With the official groundbreaking for the International Life Science and Technology Center last Friday, March 16, Dr. James Watson became the seventh Nobel laureate to join Shenzhen’s quest for innovation.
“Together, I hope that we can develop more effective medicine and build more high-end hospitals to improve the treatment environment for patients,” Watson said at the ceremony, as reported by China Money Network.
The site, selected by Watson, will be modeled on the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where he studied cancer and molecular biology for nearly 40 years. Over 1,000 scientists are slated to work at the Center and Watson, who turns 90 on April 6, will personally head the research teams.
Shenzhen aggressively pursues scientists in fields like new energy, two-dimensional materials, and genetic medicine. Beyond dedicated areas like the new Shenzhen International Bio Valley Baguang Launch Area that hosts Watson’s center, the city budgets RMB1 billion annually to support cutting-edge research.
The funding was surely a deciding factor for Watson, who sold his golden Nobel prize at a 2014 Christie’s auction for USD4.1 million, partly funding research at Trinity College and partly compensating his losses after a disastrous book tour turned him into an 'unperson.'
His comments about Africa – “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically” – were generally considered racist.
Dr. Watson’s arrival might be a step forward for Shenzhen’s genetic research, but – like CCTV's infamous Spring Festival Gala skit – it could also prove a stumble in the context of China’s deeper involvement in African economies.