Xi’an Jiaotong University Day at Leiden University
16 April was a special day at the Faculty of Science. In honour of the collaborations with the Chinese partner university, it was declared Xi’an Jiaotong University Day.
Xi’an Jiaotong University (XJTU) in central China is one of nine C9 League universities in China, often referred to as China’s Ivy League. It has a long-standing relationship with the Faculty of Science, and in 2016 XJTU president Shuguo Wang signed a statement of intent with Leiden University.
XJTU and Leiden University have since then developed an intense collaboration, with research collaborations, mutual visiting professorships, a joint PhD programme and other workshops. Students from both universities can also participate in joint programmes on BSc, MSc and PhD level.
This April, the first group of XJTU-Leiden joint PhD programme candidates have filed their application. Under a projected funded by China Scholarship Council, every year 10 PhDs will arrive in Leiden and be co-supervised by Leiden and XJTU scientists, with the aim of boosting the cross-discplinary research on artificial intelligence, life science and medicine.
This Week’s Discoveries
A delegation of four XJTU professors and directors (see list below) visited the Faculty of Science from 15 to 19 April. In honour of the guests, Leiden University pronounced 16 April Xi’an Jiaotong University Day. On this day two XJTU delegation members and Leiden University visiting professors gave special lectures in the series This Week’s Discoveries, to which researchers from all Science institutes were welcomed. Faculty of Science dean Geert de Snoo welcomed the guests from Xi’an and hosted the session.
Opium poppy genome
Although in completely different fields of research, both speakers started of their talks referencing Darwin’s theory of evolution. First speaker was Professor Kai Ye, who obtained his PhD at Leiden University in 2008. He is a specialist in computational methods for structural variants as well as their applications on precision medicine and evolution of novel traits. In his talk about the opium poppy genome, he argued that evolution does not only take place gradually, like Darwin argued, but can also take place in bog steps. So far, no molecular evidence supported this so-called punctuated equilibrium theory, Kai Ye told.
But the recent whole genome sequencing of the opium poppy genome by Kai Ye and collaborators reveals an interesting event during the evolution of the species. By zooming in on several morphine-like compounds, Kai Ye proved that the entire genome of the poppy doubled approximately 7.8 million years ago. Many duplicated genes of that event still remain in the present-day cultivated poppy, he argued. The whole-genome duplication proves that micro-evolution can take place side-by-side with macro-evolution.
Second speaker of the day was Professor Jianyong Sun, director of the NEL-BDA Research Centre and Professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at XJTU. He discussed machine learning techniques based on the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest. In multiobjective evolutionary algorithms, populations of solutions undergo slight alterations, after which the quality of the individuals is assessed and the best solutions are selected to form the next generation. This technique can for example be used to find sets of securities that minimise risks and maximise profits.
However, these solutions come at a high computational cost, Jianyong Sun argued, mainly because of the high cost of learning in the models. According to Jianyong Sun, extensive learning early on in the model is not necessary. The learning algorithm he proposed takes the stream of sequentially generated solutions along the evolution as its training data. The data in this approach are different than usual, he noted: the stream of solutions are temporal, dependent, non-stationary and non-static. He modified an existing algorithm to accommodate these characteristics. The modified algorithm showed significant improvement over four state-of-the-art multiobjective evolutionary algorithms on a variety of benchmark problems.
After the lectures, the delegation members went on a walking tour in the historic city centre of Leiden. A dinner reception at the Leiden University Faculty Club was held on Wednesday evening, in the presence of Leiden Rector Magnificus Professor Carel Stolker. Furthermore, the delegation had meetings with colleagues to discuss ongoing and future research and education collaboration during the entire week. The members spoke to directors and researchers from the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research, the Institute of Biology Leiden, the Mathematical Institute, the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science and the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION) as well as with several LUMC representatives.
Top photo: Professor Lei Zhang, Professor Kay Ye, Professor Chengsheng Zhang, Professor Jianyong Sun, Professor Geert de Snoo
Delegation list april 2019
- Prof. Jianyong Sun, Professor of Computational Intelligence, Machine Learning and Big Data, Head of School of Informatics and Computing, Director of Research Centre for Big Data Analysis Algorithm of National Engineering Laboratory for Big Data Analytics (NEL-BDA), Xi’an Jiaotong University
- Prof. Kai Ye, Professor of Omics and Omics informatics, Director of Bioinformatics, departments Electronic and Information Engineering School Xi’an Jiaotong University., Xi’an Jiaotong University
- Prof. Lei Zhang, Professor of Physics (Biophysics, Two-Dimensional Materials), , Deputy Dean of School of Science, Deputy Director of Major Project Division, Institute of Science and Technology, Xi’an Jiaotong University
- Prof. Chengsheng Zhang, Professor of Clinical Genetics and Genomics, Director of Clinical Genetics and Genomics Program, Precision Medicine Center, The First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong Universityl; Director of Cytogenetics Laboratory, The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic, USA