Chemistry

Chapter 129



  1. Beautiful Genius(3)

Wednesday morning.

Standing in the hallway, adjusting his tie, Jeong-woo checked his outfit and shouted towards the inside.

“I’m leaving first. Do well on your midterms.”

His younger brother, who was eating in the kitchen, nodded in response. As he opened the door, he saw his mother, Hong Ji-sook, hanging up shirts on the laundry line.

“Mom, I’m heading to work now.”

“You’re leaving early today.”

“I have to attend the weekly meeting as a substitute, so I have a lot to prepare in the morning.”

Passing by Hong Ji-sook while waving his hand, Jeong-woo suddenly stopped and turned his head back as a sudden question popped up.

“By the way, Mom.”

“Yes?”

“Remember when I was completely lost and wandering around aimlessly? How did you manage to get me to focus and study?”

“Why are you asking about that?”

“I need to meet kids who seem to have lost their minds in a different sense. It’s been over 8 years, and I can’t remember well.”

Hong Ji-sook, who was rummaging through the laundry basket, suddenly straightened her back and stood next to Jeong-woo. Then, she lightly tapped his back.

“Oh! It hurts!”

Jeong-woo, rubbing his sore back, suddenly realized something.

“It was tough love, wasn’t it?”

“What are you talking about, you crazy kid? Didn’t I tell you to separate the laundry by color?”

A blue shirt emerged from the laundry basket, which should have only contained white clothes. Seeing the white shirt also turned bluish due to the mix-up, Hong Ji-sook’s sharp gaze fell on Jeong-woo.

Stepping back hastily, Jeong-woo tried to remedy the situation.

“I know the people in the department that develops bleach to make that thing snow-white. I’ll get you some of the exciting new products.”

Seeing even the group t-shirts from the women’s association tainted with blue, sparks flew in Hong Ji-sook’s eyes.

“This eldest son knows how much Mom loves…”

“Enough of this!”

Jeong-woo dashed out into the small yard and slammed the door shut.

‘From the start, clothes that lose color are bad.’

Grumbling to himself, he descended the hill and boarded the subway.

It was 7 AM, but the subway was packed. Being pushed around amidst the crowd at each station, Jeong-woo somehow found himself missing the pristine snowfields of Alaska.

‘Seems like there’s no time to relax these days.’

From the side effects incident at the pharmacy center last week to the animal epidemic on the island during what was supposed to be a restful holiday, and now dealing with a potential headache handed over by Dr. Moon.

As he practically embarked on his first day at the pharmaceutical bio center, Jeong-woo fervently hoped that only minor accidents typical of office life would occur.

Ding dong.

Walking into the elevator just as the doors opened, Jeong-woo sees someone rushing towards it and presses the open button. The person who dashed in hastily bowed deeply.

“Ah, thank you.”

“You’re early today, Jin Mi-so.”

“Huh? Senior Jeong-woo?”

Jin Mi-so, from the spring recruitment, had a dimple on her cheek. Jeong-woo pressed the button for the 25th floor and turned to look at Jin Mi-so. Since the office for the recruits was on the 2nd floor, she usually didn’t take the elevator.

“Where are you heading?”

“To the 25th floor.”

As she mentioned the same floor, the conversation continued.

“What training are you attending these days?”

“I’m on a period of touring the projects. I’m following Senior Lee Dong-gil.”

“I see.”

“I was planning to apply to Senior Jeong-woo if you had been involved in a project.”

As Jin Mi-so looked at him with shining eyes, Jeong-woo cleared his throat. It was because he remembered making her cry on their first day at work due to a bet.

Song Boyeong finished brushing her teeth in the bathroom and walked out into the corridor, only to be surprised to see Jeong-woo and Jin Mi-so walking amiably.

‘What? Why am I hiding?’

Although she thought so, her body didn’t detach from the wall it was pressed against. With only her head slightly tilted, Song Boyeong’s eyes followed the two.

Jeong-woo looked particularly neat today. Jin Mi-so, who was always slender and tall, looked quite nice standing next to him. The two of them stood at the entrance to the private research building as they walked down the corridor.

“Let’s go in. I’m in Zone C. Good luck with your planning evaluation.”

“Um… Senior.”

“Yes?”

“You’re the only special researcher in the research institute. I really want to work as your assistant after the training ends.”

Song Boyeong’s eyebrows twitched.

“There’s already someone from Research Lab 1 who applied.”

“But it’s your choice, Senior. I personally have a lot of interest in you…”

“Interest?”

“Yes, very personal.”

Seeing the tail end of the conversation, Song Boyeong found herself absentmindedly chewing her lips.

Scratching his head, Jeong-woo spoke.

“I’m sorry, but please refrain from such interest. I’m currently preparing to date someone.”

“D, date someone?”

“Oh, if anyone hears this, they’ll misunderstand. I’m still preparing.”

While Jin Mi-so was at a loss for words at the unexpected answer, Jeong-woo gestured towards inside.

“It’s getting late. You’ve got to make it worth your while since you came in early. Please, go in.”

Jeong-woo disappeared into Zone C. Jin Mi-so watched him coolly walking away, her heart racing, while Song Boyeong chuckled.

‘Wait. Preparing to date?’

Feeling her heart pounding, Song Boyeong placed her hand over her chest.

‘Surely not… me?’

Beep beep.

Holding his access card, Jeong-woo entered the research lab and sat down at his desk, turning on his laptop.

This week’s meeting at the Central Research Institute was the turn of the Pharmaceutical Bio Center.

As someone who had been delegated by the team leader, Jeong-woo felt compelled to prepare at least a brief presentation, despite most of the ongoing work being postponed.

Jeong-woo sighed softly as he sifted through the materials he had received in his mailbox.

“Customized gene therapy research using DNA samples obtained from geniuses. Advice on clinical trials from other teams. Dr. Moon was truly doing a lot alone.”

Continuing to read, he clicked on the analysis data for ‘AF-12’ side effects.

“I’m the only case so far. With so much work, the analysis seems to be slow.”

As he skimmed through other materials, he noticed scattered references to universal factors. Molecular substances with the AF code name were undoubtedly Dr. Moon’s specialty.

Observing Dr. Moon’s meticulous scheduling and methodical approach to work, Jeong-woo concluded that assisting her as much as possible for the next three weeks would ultimately be beneficial to himself as well.

“Alright. Let’s give it a shot.”

As he organized parts where he could contribute, the door opened and Song Boyeong entered.

“Welcome, Senior.”

“Is that something I should be saying?”

Surprised to see Song Boyeong putting her towel and toothbrush into the drawer, Jeong-woo asked.

“Did you work overnight at the company?”

“I used the company library and ended up falling asleep in the duty room.”

Carrying the suit jacket hanging on the chair, Song Boyeong entered the cleanroom and came out.

Perhaps because she had just finished washing her face, her bright face revealed a dignified and luxurious demeanor, leaving Jeong-woo momentarily stunned.

“What? Is something wrong?”

Flustered, Song Boyeong smoothed out her clothes.

“It feels weird to see you in your normal state after so long.”

“Oh, really. It’s the weekly meeting. How can I go in looking like a clown?”

“Why not? You will look like a source of vitality for the research institute.”

“Ha, funny. If I want to look this pretty in the morning, I can’t drink water at night.”

As Jeong-woo chuckled, Song Boyeong waved her hand.

“Shut your mouth. Stop teasing me. I’m going for coffee, do you want a fresh fruit juice?”

“Sure, thanks.”

As Song Boyeong left, Jeong-woo refocused on his work.

The sound of typing echoed throughout the research lab.

Song Boyeong, who had been looking at her monitor, briefly turned her head towards Jeong-woo, unable to take her eyes off him as he concentrated on preparing for the meeting. She couldn’t tear her gaze away for a moment.

-Preparing to date someone.

As her gaze kept drifting back, she closed her eyes altogether, and this time, the voice from earlier floated in her ears.

“Ugh.”

“Senior.”

“I’m not ready either.”

“Are you feeling unwell?”

Lost in her thoughts with her ears covered, Song Boyeong suddenly sprung up from her seat.

“It’s nothing. Oh, it’s almost 10 o’clock. I’ll go to the meeting room first.”

“Uh, shall we…”

With hurried steps, Song Boyeong dashed out of the research lab, sighing in relief.

“If I keep this up, I’ll be in trouble if I get confessed to. I promised myself not to date until I settled down. Pull yourself together, Song Boyeong.”

Slapping her cheeks lightly, Song Boyeong walked towards the elevator.

10 AM.

Researchers gathered inside the Pharmaceutical Bio Center conference room.

Jeong-woo moved around until he arrived at a spot where the four team leaders he had encountered last week were sitting side by side.

“Did you have a good holiday?”

As they were chatting, the team leaders turned their heads in surprise at Jeong-woo’s greeting.

“Dr. Moon went on a business trip, so I’m filling in for her. Can I sit with you?”

“Uh, sure.”

Team leader Seon Woo-jin hesitated and gestured to the seat next to him.

“Hey, Woo-jin, you speak on behalf of us.”

“Why me?”

“You’re the youngest.”

Seon Woo-jin’s face turned awkward as he exchanged glances with the other team leaders. Seeing Kim Won-bae quickly gesturing for him to speak, Seon Woo-jin reluctantly opened his mouth.

“Jeong-woo, last week.. do you remember giving us an advice? You suggested including alpha-lipoic acid in personalized obesity treatment.”

“I remember, why?”

“We’re planning to reflect that point in today’s meeting presentation. Is that okay?”

“Of course. No problem.”

Seon Woo-jin glanced at the other team leaders and sighed in relief.

“And besides our team’s matter, other teams are also reflecting on…”

Jeong-woo roughly guessed the situation as he saw the team leaders anxiously waiting for his response while tightly clasping their hands.

“I was wondering why you hesitated so much. You don’t need to mention my name. I’m not helping properly because I’m on Team 5.”

As Jeong-woo accepted it more generously than expected, all the tense faces of the team leaders turned relieved. Team leader Kim Won-bae apologized to Jeong-woo with a remorseful expression.

“I know this might seem disgraceful, but if we put your name on everything just for helping with setting the research direction… “

In a very low voice, Kim Won-bae added, “…we won’t be able to face the center director.”

“We all know. Your words about becoming a team leader who knows how to criticize this flawed system, rather than just thinking about winning in competition, really impressed me.”

Jeong-woo smiled lightly. Kim Won-bae turned his head with a slightly embarrassed expression.

A little later, the conference room filled with researchers.

Center Director Yoon Donghwi, sitting in the front row, pressed the microphone button.

“It seems like everyone’s here. Before we begin, I’d like to introduce today’s special guest, Professor Lee Sang-joong from Seoul National University’s Genetic Engineering Research Institute. He expressed his wish to feel the atmosphere of our institute and even attended our meeting.”

The man in his early fifties sitting next to Yoon Donghwi bowed his head in greeting. Kim Won-bae’s eyes widened.

“This professor? Why?”

“Do you know him?”

“I went to the Tokyo University Gene Therapy Symposium last year. He participated then, and he was a genius at intimidating people with a smiling face. Nobody dared to argue. It was fortunate that the participants were Japanese professors.”

Jeong-woo’s head instinctively turned back to the front at this conversation.

Lee Sang-joong, whose mouth seemed to be tinged with a smile, met eyes with Jeong-woo. Jeong-woo bowed his head, too, as he was too embarrassed to greet them separately.

‘What’s this? Does he know me?’

Whirr―

As the electric screen descended on the wall, the meeting began.

“We’ll start with the presentation on the progress of the project.”

At the moderator’s words, Kim Won-bae stood up from his seat and stood at the lectern. The progress of Team 1’s development of the “Beta Blocker” immediately appeared on the beam projector screen.

“As you know, conventional beta blockers have been contraindicated for heart failure patients and relatively contraindicated for type 2 diabetes patients. However, the improvement points we have reflected this time are…”

As the presentation, which lasted for five minutes, was coming to an end, Kim Won-bae addressed everyone.

“If anyone has any questions or opinions regarding the research progress, please speak up.”

“What about the lipid solubility?”

“It’s lower than that of propranolol or atenolol. We aim to minimize central nervous system side effects.”

“When will the clinical trials begin?”

“If we receive positive evaluations in the preclinical trials, we expect to start in the fall.”

As the Q&A session was nearing the end of Team 1’s presentation, Lee Sang-joong, who was sitting in the front row, raised his hand.

Kim Won-bae, with a slightly stiff expression, looked at Lee Sang-joong.

“Yes, Professor Lee Sang-joong.”

“It’s quite surprising that a hypertension treatment of this level is being developed in Korea.”

“Ah, thank you for the compliment…”

“But…”

As expected, it wasn’t merely about praising the achievements.

“The first and second rank side effects are persistent problems with antihypertensive drugs. It’s hard to understand how just changing the composition of the drug can improve it.”

At Lee Sang-joong’s questioning on the difficult part to answer, Kim Won-bae sighed inwardly.

“It’s still in the preclinical stage, and we’re only validating the newly added chemical structure through simulation, so there are some shortcomings.”

“Just by looking at the chemical structure, it seems like the decrease in natural peptides in the brain could worsen headaches.”

“That’s unlikely.”

“Furthermore, I’ve analyzed the transformed cells of sudden cardiac death patients, and the protein included in the current chemical structure was similar to those cells. Those transformed cells had a very fatal genetic trait that weakened the heart’s contractility.”

The researchers buzzed with discussion after two consecutive comments.

Especially, Center Director Yoon Donghwi’s expression changed when serious drawbacks of a drug under development, which the Pharmaceutical Bio Center was investing the most in, were mentioned. He looked at Kim Won-bae.

“Team Leader Kim.”

“Yes, Director Yoon.”

“It was much more stable when we discussed it last week. Why did you suddenly change the chemical structure?”

“Well, that’s…”

Kim Won-bae’s eyes became sorrowful as he looked at the spot where Team 1’s members were sitting. None of the team members could offer a suitable opinion on the situation.

“Why aren’t you answering, Team Leader Kim?”

With sweat forming on his forehead, Kim Won-bae’s stern gaze turned towards Jeong-woo. Sensing the desperate plea in his eyes, Jeong-woo examined the chemical structure on the PT carefully and discovered a horrifying flaw.

‘So, it was this that Professor Lee found?’

Jeong-woo raised his hand, surprised by the fact that Lee Sang-joong, just by looking at the chemical structure, could understand its effects to that extent.

“Team Leader Kim. I think I made a slight typo in a hurry when I sent it. Here, let me correct it for a minute.”

“Oh. Is that so?”

“I’m sorry, but please give me a minute to make the correction.”

Jeong-woo quickly corrected the chemical structure on the laptop next to the lectern and waved his hand.

“There. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Lee Sang-joong’s eyes sparkled as he looked at the corrected chemical structure. Kim Won-bae cautiously spoke to Lee Sang-joong.

“It was originally an idea from Researcher Han Jeong-woo, and we applied it because we judged it to be feasible, but there seems to have been a slight mistake in the process.”

“Now that I see the chemical structure, it doesn’t seem to be very stable. It has become quite different from the genetic traits I researched. And as you know, substances involved in the human body can become toxic or medicinal with just one molecular difference, right?”

“I’m well aware of that.”

When Lee Sang-joong acknowledged, Kim Won-bae sighed deeply, his shoulders sagging.

After finishing the presentation and returning to his seat, Kim Won-bae said to Jeong-woo, seemingly without any face-saving intentions.

“It was obvious that it was hastily prepared. I’m sorry, and thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

When Team 2 leader Jeon In-gu declared that he would develop generics into improved new drugs, Yoon Donghwi opened his mouth in surprise.

“How am I supposed to accept it if you suddenly change the direction of the project like that?”

“We’ve already completed verification in the database. If you look, dizziness has been significantly improved, and even symptoms of blurred vision occur much less frequently than with the original drug.”

“Who conducted the cross-validation?”

Under Yoon Donghwi’s pressure, Jeon In-gu felt as if his feet were being swept from under him and pointed to Jeong-woo, who was in conversation with Kim Won-bae.

“Special researcher Han Jeong-woo conducted the validation.”

“Is that so?”

Yoon Donghwi, who had been probing rigorously, suddenly softened. By firmly establishing that it was entirely Han Jeong-woo’s idea, Jeon In-gu built up the center director’s trust before concluding the presentation.

As soon as Team 3 leader Jeon Yeong-ho displayed the presentation slide with improvement points, Yoon Donghwi raised his head and asked with a smirk.

“Using gene retroversion technology to shorten processing time? Isn’t it unrealistic to expect simulation results to match real-world values? Have you actually tried making it?”

“Well… We’ll bring in the process proposer to hear directly from them.”

Jeon Yeong-ho immediately called Jeong-woo to the platform.

“Director. This isn’t primarily focused on retroversion but rather on optimizing at the genetic level using catalysts before protein cultivation. I think there might be a mistake in the notation of the catalyst chemical formula during the transmission process. Please wait 30 seconds.”

Team 4’s Seon Woo-jin started the presentation with Jeong-woo from the beginning.

“Lilac with spinach and broccoli. The key to natural fat breakdown lies in the combination of ingredients. Precision is essential to match the antioxidant network. Team Leader Seon Woo-jin.”

“Yes?”

“Alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione should be included in the same structural formula, but this seems too disconnected… It’s my fault for miscommunication. It can be corrected quickly…”

As each presenting team pointed to a specific researchers, responsible researchers from other centers attending the meeting couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity.

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