In our tiny but lengthy stretches of DNA code, determining where the genes are and what they do is essential but often tricky. A single gene can exist in bits and pieces across the molecular landscape. Scientists are always trying to solve this puzzle and find the genes that cobble together living creatures, and that endeavour is where Sue Duan Lin-Chao makes her trade.
Lin-Chao was born and educated in Taiwan, receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from National Changhua University of Education and her master’s in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Texas at Dallas, USA. She stayed there to complete her PhD work on controlling how many times plasmids – self-copying molecules found in bacteria that are separate from the bacterium’s genome – replicate.
Later, she worked with genetic engineering pioneer Stanley Cohen at Stanford University, USA, to develop a way to identify genes in mammalian cells called gene trapping. In this technique a special, easy-to-identify gene called a ‘reporter’ is packaged into a retrovirus that randomly inserts it into cell genomes. The reporter gene ‘reports back’ if an important gene has been split. This method is now used widely in biology.
In 1990, she returned to Taiwan and established her lab at the Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica, where she is currently working to extend her studies of what causes the degradation of RNA – strands of coding molecules similar to DNA – and how that relates to mammal biology and diseases.
Lin-Chao’s accomplishments in science extend beyond research. She founded the Biosafety Committee of Academia Sinica in 2001 – establishing a platform to ensure lab safety. From 2005 to 2008 she chaired the Committee for the National Advanced Bioinformatics Core for the National Science Council of Taiwan. She also founded the Taiwan International Graduate Programme on Molecular and Cell Biology at Academia Sinica. She has authored 70 peer-reviewed papers and two book chapters, and has reviewed research for numerous prestigious journals, including Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Current Microbiology.