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Record Numbers Apply to the Department of Life Sciences

2020.04.20
The Department of Life Sciences recently held the written examination and interviews for the second stage of individual admission applications for the 2020 academic year, with the number of applicants reaching an all-time high of 185—a fivefold increase, likely brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. In recent years the College of Life Sciences has been giving increasing emphasis to teaching and research in basic and clinical medicine, and has applied to the Ministry of Education to formally change its name to the College of Life Sciences and Medicine.
 
A record number of applicants
 
Department of Life Sciences director Yin Hsien-sheng said that the Department is planning to admit 47 new students for the upcoming school year, 29 of whom will be admitted on the basis of individual applications. This year the admission standards were raised for English, math, and natural sciences, setting them on par with those of Yangming University. Nonetheless, lots of applicants got full scores, and 71 of the initial 185 applicants made it to the second round. In addition to group interviews and impromptu tests, this year a written test was added to the application process.
 
Application test questions
 
The written exam consisted of two questions, one of which was “Why is the novel coronavirus so infectious?” which was jointly written by Prof. Wang Wen-ching of the Department of Life Sciences and Associate Prof. Sue Shih-che of the Institute of Bioinformatics and Structural Biology, and was based on a research report they recently published in Scientific AmericanScientific American.
 
According to Wang, the novel coronavirus is 100 times more infectious than the SARS virus, and its affinity for human cells is 20 times that of the SARS virus. Its high infectivity is mainly due to the spike protein on its surface, which acts as a kind of skeleton key for entering the human body. Once it gets it, it attaches to the ACE-2 receptor cell membrane, and due to its particular alkaline peptide sequence, it is easily cleaved by proteases on the cell surface, exposing the fusion peptide and fusing with the cell membrane, allowing it to enter the cell, where it reproduces prolifically.
 
Prof. Sue said that in this test question the applicant was also provided with the genetic sequences of the coronavirus, bats, pangolins, and humans, and asked to identify the optimal characteristics of a coronavirus intermediate host and which testing methods are most feasible.
 
The second test question was “Why does hair turn white?” and was based on a paper published in the January edition of NatureNature by Hsu Ya-chieh, a graduate of the Department of Life Sciences and now an associate Prof. at the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University. In this study it was found that stress affects the sympathetic nerves, leading to accelerated differentiation of stem cells, such that the melanin stem cells in the hair follicles have no time to replenish, causing hair to whiten.
 
New avenues for admission
 
This year the Department of Life Sciences will begin admitting students via a Special Admissions Program, which was set up for applicants with exceptional talent, but not necessarily with good grades. Amongst the 17 applicants to the Department via the Special Admissions Program, three were admitted. Yin said that during the interview the applicant is asked questions based on the materials submitted by the applicant, and sometimes the applicant is asked to read a research paper and to answer questions on it.
 
Several faculty members of the College of Life Sciences have joined a research team at Academia Sinica working on epidemic prevention and developing a coronavirus vaccine. Yin said that the College emphasizes cross-disciplinary research, such as the development of a speedy test for coronavirus, and that this requires integrating expertise in biology, medicine, and engineering. Thus the College encourages its students to add a second-specialization in such areas as electrical engineering or computer science.
 
Names matter
 
College of Life Sciences dean Chiang Ann-shyn said that the College currently has two undergraduate departments, five graduate institutes, and one undergraduate interdisciplinary program, and is preparing to add a post-baccalaureate program in medicine. Moreover, the University has already agreed to change the College’s name to the College of Life Sciences and Medicine, and the change is currently being processed by the Ministry of Education.
 
Chiang said that the College’s future emphasis will be on the integration of basic biomedicine, clinical medicine, and cross-domain innovative biotechnology, including the development of precision medicine, such as high-throughput pathogen screening, ultra-analysis biomedical imaging, AI diagnosis, and new vaccines.
 

 

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From left to right: Associate Prof. Sue Shih-che of the Institute of Bioinformatics and Structural Biology, Department of Life Sciences director Yin Hsien-sheng, and Prof. Wang Wen-ching of the Department of Life Sciences.
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Wang (right) and Sue have recently published a paper in Scientific American on coronavirus transmission.
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Spike proteins on the surface of coronavirus.
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The transmission routes of novel coronavirus.
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