[FORUM]It’s all in the hands of KoreansDr. Hwang Woo-suk is a professor of veterinary studies at Seoul National University. He is a source of pride to Koreans and is considered one of the main figures that will lead this country into an era of an average national income of $20,000 with his role in the biotechnology industry. Dr. Hwang recently announced his intention to restart his research using stem cells, saying he could not put off treatment that could give hope to patients suffering from incurable diseases.
Dr. Hwang’s team, consisting of 180 scientists, leads the world’s research on stem cell extraction from cloned human embryos for purposes of treating incurable diseases and on organ transplants using organs from germ-free pigs injected with human genes. The team has reared germ-free “mini” pigs with organs that are similar in size to those of humans and thus easier to transplant.
If everything goes as intended, 10 years from now, patients with incurable diseases around the world will line up to receive Dr. Hwang’s bio-treatment. Diabetes, cancer, strokes, cardiac infractions and spinal paralysis could be among the diseases and conditions cured. We could even see Kang Wonlae, the singer-dancer who became paralyzed from the neck down due to a car accident, dance about the stage once more. This could be a miracle for humanity ― and a fortune to Korea.
A world-renowned bioengineering scientist who recently visited Dr. Hwang’s laboratory reportedly exclaimed, “Korea has become the prima donna of the world [in bioengineering]. Humanity will bow before Korea.”
Dr. Hwang’s research team is so enthusiastic about their work that they are willing to work 365 days a year, even labeling the days of the week “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday and Friday.” Creativity, professionalism and a spirit of cooperation are other elements cited for their success.
Another factor that Dr. Hwang personally sees as having aided his research team is the dexterity innate in Koreans. There are various key processes that must be handled by hand rather than machine in bioengineering, and this is where the first-class dexterity of Koreans is evident.
Foreign scientists are known to have marveled at the way Dr. Hwang’s team members extracted the nucleus from egg cells about 0.1 mm big so deftly, using optical microscopes and minute tubes. Human egg cells are sticky and prone to break, and it is not an easy job to extract the nucleus. The team is also exceptionally skilled at implanting cloned fertilized eggs inside pigs, leaving foreign competition far behind.
Korea’s level of plastid transformation technology is also one of the highest in the world. Dr. Kwak Sangsu of the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology, who recently developed sweet potatoes and potatoes that can withstand draught and cold-weather damage, also credited the dexterity inherent in Koreans for his achievement in injecting certain genes in the chloroplast. Thanks to this dexterity, we are seeing news of some achievements made by Korean scientists in bioengineering almost every month.
It is also serving us in the informational technology sector, where Korea plays a strong part. Our deftness in using computers or mobile phones and even online games, where fast hand movements are needed, is also because of our dexterity.
Our hand skills also raised our empire of semiconductors. According to Koh Yeong-beom, an executive at Samsung Electronics, during the times when we were catching up with advanced countries’ technology, much work in product development and manufacturing was done by hand and the fine touch of the usually female factory employees played a big role.
These days, the process is completely automated, but in those parts where machines cannot replace handiwork, we are superior to Westerners.
We have also combined the animation industry, where dexterity is a must, with digital technology, and have become a leader in the industry.
Koreans have traditionally used iron chopsticks, which are more slippery than the wooden ones used by the Chinese or the Japanese. Korean cuisine requires much handiwork because it has many seasonings and sauces. Needlework is very important in the Korean traditional culture, as well as calligraphy and painting. Our traditional talent in archery is another indication of our dexterity.
The more you use your hands, the smarter your head gets. If we really want to push our exports up to $200 billion per year, we might consider teaching how to use chopsticks, needlework and traditional cooking in schools. If we do, we should soon find ourselves the world’s prima donna of not only bioengineering but informational technology and nanotechnology as well.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor in charge of digital news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Il