Da is a postdoc in the McKendry group at UCL. His research areas of interest include nano-sensing and molecular diagnostics. In our short interview, Da shares how his family inspired him to start his career in science and how the natural world has influenced his research.
What sparked your interest in starting a career in research?
I was born in an intellectual family. My grandfather was a local middle school principal and my father is a Professor of agriculture. My family opened my eyes to the world of research. As I grew up, I became curious about unsolved questions and was enthusiastic about practising experiments, which led me to start a career in research.
Tell us a little about your career to date…
After graduating from Peking University, I worked in a pharmaceutical company that developed real-time HPLC monitoring systems, servicing synthesis and quality control. I gained my MSc degree from the University of Sheffield (working on artificial gene promoter) and then joined the nano-fabrication group in Queen Mary University of London for my PhD. I worked on developing novel DNA based functional nanostructures and applied them on a nano-fabricated sensing chip. After I obtained my PhD, I joined i-sense, where I am working on developing nucleic acid based molecular diagnostics.
What has been a career highlight?
I developed a novel nano-sensing chip based on DNA origami for monitoring cancer cell behaviour with single molecule resolution. This platform helped to reveal the acceptor arrangements on the membrane of cancer cells and had potential for developing this into several ultra-sensitive sensors for various type of cells. I am also proud of joining in the project of developing novel nucleic acid diagnostic for COVID-19 within i-sense.
Your work within i-sense focuses on DNA nanostructure based diagnostics, can you explain how this approach works and its importance in developing diagnostics for infectious diseases?
I utilise various self-assembled DNA nanostructures (DNA origami) to combine binding of the target biomarker and intensify the signal output. Etiology tests are key in diagnostics for infectious disease, and nucleic acid sequences is one of the most important biomarkers. Based on the nature of double helix binding of nucleic acid, DNA nanostructure can be designed to capture etiological gene pieces for indicating whether an individual is infected or not. Carefully designed DNA nanostructures can provide large amounts of biomarker binding sites, which make the system ultra-sensitive. The multiplex test can be easily achieved via changing the binding sequences to test several different diseases at the same time.
Outside your day to day work, have you been involved in things that have influenced your research?
I have joined several science popularising online groups to share stories on science and history. I prefer to focus on natural history. Amazing natural structures have inspired me a lot in the design of DNA nanostructures.
Tell us something you enjoy outside of your research…
I enjoy calligraphy and brush painting. I am doing graphic design for several different topics and am also fascinated by all the wonderful galleries and museums.