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Asteroid Named for Molecular Biology Pioneer

Wang Yinglai

A ceremony to name an asteroid after Wang Yinglai, a deceased pioneer of molecular biology dedicated to enzyme chemistry and nutrition metabolism research, was held in Shanghai on Saturday. 

"We would like to announce that the asteroid discovered by this observatory and numbered 355704 internationally be named in honor of Wang Yinglai. It is hereby made known to the world and will go down in history forever," the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences based in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, stated in a certificate.

The International Astronomical Union approved the naming to commemorate Wang's outstanding academic contributions to the field.

Born in 1907 in Quanzhou, Fujian province, Wang was a key founder of modern biochemistry in China. He was the founding director of the CAS' Institute of Biochemistry in 1958, which later became the Shanghai-based Center for Excellence in Molecular Cell Science of the CAS.

In 1941, Wang completed his PhD studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, where he engaged in vitamin research.

During his studies, he established the sulfur pigment fluorescence method for the determination of vitamin B1 in biological samples, such as food and urine. He also established the potentiometric titration method for vitamin C, which was able to accurately determine the vitamin C content in colored tissue extracts.

Wang was an outstanding decision maker and leader in China's biochemical research work. Under his organization and leadership, Chinese scientists were the first in the world to complete two major foundational works — artificial total synthesis of crystalline bovine insulin with biological vitality in 1965 and yeast alanine transfer ribonucleic acid in 1981 — allowing China's level of synthetic biomacromolecules to remain at the forefront of the world.

Lin Qishui, a CAS academician who worked with Wang at the institute, said Wang poured tremendous effort into making the two research tasks become a reality.

Wang had been the coordination leader of the insulin synthesis team since 1963 and participated in the development of the synthesis plans and the organization of talent, Lin said.

"He coordinated collaboration between the CAS' Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry and Peking University. And when the project encountered challenges, he took the initiative to organize a capable team to carry out down-to-earth research work," Lin said.

However, Wang, who died in 2001, declined to include his name in the authors of the papers or award list related to the two pioneering works, which both won the National Natural Science Award.

"Scientific achievements are inseparable from spiritual support. The naming of the asteroid highlights the patriotism, dedication and the exploration and innovation spirit of the pioneering scientists represented by Wang. We hope that such scientific spirit and thinking can be passed on to the next generations," the Center for Excellence in Molecular Cell Science said in a newsletter.

The asteroid numbered 355704 was discovered in March 2008. It travels around the sun at the speed of 16.9 kilometers per second. (chinadaily)