Tiếng Việt


Young Doctor with Dream to Make Vietnamese Ginseng Widely Available

Time was Vietnamese ginseng was a secret medicinal plant of the Sedang ethnicity in the mountains of Quang Nam; now it is a luxury good worth hundreds of millions of VND/kg.
Ti?n si tr? và gi?c mo ph? bi?n sâm Ng?c Linh
Dr Ho Thanh Tam with a jar of scar tissue developed from Vietnamese ginseng bulbs in the lab. Photo: TAN LUC
The rarity of Vietnamese ginseng and the difficulty of cultivating it have put it out of reach for most people.Because of this, the 33-year-old Dr Ho Thanh Tam, Head of the majors of Biomedical technology at DTU, has been working on a promising research project to cultivate Vietnamese ginseng large-scale through grafting and farming the roots to extract the valuable ginseng extracts at industrial scale.
“I wish to spread the name of Vietnamese ginseng around the world,” says Dr HO THANH TAM.
Valuable ginseng extract
Ti?n si tr? và gi?c mo ph? bi?n sâm Ng?c Linh
In his laboratory of about 30 m² at the Hoang Minh Thao campus, Lien Chieu district, Danang, Ho Thanh Tam works all day long with bottles and jars for experimental plant breeding. Photo: TAN LUC
The air conditioning runs day and night to keep the temperature in the room below 25°C and the humidity at a constant 40%. Rows of pots with experiments are arranged on the iron shelves, with budding sprouts of medicinal or valuable plants.
Holding a glass jar containing some morsels of scar tissue close to the light, Dr Tam explains the specimen is developing well. After three months, small pieces cut from Vietnamese ginseng bulbs develop into fingertip-size scar tissue and react well to the nutrition in the culture medium.
But this is but a first step in the cultivation of fresh ginseng in the lab. Once the scar tissue has grown sufficiently big, Tam transfers it to a different nutritional medium to grow in darkness to stimulate the development of roots.
From the tightly shut cupboard, he takes several plastic boxes containing white scar tissue with a tangle of roots. The specimens will then once more change environment to stimulate the growth of buds to develop into mature ginseng plants.
Ti?n si tr? và gi?c mo ph? bi?n sâm Ng?c Linh
Vietnamese ginseng plants grown from scar tissue in the lab. Photo: THANH TAM
“It’s easily said, but for the scar tissue to grow into fresh ginger with stem, leaves, bulbs, and roots can take an entire year,” Tam says. “During that time, the fraction of specimens lost or damaged is considerable if you don’t keep bacterial and fungal infections at bay, and if environmental conditions change, the specimens die right away.”
Since becoming famous, the value of Vietnamese ginseng plants has gone through the roof and even rich people cannot easily buy it. Wild ginseng plants are being aggressively tracked down and are growing ever more difficult to find, and ginseng gardens planted near the foot of Ngoc Linh mountain and providing an alternative market supply are still but a drop in the ocean of demand.
The plant is finicky and only grows on mountains with year-round cloud cover and cold at a height of 1,600 m. The difficult environment and the modest yield of seeds make large-scale cultivation difficult, pushing prices for the medicinal plant to extremely high levels.
Tam explains that, once the cultivation model in lab conditions is successful and applied on industrial scale, there will be no lack of supply of ginseng plants, which will extend cultivation space, supply the market with large quantities, and pull the price of ginseng down to within reach of most normal people.
Using lab-grown plants furthermore opens the possibility of higher adaptability to acclimatization of wild ginseng plans to areas of cultivation at lower elevation and hotter climatic conditions.
Vietnamese ginseng for all
Ti?n si tr? và gi?c mo ph? bi?n sâm Ng?c Linh
Tam grows the scar tissue obtained from ginseng bulbs to develop roots in a nutritional solution. 
Photo: TAN LUC
With current technology, cultivating ginseng is fully within reach for Vietnamese experts. Several medicinal plant laboratories and business have successfully implemented the first step of this project.
With his six years of studies and professional development in the world’s number one ginseng producer South Korea, Dr Tam nurtures a bigger dream: this valuable medicinal plant. He explains that everyone knows Korean ginseng has been world-famous for a long time and the industry does well, earning the country millions of dollars every year.
But what few people know is that, besides the large-scale gardens providing high-quality ginseng bulbs, South Korea furthermore has factories cultivating biomass from ginseng roots to provide huge amounts of the active ingredient to the pharmaceutical processing, food, and beauty product sectors.
When working in South Korea, Dr Tam found ginseng to be present in a huge number of products, from expensive ones like fresh ginseng, whole dried ginseng, and red ginseng essence to confectionery, candied tea, skin care masks, and functional foods.
To put ginseng products within reach of common people, the Koreans developed technology to grow root biomass at industrial scale to extract the ginseng active ingredient for use in the processing industry. This is the technology he got to know when working on his PhD in the country and which he plans to apply to produce Vietnamese ginseng extract.
“Although the quantity of active extract from cultivated root biomass is less than from naturally grown ginseng, we can still produce large quantities in considerably reduced time,” Tam explains. “This will a be an important input if we want to strongly develop the processing industry of consumer goods with Vietnamese ginseng extract for the diverse demand from the market. The medicinal substance can be used in cosmetics, beauty products, functional foods, and confectionery in all price segments where the supply from naturally grown ginseng cannot meet the demand.”
Overcoming difficulties
Although the university provided him with the initial equipment and biological material for his research, Dr Tam still needed to overcome a huge many difficulties for his project. Vietnamese ginseng plants are prohibitively expensive; to obtain a high-quality strain with the right genes, he needed to ask around among the big medicinal businesses in Quang Nam province to obtain research samples.
The species develops slowly and the project therefore takes quite a long time. To obtain funding for his research and to start experimental production, he is applying for funding from many startup support organizations in the country.
(Media Center)