wasn't like this back back in China. But I've seen so many students that have just started. started like that. And they've always been that way. They're the you know, the true scientific, scientific minds. And looks feels like maybe they have they just have more gross space here for them to explore. Like, there are more options, for example. They can they can rotate in different labs, they can choose their project that really builds something for themselves. I think that is one... One aspect, maybe that that is different in the US than in China being students in this field. Yeah.
All right. So now I want to ask you, like a little bit, you don't need to talk specifically about science. Okay, so you're, you're Chinese, you're Chinese national. And you live in the United States. And you know, I've talked to Chinese friends about this. There's been huge changes over the last five years in terms of America's perception of China, the China America relationship. Can you talk about like your journey over the last decade what you've seen how you felt, if it's been difficult or not difficult for you?
It's definitely difficult whenever you have to live in different places. Well, I did my undergrad like 1000 Miles from my home, I did it in, in southern parts of China. And even that was, was a cultural kind of shock to me. But I adapted to that. And I really grew to love about being in a new place and meeting people I wasn't familiar with. And being in New York, to myself is kind of like a really stressful, but refreshing and exciting experience, suddenly, like, the number one lesson I live, for living in New York is that you can just be whatever form that you like, and people will, at least, you know, leave you alone. Some good people will respect you for that. But at least most people will leave you alone. And that's kind of one attractive aspect in living in the US. But having seen having seen the things happening in China, and having seen the thing happening in the US, what I have to say is that the Chinese people's impression of you, the United States, peoples and the United States peoples impression of Chinese people couldn't be farther away from the truth. And the gap, this polarized polarity is, is just growing and growing. During the last few years. Yeah.
I mean, I'm assuming that the last, like, couple of years, so let me just, I'm gonna interject myself into this conversation a little bit. Because, you know, I want people to, obviously, get your perspective. But, um, so I think, uh, you know, like, I read a lot of Chinese history, I'm super interested in the topic, this isn't a new interest for me. And so I know a fair amount, I think, for the, for that non Chinese person about Chinese history. And I've always taken an interest in China. And you know, I'm a little older than you growing up in the 90s. You know, China was a poor country, but we knew that there was gonna have a bright future. And we were excited about his bright future, many of us because, you know, the greatest decline in aggregate numbers of human poverty in the history of the world has occurred in the People's Republic of China, over the last 20 years. And everybody who goes to China knows that everyone who, you know, lived in China grew up in China knows that. So this has been a really a great Human Revolution. You know, in terms of business opportunities, in terms of culture, you know, when you have like a wealthy and healthy population in places like Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, obviously, and even in other cities, you're just you're increasing the aggregate pool of human productivity, human creativity that's out there. That's good for everybody. This is the The End of History, neoliberal story, right. What's happened in the last couple of years, though, is, you know, this is the Thucydides effect, or the Thucydides dynamic where China is now trying to flex his muscles as a great power. That's what I see. In its PPP aggregate GDP is already greater than the United States, its nominal GDP will probably be greater than the United States within the next five to 10 years. I mean, I think the current estimates like eight years, but I mean, that's a 5-10 year estimate it's good, right? You know, we've been the number one economy in the world and aggregate GDP GDP since 1871. when we surpassed China. And so I think this is a really a time of transition for the United States. I don't think we're psychologically prepared. You know, as Americans, many of us are pretty self - We're very, like, focused on ourselves. And we don't understand how our country throws its weight around. That's how I will say, you know, we strive we stride to curve across the world, like a colossus, our armies, our diplomatic corps. And so now we're facing something different. So I feel like, you know, China's like "enough" you know, and they have their own will, they have their own way. And that's not always in alignment with the United States. So I feel like the last couple of years, with COVID Just kind of bringing the importance of China to everybody, you know, okay, so So the pandemic starts in China. And that's a big deal. But another big deal is when China's economy stops, where are we going to get our trinkets? Where are we gonna get iPhones? Like, where are we going to get everything right? So the whole world is starting to worry. And so you just start to realize how important China is to everyone's supply chain, and everyone's scrambling. And you know, Xi is not. He's not being cuddly with the American President right now. With the Americans. I mean, there's some rivalry going on, there's some tension. If I was a person who was a Chinese national, I'd feel not initially uncomfortable, but it's a different position to be in 2021 than even 2019. I mean, what do you say to that? I mean, that's how I perceive it.
Yeah, I think, you know, that's, that's you, what you described is the fact that that is happening right now. The what's funny is, is the difference of perspective produces different kinds of feelings. You know, what we always say, like back back in China, about the manufacturing disparity, and you know that the trade deficits is that, look, why is China producing all these parts for an iPhone, but the lion's share of that product, that design and that extra added value come from a US company. And, you know, we cannot to design that we can only make you parts using, you know, cheaper, cheaper labor, and our workers weren't as well compensated as the US workers. And we've always saying that, you know, the, the whole idea behind the globalization is that where we're being taken advantage of, suddenly, last year, when the supply chain, you know, kind of got strenuous. We heard the voice of Oh, my God, where has the US manufacturers gone? Why are the Chinese producing all the stuff that we use every day, and now suddenly becomes a wrong thing? Well, the truth is, the US companies took, that big lion's share of profits away for the past 30 years. And that just, you know, it's not shaped by either side, it's just a natural way of, of the trade between countries happen. And to each one country, they need to reform their economy, to a healthier place, like you cannot lose your manufacturer completely in the US, because there are critical products, you have to be able to manufacture immediately yourself, like the masks, the ventilators and for Chinese, you have to keep building on your originality, and can you produce more Huawei more Xiaomi and, you know, for for now, the you know, the Tesla is like, super, super popular a few years ago in in China, and suddenly there are so many e-car competitors, that that are built by built by Chinese companies. I think that you know, that really shows where things are going. It's basically a pendulum of human interaction. You You sway on that and the for a few decades, and then you have to sway back and you keep the keep the balance. And I don't think this current situation is too far away from a normal amount of fluctuation. So I'm not too worried about that. Yeah.
Well do you see yourself going back to to China, in the in the near future, okay. So this is a this, this American soldier and it is a temporary visit.
That has always been my goal. So ultimately, I want to, I want to go back, but I really want to go back to once I have accumulated some of my own accomplishment and experience. So I really want to go back as a fresh graduate student. There's this thing because so many Chinese students have gone overseas, to all the places in the world and back in the 90s and early 2000s. We call these people Xia Gui basically coming back from overseas and suddenly they have kind of this glow that oh my god they into foreign countries and studying that they must be really good and they immediately get good jobs, good pay. That is no longer the truth right now, you know, even ordinary Chinese families can, you know, maybe some of them going through some pressure but still they are able to send the kids overseas. So the amount of students like this is growing rapidly. And you no longer have that natural competitiveness unless you have something you know of your own. You You know, you can prove to the employers back in China because they have even higher standard right now the competition is, is crazy.
Hmmm, Well, So, you know, right now here we're having a labor supply, labor supply tightening going on where it's kind of a employees market? Do you? What do you hear in China for college graduates, I've heard that they do have problems with an oversupply of college graduates and not enough people want to, you know, do blue collar manufacturing work?
Yeah, I think that's at least what I see, I probably the situation has gotten worse. And again, I think that is just a natural byproduct of population being more urban. You know, back then, you know, when BP in in a very old times, like the 60s 70s, everybody's job is assigned. Right? It's designed by the government, you don't have a say in where you work after you graduate, either high school or college. And, and right now, it's a completely different world. And the amount of students that are competing for the same type of jobs that are most lucrative in the finance in technology are just, you know, in growing rapidly, everybody, no matter what your major is, you want to learn CS wants to learn financial math. And so it's really not the best kind of direction to go. But that's basically it, that's what I see is a good sign. Because Because now we're more of a free market. People go where they want to go, where there is profit to gain. And now, it actually pushes the fundamental industries to be better, you have to pay better for the bright minds to come to you industry, you cannot just stay the same like before, and the government will just assign you new workers, you have to win them over. And I think that's actually a good thing. It's painful. But it's, it's a good thing for the society.
Well, so I want to I want to loop back to science. But before I do that, I do want to ask you, you're from Beijing, your parents grew up there. You know, China's big country, I mean, you know, it's as large as the lower 48 a little larger than the lower 48, of the United States, but obviously, the western half is pretty empty in terms of population. So you have all these different provinces, all these different regions are like Shanghai, which has a you know, it's economically very powerful. And then more recently, Shenzhen, which is around, you know, in Guangdong. And so, you know, Hong Kong is nearby. And then you have Beijing and Tianjin, I think in the north. And so you have, like, all these different regions, I'm just wondering, as, as a country, how do people in the North view people in the south and I mean, are there any regional? Are there any regional differences that really matter? I mean, cuz I know that, for example, food in Sichuan is definitely the best food in China, you know, so I think, I think we can all agree on that. But you know, it's it's all for fun and and I don't see that it's like, there's big regionalisms but I want you to speak to that as a as a person of Chinese origin yourself.
Oh, there you know, there's definitely a lot of regionalisms. But it's mostly harmless stuff like debating whether your tofu should be sweet or, or salty. Then all the northerners to have only had a salty tofu and the southerners they grew up with sweet ones. Yeah, I think that's, that's great. And, again, we're realizing that we're super diverse, even though you know, the, the clear majority is the Han ethnicity but everything we've been taught since we are in elementary school is that we're multi ethnic and we have different types of people and different culture, different language, different religions, leaving in different parts of China. And this is all one beautiful thing about about the country and we should respect it and we should learn about them and now with the help of say, new technologies, like I don't even know if you if you if you know some of the YouTubers that are actually from mainland China, they they kind of show you the the side of China that are not on the East Coast. You know, East Coast have is already have a huge, heterogeneity in itself, but they're showing you Yunnan province that they're showing you the life in the, in the rainforest on the highlands. And I think, you know, with, you know, we've been building the, you know, a lot of transportation methods, and the people are traveling more. Seeing more. It's, I think we're not limited by the Regional living we had before and at least, you know, for me, I found with from Beijing to, to Hangzhou, and suddenly, I was surrounded by all the students that are coming from the Zhejiang province. And yeah, I have, I had to relearn a lot of their slangs a lot of there. When we play basketball, we divide the teams in a different way than I did in Beijing. You know, everything like this just makes me love the idea of people moving and people leaving in the different places than where they were born, of being a really great idea. And I am seeing that the younger generation of Chinese people, they're doing that they're they're moving a lot. They're not only, you know, obviously the main trend is moving into Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. But they're also like working on living in Hong Kong, some of them are living, you know, like me overseas. And, and some of some of my friends that they actually after they graduate college, they went to the west, they went into the mountains where the people needed the most help their most underprivileged regions, and, and they just voluntarily devotes their 20s and 30s. teaching the kids there and trying to bring them like a better future. And I had the absolute the - the most respect for these kinds of people. Yeah.
So, you know, I see the next 10 years of genomic, let's pivot back to genomics, right, I feel, I think the next 10 years of genomic being pretty transformative. So I see genomics as being almost like a baseline of understanding and comprehension. And you know, what's really going to make it powerful and just like a necessary background assumption, in your understanding of things would be things like CRISPR, genetic engineering, CRISPR Cas9, you know, they're already trials for for curing adults sickle cell, you know, or sickle cell, that's, you know, and cystic fibrosis I believe they're working on, I have heard that they're working on ALS in dogs. So they're trying to cure it and dogs first. So, you know, CRISPR Cas9 plus stem cells, there's gonna be all these genetic engineering tools. And I think they're mostly going to be focused on Mendelian diseases. And there are 10s of millions of Americans who have Mendelian diseases that as an adult right now, as adults, you know, so even if there are risks with off target effects, and I think those are going to get better, I think these are risk people are willing to take, if you're an individual who's 40 years old, and has cystic fibrosis, and you have like five to 10 years left to live, I think you will take the risk that you're going to develop cancer, your 60s or 70s, because you're not going to make it to your 60s or 70s. Right? So, so let's I put that out there. What do you see, as someone who's been working in cancer genomics? Like, what are the improvements going to be like, you know, cuz, okay, you got the sequence, the sequences is getting cheap. Let's assume the sequencing is like, almost free. Like, I mean, how how do you improve your workflow? How do you improve the information, the insights that you can give to the end users to the physicians, and healthcare professionals and even the even the patients?
Yeah, uh, in terms of information flow, I'm still on the slightly conservative side that you know, more restrictive, has its has its benefit. You know, things like I really can't stand the idea Hoffa have a lot of the consumer genetics, products, overselling, let's use a kind of word over selling their product to to the users that has really little medical medical value to it. And these things will be a natural byproduct when you're actually treating a disease and you will have a ton of variants that you don't know how to interpret. That's going to be true forever, because the human genome is just so big and so diverse, we can never know what every variant is doing. So we're reporting back to patients, I think definitely to protect them. From from like losing, first of all, losing trust in the technology, we should only report the things that matters the most. And we're really sure about but at the same time, I think, if the data should still belong to the patient to the donor, that to, you know, there should be more regulations on how and how much the companies that sequence them can profit from using this data. That part, I think that the regulation is still very, very loose, and it's not gaining enough attention, because it's really regular consumers, how could they? How could they know how their genetic information is being used, by the companies lets say. So I think there's there's really a lot that regulations need to catch up on. But as you can see, there's just unstoppable trend, that sequencing and genomic profiling will become an integral part of day to day, clinical operations. And some field is more advanced, but every everybody's trying to do that. And that is to the, to the absolute benefit of the patients. And, yeah, I'm happy to see that and I want to see the field moving. Like, you know, for example, I'm doing a liquid biopsy where you can be free from tumor tissue, and you can get this get the useful informations from a simple blood draw. And I think that that is a really, really hot field, it's no longer that young anymore. ton of competition, but, you know, in the future, not only the genomics and genomic sequences, but also how do you measure the cell phenotypes of within the micro environment is your tumor in in immuno hot or immuno cold type of macro environment is going to impact on whether you respond to immunotherapies. And these are definitely the most promising fields moving forward.
Awesome, awesome. Um, I guess the last question I want to ask you. So, you know, we talked earlier about how China sees an opportunity in genomics and biotechnology and in these Applied Biological spaces. If you were to compare where China is right now, to where the United States is, right now, where is it, you know, more advanced, less advanced, you know, about the same in these sorts of spaces, like from what you've heard,
I think in this space, we're less advanced, obviously, but the gap is short is smaller than some other fields. And I think it's going to, it's going to catch up. But the key is to have new ideas, not just a bigger data, I know, I do data science so I know how important it is to accumulate that early data. But the way you look at those data is is the most critical part. Whether you can generate insight, you know, off of it - you know, new knowledge is I think that's the doesn't only require you have this amount, but also you have to get you know, expertise from from from cross interdisciplinary research research teams- physics,the clinics and the biochemistry, you know, they have to come together to make a difference. Sometimes, you know, things going on in China, it easily falls into a intellectual trap of like, let's just do arms race, you sequenced 100,000. I sequence, a millon, but, you know, we should what we should really focus on is, you know, how to we make use of them. And that is even harder problem, in my opinion. Yeah.
Awesome. Well, thank you for your time, Xiaotong, I know that you are busy making a name a career accumulating up accomplishments you know, before you go back and, you know, become even a bigger name, hopefully in China, I was really excited to talk to you. And you know, people should check out your work you have a Google Scholar profile, I'll link to that. And, you know, I think this was great conversation because you know, we talked both about you know, national differences but also about science because science is the thing that brings us all together, it's a common language the world out there is the same world and whatever differences we might have politically, even during the Cold War, I don't want to set that as a precedent but even during the Cold War, you know, scientific conferences still happened and you know, people from rival superpowers still talk to each other when they were talking about science so I hope that that's always gonna bind us together man. Yes, all right.
Yes, It's it's absolute pleasure to talk to you. Thank you. Take care