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iGEM winning teams urge greater support for synthetic biology sector

11/10/2023 06:26 PM
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Members of Taiwanese teams taking part in the 2023 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in Paris in this recent photo. Photo courtesy of GEMS-Taiwan Nov. 10, 2023
Members of Taiwanese teams taking part in the 2023 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in Paris in this recent photo. Photo courtesy of GEMS-Taiwan Nov. 10, 2023

Paris, Nov. 9 (CNA) Several people involved in Taiwan's synthetic biology sector have called for more support for the sector after teams from Taiwan performed well at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which took place in Paris Nov. 2-5.

Participating teams from Taiwan won six gold medals, four silver medals and several other prizes at the competition, which focuses on synthetic biology development.

One of the gold medals was won by team Taipei-KCISLK-V1 for their project "Worm Out Clots," which addressed cardiovascular disease, one of the top three causes of death in Taiwan in 2022.

The project applied synthetic biology to create a probiotic platform for the automatic in-vivo production of the protein lumbrokinase, which can dissolve blood clots.

The platform would prevent the mass killing of earthworms to produce the protein and enable it to be delivered as prescribed, the team creating the platform said.

In addition, National Tsing Hua University won gold with their project "NanoCircDx," which is a diagnostic technology platform for cancer screening using liquid biopsies.

The platform can determine the potential presence of colorectal cancer through circular RNA analysis in a blood sample provided by the patient, its creators said.

Laurent Hsia (夏啟鐸), who has been a judge at the iGEM competition, said synthetic biology can be the answer to several pending questions in Taiwan's medical field, as demonstrated by the award-winning projects.

Despite those successes, however, he felt that more resources and efforts to integrate resources were needed to boost students' knowledge and passion for the subject.

According to Chiang Ju-i (江如意), the instructor of team Taipei-KCISLK-V1 consisting of students from Kang Chiao International School, Linkou Campus, that lack of resources is reflected in synthetic biology being only mentioned in one chapter of a biology textbook during students' junior high school and senior high school years.

Echoing Hsia and Chiang, Huang Chieh-chen (黃介辰), professor at the Department of Life Sciences of National Chung Hsing University, said synthetic biology is not yet well-known in Taiwan and that he hoped universities could recruit more instructors and launch new courses to help develop the field.

Injecting more resources into Taiwan's synthetic biology sector will also help those who want to further promote their work, people in the field said.

Yu Chun-ying (余俊穎), an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at National Chung Cheng University (NCCU), who has long served as a mentor to the university's iGEM teams, said access to more resources will help competition winners promote their work to the international community.

They will be better able to seek international collaboration opportunities with the help of overseas Taiwanese chambers of commerce, for example, which would nurture talent in the industry and bolster Taiwan's capabilities to meet international standards, Yu said.

At this year's iGEM, an NCCU team won a gold medal with "CTC-FAST: How we fight against lung cancer."

The CTC-FAST device automatically detects CTCs (circulating tumor cells), making CTC detection more accessible and affordable, as well as improving postoperative follow-up and reducing deaths from the spreading of the cancer, the team said.

Meanwhile, Wu Ming-tsung (吳明璁), a co-founder of biotechnology company Genenet Technology and secretary-general of the UK Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce, agreed that additional resources could go a long way in the field.

"Taiwan is rich in talent and has a first-class R&D environment and well-developed semiconductor and medical device industrial chains," he said.

"If a more efficient platform can be established between our representative offices and chambers of commerce, we can plan suitable, timely policy responses to international trends, and help bridge the gap between those trends and domestic talent and industries, minimizing brain drain."

(By Tseng Ting-hsuan and Bernadette Hsiao)


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