Team:XJTU-China/Human Practices

In order to improve our projects, we have several interviews with experts in Microbiology, Medicine and Food, to collect information about diabetes, sweeteners, advantage of D-psicose as well as market and possible commercialization of D-psicose. Additionally,we visited the elders in Xi'an Jinqiu Nursing Home, Xi’an Jiaotong University community , to collect their problems on medical treatment and daily diet, as well as to popularize our projects about healthy sugar substitutes D-psicose. In our WeChat public account, we not only introduce and promote the IGEM competition concept and our project, we also regularly post scientific articles in synthetic biology to gradually walk the public into life sciences.

Public participation is very important given that the IGEM competition is a competition that was born to solve practical problems. We actively joined various communities to involve the public into our project. Social media like Wechat public account, Twitter, and public mailbox are constantly used to communicate with the public and other teams. We also conducted questionnaires for online and offline surveys. In addition, social practice of IGEM competition is including offering lectures on synthetic biology, visiting nursing homes, and handing out health manuals.

In order to improve our projects, we have several interviews with experts in Microbiology, Medicine and Food, to collect information about diabetes, sweeteners, advantage of D-psicose as well as market and possible commercialization of D-psicose.

Part I
Diabetes and possible positive effects of D-psicose on diabetes

Dr. Hui Guo

Director of endocrinology department in First Affiliated Hospital of Xi'an Jiaotong University

We had a deep interview with Dr Guo, who is a doctor for diabetes treatment, to learn about the possibility of D-psicose as a drug for the treatment of diabetes.


  • D-psicose is suitable for the treatment of obesity and almost all types of diabetes (multi-site functions), which is very advantageous as a potential drug.
  • Safety of D-psicose is the major concern, and a series of clinical trials is needed before commercialization.
  • Diet control is very important to control blood sugar level and its intakes. A reasonable diet pyramid should be paid attention to for the diabetics.

To learn more, watch the following video.

Prof. Yali Zhang & Dr.Ganqiao Ran

Professor major in food and medicine, Xi’an Jiaotong University,
an associate professor in Shaanxi Institute of Bio-Agriculture

Prof. Zhang, who focuses her research on the food and medical mechanism of D-psicose, as well as Dr. Gan-Qiao Ran, who works on medical effects and production of D-psicose, introduced us some reported results about detailed effects of D-psicose.


  • In rodents, D-psicose is known to inhibit digestive enzymes, including alpha-glucosidase and alpha-amylase. D-psicose also inhibits the absorption of glucose from the intestine by competing with glucose transporter 2 (GLUT2) on the basolateral membrane of intestinal epithelial cells.
  • In rats, D-psicose-induced hepatic glucokinase has been reported to improve hepatic glucose utilization.
  • Rats fed D-psicose had significantly lower serum insulin and leptin levels. The D-psicose diet significantly reduced liver enzyme activity involved in adipogenesis, while gene expression of fatty acid oxidative transcriptional regulators was enhanced.

From literatures and information gathered from doctors and professors in medicine and food fields, we know that D-psicose can be used for a potential drug for the treatment of obesity and diabetes. A series of clinical trials is further needed for safety issues. In addition, the market, price, and the current production situation of D-psicose are still needed to be addressed.

Part II
Market and current production of D-psicose, as well as commercialization of D-psicose

Dr.Yuan-Xia Sun

A distinguished research fellow in Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Prof Sun worked in Japan Sugar Research Center which is the pioneer in this field, and she has devoted herself into rare sugar research since then, owning a lot of patents for rare sugars. We conducted an interview with her on the application, market share and production of D-psicose.


  • D-psicose is by far a perfect substitute for sucrose, not only in taste, sweetness, calorie, but also in food processing. The most similar sugar to D-psicose is tagatose, but it is more expensive, and its comprehensive characteristics are not as good as D-psicose.
  • Japan is a pioneer for study of D-psicose, and the three companies to commercialize D-psicose worldwide are Matsutani Chemical Industry Co.,Ltd.(JP),CJ Cheiljedang Crop.(KR) and Tate & Lyle P.L.C (UK)
  • All three commercialized companies for D-psicose use enzymatic production instead of chemical synthesis, which means high activity of key enzyme in D-psicose biosynthesis is essential.
  • D-psicose has been approved by FDA in 2011. FDA-related information shows that D-psicose is sufficiently safe to be used in food. In China it is not approved yet.
  • D-psicose has been industrialized out of China since FDA’s approval, and hundreds of foods have been added with D-psicose as a sweetener.
  • The global market of sugar is more than $10 million per year, of which more than 80% is sucrose. In China, the demand for sucrose is also large and the yield is insufficient.

Thanks to Prof. Sun, it can be concluded that D-psicose is safe to be used in food and has unparalleled advantages over other sugar substitutes! The large sugar market in the world including in China reveals D-psicose will be in a huge demand as a healthy sucrose substitution especially with low production cost. So we are trying to find out the possibility to commercialization of D-psicose in China.

Dr.Shang-Wei Lv

An expert in the transformation of knowledge into practice

We discussed with Dr Lv to explore the possibility of the industrialization of D-psicose to the market as sweetener.


  • Lab-scale production process and techniques are the basis for industrialization.
  • More detailed analysis of cost, price, market share of D-psicose needs to be conducted before commercialization.
  • To start a business, funding, employees, supplies, regulations, property rights issues, etc need to be taken into account, besides techniques.

From Dr. Lv, we have learned that there is still a long way for industrialization of D-psicose, which requires a lot of efforts and collaborations. Our project about directed evolution system of key enzymes for D-psicose and our proposal concerning advantages and market share of D-psicose will also be beneficial to the further commercialization of D-psicose, contributing to a healthier life style.

Part III
iGEM advices

Dr. Terry Johnson

Professor in UC Berkeley, USA

Some of the team members participated in the summer exchange program in UC Berkeley. Therefore, we had a chance to meet Prof. Terry Johnson, a bioengineering professor who was a judge of iGEM and we exchanged some thoughts with him on iGEM project.

He firstly introduced the previous projects of UC Berkeley. One of which was bio-manufacturing of blue fuel, inspired by massive demand of blue dyes in jeans. Followed by how to organize a good story for a project, he guided us to the techniques of presentation, such as how to be attractive, engaging, confident, enthusiastic, and logical. We benefited a lot from him!

Our product, D-psicose, as a sweetener, has the advantages of high sweetness and low calorie. To collect some information about the current sweetener market, and situation of sugar production, we visit companies related to sugar production. We learned the market demand of sweeteners and transformation of lab-scale achievements to market, and collected professional insights and suggestions on our IGEM project, to better understand the important value and development prospects of D-psicose.

Yangling, Shaanxi Province, China
A company that produces and sales kiwi-containing beverage.

Keypoints of discussion with Manager Zhao:

  • The potential huge market of D-psicose will rely on people in top cities with healthy diet, or the diabetics, who will prefer to buy healthier D-psicose.
  • Chinese people always think of sweetener as a bad additives, which is a potential obstacle for the commercialization of sweetener including D-psicose. More popularizations are needed to make healthy sweeteners acceptable.

Weinan, Shaanxi Province, China
The company mainly produces enzymatic sugar-containing food products

Keypoints of discussion with Director Tan:

  • D-psicose is advantageous over other sugar substitutes especially in terms of calorie and taste.
  • If we want to commercialize our D-psicose in China, the acceptable price is ~20,000 RMB/ton, which means the price of one bottle of D-psicose-containing beverage is ~10 RMB. The visit allows us to better understand market demand and acceptance of D-psicose, which will better improve our products and project.

This activity allows us to better understand the needs of the market, which will better improve our products.

Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China
A company produces oligomannose-containing prebiotic products.

Key suggestions about how to transform scientific research into products to market:

  • Ideas goes first before experiment and production.
  • Refine lab-scale techniques for large-scale production.
  • Think more about the market of your products, your advantages and disadvantages
  • Finally, the operation of the entire production, marketing, sales etc.

Benefit the old diabetics

There are 425 million diabetics all over the world with continuous increasing. What can our project do for the people with diabetes? D-psicose is reported to control blood sugar level which is beneficial for diabetics. Therefore, We visited the elders in Xi'an Jinqiu Nursing Home, Xi’an Jiaotong University community, to collect their problems on medical treatment and daily diet, as well as to popularize our projects about healthy sugar substitutes D-psicose. Our visits and activities will bring warmness to the elders, and also provide some advice that can effectively solve their problems. We also designed and handed out brochures for diabetics after communication with them, to make them have clearer insight into scientific and healthy eating habit. Our projects will benefit and help people who are in need.

Xi’an Jiaotong University community and hospital, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China

  • Most of the elders in the nursing home have diabetes.
  • More than half of them usually eat more vegetables and eat less sugar-containing food,pay attention to the level of their blood sugar.
  • With the improvement of living conditions, people's concern about health is increasing.
  • Most of people support our project about D-psicose and have a positive attitude towards this healthy sweetener, and willing to buy if it is commercialized.
  • We got a deeper understanding of the real needs of the elders.
  • Based on the literature, we summarize the clinical manifestations and hazards of diabetes and provide eight healthy eating habits.
  • Based on the current lifestyle of elders and diabetics, we proposed correct dietary recommendations.
  • Reasonable dietary advice for other geriatric diseases such as hypertension are also included in out brochure.
  • Advantage and value of D-psicose are also introduced in this brochure.
  • The distribution of the brochure makes people have a better understanding of healthy diet and makes more people benefit from our projects.

Questionnaire about sweeteners

Online questionnaire was used to investigate the public's perception about sweeteners and predict the future market of our products, D-psicose.

The pie chart below is the analysis result about some of the questions in the questionnaire.

We received a total of 1121 questionnaires, and most of our respondents are the young and middle-aged people.

After analysis , we found that everyone buys things subjectively without choosing sweeteners. However, more than half said they would mind the use of sweeteners and want their food to have sugar and low energy.

D-psicose is a natural and healthy sugar, yet little is known about it by public. This sugar with a sweetness of 70%-80% of sucrose, and with low calorie as well as possible positive effect on diabetes. So, when are asked “do you want to buy if D-psicose is added to the food”, about half of them choose "Yes". Therefore, we believe that D-psicose is promising to be used in food and will have huge market in the future.

Based on the survey, we summarized the current beverages on the market and counted the sweeteners used in them.

Advantages and disadvantages of various sweeteners compared with psicose.

By investigating the types of sweeteners in different beverages, we found that most soda drinks use a variety of sweeteners and most of the sweeteners currently used are not as sweet as sucrose. Besides, they can cause dangerous side effects to the human body. In contrast, D-psicose has high sweetness, low calories, and no known side effects, which may be a healthy sweetener. This proves that D-psicose has great advantages in entering the market.

The price of D-psicose on Amazon is $12.88, while in China, D-psicose is currently not sold as a sweetener. However, according to our company visits, market professionals told us that d-psicose under 20,000 yuan/ton can be accepted by the market. If D-psicose is added to the beverage as a sweetener, a price of 10 yuan/bottle is acceptable in the market.

Meetups with other iGEM teams

Location: School of life science in USTC, Hefei;
Teams: XJTU-China, USTC, BNU, Jilin-China

iGEMers of Jilin-China, USTC, BNU and XJTU-China had a nice meeting in USTC. Each team presented their projects and had an extensive discussion about ideas, collaborations details in experiment and modeling, and competition details etc. We learn how to prepare our project and how to present our ideas from the discussion.

Location: Shanghai;
Teams: More than 60 Chinese teams

As a communication platform for Chinese synthetic biology enthusiasts, CCiC develops in reform and innovation during 5 years. The 5th CCiC was hosted by ShanghaiTech University. There are more than 60 teams participated in the conference, with more than 500 people. During the five-day meeting, we met and communicated with other iGEMers, exchanging our ideas and experience.

Meanwhile, Vice President of iGEM Miss Meagan Lizarazo and some experienced advisors thought highly of our projects, and provided us a lot of valuable advice. We benefit a lot from this meeting, and based on the suggestions, we changed our track to “Manufacturing” and focus more on D-psicose.

Location: NPU, Shannxi;
Teams: XJTU-China, NPU-China and NWU-China.

This summer, three teams in Shaanxi came together and shared their thoughts in the first stage of the iGEM season. It was a great chance for us to share the sparks we had in brainstorming and the obstacles we met during lab (especially in InterLab, by then), to share the resources we have, and to talk about the experiences we had in building up the team and managing all the experiments

During the meetup, we all shared our conceptions of iGEM projects. After it, NPU and NWU teams have shared their experiences in attending the Giant Jamboree. We have learned some very useful tips in Boston. At last, we shared our thoughts about how to pass our knowledge to younger iGEMers, and how to involve them in our current labs, so that they will be familiar to the protocols when building up a team of themselves.

In summary, it is very important to meet and collaborate with other teams, sharing wonderful ideas and solving the problems together.

Our product, D-psicose, can be used as a sweetener and has certain medical value. In order to fully understand it, we have done a lot of related work. The communication with experts offered us a opportunity to deep understand the value of D-psicose. To know more about the current market,we visited several companies .Undoubtly,it is important for us to communicate with the elderly and diabetic patients, ,which let us understand the current market demand. Besides, meeting up with other IGEM teams to exchanges and cooperation has caused us to spark new sparks in the study of D-psicose