Cloned Meat, Golden Rice Among Top-100 Science Projects
By Kim Tong-hyung
Would anybody's idea of a gourmet meal ever include a T-bone steak from cloned cattle? Genetic scientist Seong Hwan-hu from the Rural Development Administration (RDA) is certainly hoping that day will come, as he is as a pioneer in the cloning of ``hanwoo,'' a native breed that is a popular source of prime beef in the country.
Seong's work was named among this year's ``top-100 research projects'' selected by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which identifies state-sponsored science projects showing significant progress. The ministry, which has been announcing the list since 2006, chose from 282 projects first sorted by 16 government organizations, institutions and universities.
Cloned meat is not the only gut-testing idea to chew on ― local scientists have also developed what they call ``golden rice'' to go with the steak, with genetically modified yellow grains packed with vitamin A, which isn't found in rice naturally.
Other projects on the list include the discovery of a new drug candidate for treating diabetes, the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle with a near-silent engine, and the finding of a bacteria that could be used for producing nano-tubes.
The list also includes a good number of advancements in mobile communications, reflecting the country's leadership in information technology and electronics.
The country spent around 10.2 trillion won (about $6.9 billion) this year to support government research and development (R&D) projects.
Biotech Bring Changes to Dinner Table
Korean scientists have been researching the cloning of native cattle in the past decade, with the RDA producing 12 clones from 2002 to 2003, and successfully breeding calves from the cloned cows since 2006 at the agency's National Institute of Animal Science in Gangwon Province.
The birth of ``third-generation'' clones last year adds further proof that there is little difference between natural-born and clones in growth and reproductive abilities, Seong said.
The clones were produced from the body cells of a three-year-old ``super'' hanwoo cow from Incheon, Gyeonggi Province, and grow to weigh up to a ton, larger than average hanwoo cows, which weigh around 600 to 700 kilograms.
The development in cloning technologies for hanwoo cows could provide a major income source for farming communities down the road, by allowing the mass production of high-quality cattle and improve efficiency in stock breeding.
The technologies could also provide new opportunities, such as drug development and ``organ farming,'' Seong said.
It remains to be seen how consumers will react to cloned meat, but as for consumption, Seong claims that recent tests conducted by the RDA concluded that meat and milk from the cloned hanwoo cows are safe for human consumption.
German and Swiss researchers first engineered rice to produce beta-carotene, an inactive form of vitamin A, which turns the rice a gold color, with the intent of using it to treat vitamin A deficiency.
Now, an RDA research team led by Ha Sun-hwa is trying to take the quantity and quality of nutrients in golden rice to the next level. According to Ha, 100 grams of golden rice developed by RDA researchers contain 1.27 milligrams of vitamin A, which means that about two bowls would be enough for an adult's daily-recommended allowance of 5,000 international units (iu).
``We are approaching the day when rice could double in nutritional value,'' Ha said.
Korea doesn't have a reputation for cutting-edge military machinery, but KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) researcher Kwon Se-jin has made a bid to change that.
A research team led by Kwon, one of the country's leading rocket scientists, announced the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be potentially used for military purposes and also surveillance and emergency rescue operations.
The aircraft is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, which allows longer flight time, cheaper maintenance, and a quiet engine that makes it ideal for military scouting missions, Kwon said.
Conventional unmanned aerial vehicles support a flight time of about one hour, but Kwon's machine was successfully tested at 10 hours on a single charge.
Local scientists are also reporting breakthroughs in the treatment of diabetes. Ahn Jin-hui, a researcher at Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT), reported the successful development of a new anti-diabetes drug candidate. Lab tests have proved Ahn's DPP-4 inhibitor to be more effective than current drugs developed by Merck and Januvia, thus reducing the likelihood of side effects and increasing compatibility for diabetes patients with kidney problems.
Ahn's research has already landed him a contract with a local pharmaceutical company.
Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) researcher Hur Hor-gil reported a significant breakthrough last year when his team developed a method to produce nano-tubes from a marine bacteria called Shewanella HN-41.
Hur's research team found that, when exposed to light, Shewanella produced photoactive arsenic-sulfide nano-tubes, which opens the possibility of producing nano-tubes biologically.
Info-Tech Stays on Forefront
The ministry's top-100 list included a number of advancements in mobile communications, representing the country's leadership in information technology and electronics.
The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) led among all organizations, with eight projects making the list. One of the institute's most notable projects has been its ``3.9-generation'' mobile communications system, jointly developed by Samsung Electronics and KTF.
The next-generation mobile Internet system allows users to stay connected while riding vehicles moving at up to 350 kilometers per hour and also provides higher data rates to enable larger multimedia options on the move.