Beijing Normal University (Biology)
Beijing Agriculture University (PhD)
University of Tokyo (PhD)
Why I love biology, and why I love to teach biology?
After graduating from high school, the universities in China were not open to the youngsters due to the Culture Revolution. I spent 4 years in countryside as a farmer growing wheat, corn, rice, potatoes and all kinds of other vegetables and grains. I also raised pigs and chickens. Those experiences provided me with preliminary knowledge, curiosity and love of biology.
Four and half years later, I passed national college entrance examinations and I applied 10 Universities, all of which matched my only one requirement: having a Department of Biology. I was accepted to my first choice: Department of Biology, Beijing Normal University.
In the University, I was astonished by the beauty of Biology, I loved every course: zoology, botany, microbiology, vivisection, plant physiology, human and animal physiology, ecology, biochemistry, cell biology, enzymology, genetics etc.
My first graduate school was Beijing Agriculture University, again in Department of Biology. There, I made my first independent discovery: watercress, a cruciferous plant, could fire repetitive action potentials like animal heart.
This observation then became my first doctoral thesis which was published.
Dr. Tazawa read my thesis and applied a scholarship for me to study in University of Tokyo. Three months later in Japan, I made another discovery:
I observed that an action potential could jump from one cell to another without any connection in Chara corallina cells and demonstrated that traveling electrical field mediated the communication. This work also published in 1990.
For learning Patch-clamp technique, I passed the examination and started my second PhD in University of Tokyo. One year later, my colleagues and fellow authors Neher and Sakmann received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1991 for Patch-clamp method.
With this method, I identified K+, Cl- and Ca2+ channels in vacuolar membrane and plasma membrane in plant cells, and my second doctoral thesis part I and part II were published.
In USA, I had been keeping the watercress rhythmic excitation in my mind until one day I recorded a rhythmic open and close ion channel in smooth muscle cells. When I was recording, one of my colleagues came in. He noticed that my channel was open then closed. I asked him to sit down, and told him to wait for 2 minutes and predicted that the channel would open again. After 2 minutes, sure enough, the channel opened. This autorhythmicity with about 2 minute intervals at channel molecular level lasted more 6 hours in a petri dish. I was amazed at myself: how may times would you be the first one in the World to observe this kind of biological beauty!
In the year 2012, I started to test neuronal activities of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells cloned from autism patients’ skin cells. On October 7th, I discussed with a friend saying that Dr. Yamanaka would win Nobel Price for his iPS work. And with thrilling accuracy, on the second day, October 8th, Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden announced that:
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 jointly to John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed
to become pluripotent.
It seems to me, the beauty of biology is so close to our life, to our heart and to our way of thinking. Even without one cent of NIH funding, without a faculty position, we still have our freedom of appreciating the beauty of biology and could contribute our effort to push biological science going forward.
Three years ago, my Biology college classmate couple and their two teenage kids visited me. After playing with my rabbits, baby turtles, crayfish; eating Shitakai mushroom I cultivated in my basement; gazing the 2.5 million light years away Andromeda galaxy with my 8 inches diameter telescope; looking at the earth’s clock of life on my wall: 0.5 billion years left for plants and animals, the son and daughter told their parents: “Among all your classmates, Ping is the only biologist”. To me, that was the highest praise.
I like this statement I found in Eastern Connecticut University, Department of Biology webpage, Chair’s message: We have a saying in the Biology Department: “For Biologists, the Study of Life is a Way of Life.”
“Ever green and ever glowing” is my off work project: let growing algae to provide usable electricity. The project can be as small as a cell of algae; the project also can be as big as changing the World energy concept. Above all, the fun in this process is illimitable.
This is the beauty of biology. I simply love it and love to share it with others. Why I love biology, and why I love to teach biology?
After graduating from high school, the universities in China were not open to the youngsters due to the Culture Revolution. I spent 4 years in countryside as a farmer growing wheat, corn, rice, potatoes and all kinds of other vegetables and grains. I also raised pigs and chickens.