Why we do this
In recent years, cancer has become one of the most serious killers threatening human health. Morbidity and mortality raising continuously, cancer is becoming a primary death reason and a significant public health problem. As is reported by Chinese Cancer Statistics 2015, there will be more than 4 million new cancer cases and nearly 3 million deaths of cancer in 2015. It has become one of the most serious problems facing by China, even globe, to treat cancer effectively.
Aiming at different kind of cancers, different medicines and treatments have been developed based on different therapy principles. However, the detecting and screening of medicines now is conducted based more on chemical methods, which is sometimes complex and time-consuming. Inspired by the properties of microtubule-stabilizing agent taxol, we developed a method to screen medicines based on the microtubule stabilization. If microtubule-stabilizing molecule exists, our engineered protein will polymerize and show light which can be detected through microscope. We expect it to be a more sensitive and effective system to screen anticancer agents.
Our Human Practice is based on the project and included interviews, investigations and games we designed.
Preparing before begining
We organized the Mini-iGEM competition, which took a month, before our project began. As its name, the competition is for small iGEM projects designed by ten groups. They worked as iGEM's pattern and designed a project or solved a problem using principles of synthetic biology. Then we invited some professors to score these projects and give their advice. Through this competition, we found some inspiring ideas and on the other hand deepened students' understand of iGEM.
Here are some of posters of Mini-iGEM.
Seeing is believing
Investigation of Taxus yunnanensis
The most famous microtubule-stabilizing medicine is taxol, which comes from extraction of Taxus trees. However, since the great performance in curing cancer was discovered, yew trees in Yunnan have experienced a period of massacre, which caused a sharp decrease in yew population. So, in these years, the government has taken measures to protect them. Then we are wondering whether those measures truly work and how is everything going with yew trees now in Yunnan. So we spend several days this summer in Yunnan investigating the yew trees there. We went to some places including Yunnan Hande Biotechnology Corporation which is the first producing source of taxol in China, Yunnan Acadamy of Forestry (YAF) and Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Chinese Academy of Science. Besides, we carried on population survey in Heilongtan Park, Yunnan University and Kunming Botanical Garden.
From our survey, we learned that there are more and more yew tree plant bases coming into being in Yunnan and they are mainly allocated at sipsongpanna, Wenshan, Diqing, and so on. The distribution of wild yew trees is separated and in small population, for both natural and human reasons. In the YAF, Dr. Jinfeng Zhang and his fellow said that it's important to nurture artificial yew forests, especially from the angle of economy and forestry. The yew trees and its wood are both valuable so the artificial forest is a great protection of wild trees. He said that, the yew trees do have other values in addition to anticancer. For example, it can be used to treat diabetes, skin diseases and sore throat. Besides, its wood is also precious (Though we can't agree with some of what he said.).
As to planting yew trees, the farmers should get united with enterprises, who can give guide to farmers and ensure the quality of yews. Some farmers just noticed the great profits in planting yew, but had little techniques in it, which caused large loss to them. Besides, these cases was also a waste of soil and resources. As a consequence, governments and companies should actively guide farmers to plant trees, and it’s a win-win choice.
The protection of wild yew trees goes well in Yunnan province. And the support to scientific research and forestry study from government are strengthened these years. As Dr. Zhang said, government should focus on protection, and leaves the yew market to itself. The public attribute to yew trees and its protection changes a lot among different people. Here is an overview of the public research result.
In order to learn about the public attitude and knowledge to yew protection, we carried on a public research in Heilongtan Park, Yunnan University and Kunming Botanical Garden, Kunming.Here is our result.
We learned that nearly half of people are lacking basic knowledge about the yew trees.
|Do Not Know||
|Know A Little||
At the same time, the understand of yew trees varies a lot in different people.
People living in Kunming and surrounding counties have a better knowledge than tourists from other provinces. In Yunnan province, many folk prescriptions mentioned yew barks as a traditional Chinese medicine, which may be one of the reasons why people know a lot about medical therapy.
Among these people, the teenagers have a more comprehensive knowledge about the application of yew trees, while the old know more about the medical value of yew.
Through the random investigation we learned that almost half of residents know some markets selling yew products while tourists know little about this. And after we ask further we noticed that these markets usually distribute in the aggregation place of wild yew trees such as Lijiang.
Besides, over 90% people thought that there are not many yew trees in the wild and they needed enhanced protection. But when it comes to the present situation of yew protection, the understanding of different people varies a lot.
The most locals thought that the protecting condition of the yew is unfavorable while people from other provinces argues the opposites. After further study, we learned that there have been cases in Kunming Botany Garden that people skinned the yew for money. And a sizable part of the old took or are taking yew medicines like yew wine and so on. There are also some people collecting yew wood chopping block, cups, and tea table.
Besides, we learned that the knowledge of yew mainly spread through leisure chatting or learn from families and friends. Some of its information comes from sellers, too. Among people from other provinces, some learned yew from internet or books, and some learned from sellers. So many yew production sellers play an important role in popularization of yew science and the information they provided needs to be standardized.
Interview with Hande company
Hande Biotechnology Corporation is a mature company with long history. As the first company in China to produce taxol, it drew our attention immediately. They focused more on the profit of taxol products and they are also playing an important role in yew resources protection. They now mainly use yew trees tissue as a resource of products. Once upon a time, they were drew into a dilemma for they were accused of using wild yew trees. The protective law being more and more perfect, this kind of problems will no longer cause a debate. They now have their own planting bases and will develop chemical synthesize method to make the production more profitable.
Below is the record of our interview with the senior leaders of Hande. Click to see more.
Yunnan academic of forestry
The interviews to Dr. Jinfeng Zhang from YAF and Dr. Jie Liu from KIB is mainly from scientific view to argue about exploitation and protection politics of yew. Dr. Zhang said that all the artificial yew forest need professional direct from academics or companies. And the taxol content in yew should reach a criterion, which need chemical methods nowadays to analysis, to ensure the subsequent product rate and quality. Our project can also be used in these analysis and may be more convenient. Dr. Zhang’s view about protecting yew is that artificial forest is so popular that we don’t need to constrain the yew productions in the market. What we should do is protect wild trees and now this work goes generally well. So this market should be left to market itself to be regulated.
Dr. Liu ‘s talk is mainly about the systematic evolution of Taxus species. He has no idea about why some of Taxus species can produce taxol and how the difference of taxol content in different species evolved. But he gave the phylogenetic relationships among present Taxus species. And this talk makes us more reasonable when think about yews. Taxus is just a kind of the miscellaneous plants in the world and he thought that the natural effect is more important than human activities for he thought about this problem in a further larger time scale. We noticed that though these people are all studying about the same species, they think about it from totally different dimensions. That’s truly inspiring.
Voice from society
Went to Pecking Union Medical College Hospital for an interview
Different anticancer medicines are clinically used in different cases, depending on the condition and illness history of the patient. And taxol, a broad-spectrum medicine targeting on the microtubule, is just a choice for cancer doctors. We wondered how these taxol-like medicine are used clinically and what problems they are facing. We went to PUMCH and get Dr. Yingyi Wang for an interview.
As he said, taxol is a widely used medicine for many kinds of cancers. But it is the wide-ranging that limits its application. Nowadays, targeted medicines which are initiated with precision medicine have great advantages in treating cancer. In the other hand, taxol treatment is a relative affordable scheme in most cases. From medicine history in a broader scale, small medicine agents like taxol would possibly fade out in several decades and be replaced by targeted medicines like antigen medicine or micro-robot which would have less sife effects and safer. However, our engineered device is still work whenever people want to screen microtubule-stabilizing agents.
He is very interested in our project. Click here to see the interview record.
Communicate in community
During September 1st – September 3th, 2016, CCiC conference was organized and held by Sun Yet-sen university in Guangzhou, China. Our team, BNU-China, had the chance to attend to the conference. During the conference, we introduced our project to the other 26 teams.
In the conference, each team conducted in-depth communication and exchanged ideas on their own projects. The inspiring spark collided by thoughts and innovation among the teams made the attendees reap substantial benefits. After careful preparation, we showed our project roundly to the whole attendees from the aspects of background, project, design, modeling and human practice. In the meantime, we also held open attitude towards the sincere suggestions and comments from other teams.
In the conference, not only did we strengthen the relationship with FAFU-CHINA, but we made many new friends as well. And the communication and mutual learning among the teams provided us with the opportunity to broad our horizon and help us acquaint more people with our project.
What's the game
In order to facilitate the communication between the students and to help students to get a deeper understanding of iGEM. We designed and organized an orienteering activity "running of biology" in the campus. The rules of the orienteering are designed to bring our ideas to more people. The destinations were set at several typical buildings in the campus and was named by some representative chemical compound we have used or produced in the experiment, such as alpha protein, beta protein, N terminal of luciferase, c terminal of luciferase and some other organic molecular. The students were divided into several teams to compete with each other. Each team should find their destination by the description written on the task card to get a chemical compound. And then the team will obtain the task card leading to the next destination. The team that uses the less time to collect all the chemical compound will win the game.
The orienteering is entrusted but full of joy and meanings. To start with, as a freshman who has little impression to the campus, the orienteering makes me feel more familiar to the college. What's more, the seniors in our team is so cute and my teammates is so bright and cheerful. Yesterday, we were strangers passing by each other but today we become a group, running and laughing in the school. At last the seniors took us to visit the laboratory, showing the ideas of iGEM, and I found it is really fascinating. I wish I can join in this group next year.
How time files! The orienteering has already ended. In this lively morning, we walked through the campus. We visited the stela in BNU, made new friends, looked around the lab and understood the main key of iGEM. We learned a lot today, and the high tech equipment really impressed me! I feel I am getting close to the mysterious scientific research. I hope to become a part of iGEM and helping others.
The combination of the cross-country and the iGEM experiment is full of fun. And as a sophomore student, I am very curious to iGEM, and I want to know more about it. I have learned the detailed introduction to the laboratory and the project from seniors and get the third place prize. I am happy to participate in this activity! I always want to get a chance to train my laboratory experiment skills and do the experiment in the lab but I didn't find the opportunity to do that, and this is one of the reasons of my participation. Finally thanks for taking the time to further our understanding of iGEM. Happy :)