Taiwan sends swine fever-like virus to outer space for the first time, paving the way for the development of vaccine drugs

“Five, four, three, two, one, launch!” The space station gave an order. The SpaceX rocket spewed a lot of fuel, raised billowing smoke and dust, and lifted off with swine fever-like virus particles. This is the first time Taiwan has launched a Virus particles are sent to outer space, and the virus has to go on a one-month “crystal growth journey” in space before returning to Earth.

It is difficult for the public to imagine that this batch of swine fever-like viruses first crossed the sea to Japan, and then sent to the United States for launch, a journey of tens of thousands of kilometers. It took more than 8 months before and after the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center to complete. It took a lot of effort to send it to outer space, Chen Junrong, deputy director of the National Radiation Center explained, in order to “see clearly” the structure of the virus.

Chen Junrong said that before developing vaccines or drugs, the first task is to understand the virus first. Mastering the structure of the virus has always been the focus of scientists, but the earth has gravity, temperature, humidity and other factors that affect the formation of virus crystals, which will affect research to some extent. In space, there is no interference factor, which helps the virus to form large perfect crystals, which is beneficial to understand the fine structure of the virus.

In fact, biotechnology companies in the United States, Japan and other countries have already sent proteins to outer space for the purpose of developing targeted vaccines or drugs. Chen Junrong studied in the United States when he was young, and he also participated in similar space experiments. The idea of ​​space is not unfamiliar at all. After returning to Taiwan, there was no chance until Zhang Huaiqian, the founder of Sunwing Advanced Technology, came to the door and offered to cooperate, and started the project.

As the saying goes, “Everything is difficult at the beginning”, which is also reflected in the first virus sailing mission. The National Radiation Center can purify the swine fever virus protein and assemble it into virus-like particles, which do not contain genetic material, making it non-infectious, but space crystal growth. Handling skills and methods, the Taiwanese team has no experience and no relevant equipment.

Yangyi, as the Taiwan general agent of Japan Space BD Co., Ltd., Chen Junrong’s team asked Japan to send equipment to simulate the test in the Taiwan laboratory.

However, the crystal growth effect in the first test was not good, and the device was used up. Chen Junrong had to ask Space BD to send another batch of equipment for the second test. After more than a month, he finally found suitable parameters. Chen Junrong admitted that the environment is different, and the experimental conditions need to be re-explored.

In the end, the National Radiation Center used Space BD equipment and methods to send out 5 tubes of viral proteins and 5 tubes of specific liquids, a total of 10 test tubes were sent to the Space BD headquarters in Japan, and were sent to the United States by Japanese businessmen. The final assembly was placed in a special device. Once sent to the International Space Station in outer space, the virus-like particles and the uniquely formulated chemical solution slowly fuse in a gravity-free environment to further grow crystals.

However, the virus protein has to travel far to Japan, which is another test. Chen Junrong specially negotiated with a courier company that can guarantee the whole process of low temperature. The purpose is to ensure that the samples are fresh and pass through customs smoothly and directly to Japan. The package also has a tracking code attached, so that you can always grasp it. Latest News. Even the delivery date is deduced from the sand table.

Chen Junrong said that if it was sent on Tuesday, it might arrive in Japan on the weekend, and the Japanese business might not receive the sample package. If it was processed two days later, no one could tell what would happen, so he insisted that the courier company would get the package on Monday. goods. “During the transportation of the samples, the treatment specifications are better than people’s,” he said with a smile.

This batch of swine fever-like virus particles was successfully sent to space in December last year. After a month of “crystal growth journey”, they returned to Earth. The crystal samples were processed by Japan’s Space BD and then rapidly frozen at liquid nitrogen temperature before being sent to China. spoke center. In the follow-up, the National Radiation Center will use high-intensity X-rays to inspect the crystal quality and identify the structure, and plan to cooperate with the school on the research of swine fever virus particles, and ultimately hope to develop vaccines or drugs.

After having this experience, Chen Junrong said that the team also plans to send another batch of different virus-like particles into space in the third quarter of this year, and conduct space crystal growth experiments for more than 4 months, hoping to increase the number of crystals by extending the experimental time. Growth opportunities and effects.

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