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Dr. Wei Xie of School of Life Sciences at Tsinghua University selected as International Research Scholars by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

On May 9, 2017, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) officially announced recipients of its International Research Scholars award. Dr. Wei Xie from the School of Life Sciences of the Tsinghua University is among a group of 41 scientists around the globe receiving this award.

HHMI was established in 1953 by the American industrialist and philanthropist Mr. Howard R. Hughes. As the world’s largest biomedical science philanthropy, HHMI has as its mission to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. Its unique approach to pursue this mission is to fund “people, not projects”. HHMI invests in scientific thought leaders and emerging research pioneers, supporting their freedom to follow curiosity and instinct in scientific exploration and to apply creative approaches to tackle hard problems. In the US, HHMI-supported investigators include 25 Nobel laureates and 180 members of the National Academy of Sciences. The International Research Scholars Program has been established with the same “people, not projects” principle to select and support outstanding early-career scientists from around the world outside of the G7 countries. In the current open competition, HHMI has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to commit $26.7 million in funds. A total of 41 scientists, including 7 from China, were selected from more than 1400 applicants through a two-tier competition process to each receive $650,000 for research support in the next 5 years.

Dr. Wei Xie received his B.S. degree in Biological Sciences at Peking University in China in 2003. He then went to UCLA and obtained a Ph.D degree in Molecular Biology and a M.S. double degree in statistics in 2008. After completing his postdoc training at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, UCSD from 2009-2013, he joined Tsinghua University, School of Life Sciences as a Principle Investigator in 2013. He is also selected as a member of the Tsinghua-Peking Joint Center for Life Sciences. Dr. Xie has authored over 30 publications, including several published in Nature, Science, Cell as the first-author or the correspondence author. As a result of his scientific excellence, Dr. Xie has won Thousand Young Scholar Program of China in 2013, Excellent Young Scholar Award from National Science Foundation of China in 2014, and Qiushi Excellent Young Scholar Award in 2014.


Wei Xie is excited about his selection as an HHMI International Research Scholar. He considers this as a great honor to him and his research team, and also an endorsement for the hard work that his group has undertaken over the years. Using interdisciplinary approaches, Wei Xie is interested in understanding how the epigenome is inherited, reprogrammed, and established in early development when life just begins. By doing so, he wishes to decipher how highly specialized sperm and oocyte are converted to a totipotent embryo and how information is transmitted between generations in this process. These are among the most fundamental and challenging questions in developmental biology. Since starting his own lab at Tsinghua University in 2013, Wei Xie is dedicated in solving these problems by first establishing a highly energetic and innovative research group. It did not take long before he and his young team made several breakthroughs in the field. By successfully developing several ultrasensitive tools for chromatin analysis, the Xie lab is among the first to provide a global view of mammalian chromatin dynamics in preimplantation embryos at the DNA level. This work was published in Nature as an article in June 2016. Furthermore, in collaboration with Jie Na’s group at School of Medicine, Tsinghua University, he showed for the first time the molecular principles governing reprogramming of histone modifications in mammalian preimplantation development. These studies, which were published in Nature as well as Molecular Cell in September 2016, addressed a long-standing question – whether histone modifications can be inherited to the next generation in mammals. Recently, the Xie lab also showed how genomic imprints, the parental epigenetic memories that are essential for development, are controlled by a simple isoform switch of an epigenetic regulator. This work was published in Molecular Cell in December 2016. Together, these studies have not only for the first time revealed the drastic chromatin reprogramming after fertilization at the DNA level, but also established crucial systems and methods that will likely pave the ways for future investigations to better understand at the molecular level how life begins. 


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