As a C.elegans researcher, Professor Wei-Sheng Wu at the Department of Electrical Engineering in National Cheng Kung University recognized the need for a fast and user-friendly tool to aid in C.elegans research. With his master’s student Wei-Che Huang, he thus developed the web tool piScan and helped a research team in Chicago make a breakthrough. They now have the chance to solve a genetic mystery that has baffled C.elegans researchers for more than two decades. Their achievements are published in the February issue of Science in 2018, and the article is expected to capture the attention of C.elegans researchers around the world and exert a significant impact.
The corresponding author of this article in Science, “The piRNA targeting rules and the resistance to piRNA silencing in endogenous genes”, is Professor Heng-Chi Lee of the University of Chicago, and Professor Wu and Wei-Che Huang are co-authors. Professor Wu is devoted to designing bio-databases and developing bioinformatics web tools. Unable to tolerate things that cannot be used or understood, he insists that all of the tools produced in his laboratory must be “simple, functional, but not fancy.” Users only need to open a webpage, choose the settings, and execute. They do not need to install any programs and can obtain results even for people who cannot write any programs.” These tools are exactly what researchers have wanted.
Wu originally specialized in communication systems in graduate school. While pursuing his doctorate degree, however, he decided to follow his mentor, Professor Bor-Sen Chen at the Department of Electrical Engineering in National Tsing Hua University, to cross over into the field of systems biology. By continuously improving himself and his expertise, Wu was able to accumulate enough biological knowledge, and he immediately hit it off with Lee. “We met at a Chinese New Year party held by the University of Chicago Taiwanese Student Association in the January of 2017. Maybe it was because we were both Taiwanese; we decided to collaborate really quickly. Heng-Chi Lee is a post-doctor of Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello. If you don’t have a strong background in biology, you won’t understand what he wants. It was just the perfect conditions for this international collaboration.”
Wu indicated that there is new knowledge to be gained every day. All modern biologists will have to conduct big data analyses at one time or another to derive further conclusions, which makes program development even more important. He regards the development of each program as a process of giving birth to new life and exercises utmost care. In regards to Wei-Che Huang, who was responsible for writing the program, Wu expressed strong praise. “He contributed enormously to this project. He originally had no experience at all but overcame a number of difficulties through self-learning.”
Mild-mannered and reserved, Huang never imagined that his accomplishments would be published in Science. He jokes that he is most thankful for Professor Wu breaking down his neck all the way. “Professor Wu is really different. Most of the time, grad students only see their advisors during meetings, but Professor Wu is at the lab checking our progress and discussing things with us every day, sometimes even on holidays.” With strict and meticulous Wu as his advisor, Huang admitted that there were agonizing days, but he never thought about quitting. Feeling fortunate to have undergone such training, he has gained a strong sense of accomplishment.
Even before its official launch, piScan has already received much attention from C.elegans researchers. Wu indicated that C.elegans researchers have been trying to use reporter genes in the past but were hindered by piRNA recognition, an intracellular defense mechanism. This problem has confronted C.elegans researchers for more than 20 years. Lee found the targeting logic of piRNA in C.elegans to explain why foreign nucleic acids are generally silenced after entering C.elegans germline cells. With piScan, the nucleic acid sequences of fluorescent protein can be changed to escape piRNA targeting, which results in the successful fluorescent protein expression. Thus, C.elegans researchers will be able to insert the nucleic acid sequences that they want to be expressed in C.elegans. In other words, based on the targeting rules of piRNA, researchers can successfully find the sequences they want to be expressed and modify them. “What originally could not be expressed could now successfully be expressed. This is a major breakthrough for biologists.”
As stated in Issue 555 of the Science Monthly, “There are more than 10,000 papers on C. elegans, and six scientists have received Nobel Prizes for research on C.elegans”. This shows that there are numerous C.elegans researchers, and Wu’s achievement will assist them in solving more mysteries in C.elegans genetics.
這篇榮登《Science》的論文「The rules for piRNA targeting reveal resistance of endogenous genes to piRNA silencing in C. elegans」，通訊作者是美國芝加哥大學李亨啓教授，吳謂勝與黃偉哲為共同作者。吳謂勝教授擅於設計生物資料庫及開發生物資訊網頁工具，「無法容忍看不懂或不能用的狀況」，所有出自他實驗室的工具，一定要「簡單、功能到位但不花俏，只要會使用瀏覽器開啟網頁，選按條件、執行，不需要安裝程式，即使電腦程式功力不佳，也能透過這個工具獲得結論。」完全說中使用者心聲。