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HKUST gets funding for first-ever HK Institute of Synthetic Biology

Image Credit: HKUST, Press Release

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) received an HK$500 million donation from the Li Ka Shing Foundation (LKSF). The funds will be used for the establishment of Hong Kong’s first institute of synthetic biology – a best-in-class research platform focuses on synthetic biological technologies.

The new academic and research building of the Institute will provide the most advanced facilities, aiming to attract the world’s top scholars in a move to steer Hong Kong into a global pioneer in synthetic bio-technologies.

Synthetic biology is at the heart of future economic development. Combining physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry and engineering, synthetic biology uses big data from genetics and related fields to explore new ways of interactions between biological and non-biological disciplines.

Through calculating, designing, coding and modifying microbial genomes, these genomes can be turned into smooth-operating machines that help resolve the conundrums and challenges in life sciences.

The need for synthetic biology

The United Nations forecasts that the world’s population will increase from 7.7 billion today to 8.1 billion in 2025. By 2050, it is estimated to reach 9.7 billion.

From a growth perspective, this is equivalent to bringing the entire population of India and China as an addition to Earth. Considering the impact of such population surge on our limited resources and the environment, humans need to adopt a new way of life and use sustainable materials.

The cross-disciplinary field of synthetic biology is set to be a core driving force of the future economy, it will appear in multiple aspects of our daily lives including medicine, plastics, materials, food and daily necessities. Hong Kong’s science and technology research and education must join the forefront of this competition.

How the institute will operate

The Institute is a special platform that emphasizes originality and application of foundation knowledge. Under this goal, the Institute will first develop scientific infrastructure and technologies to integrate genetic engineering with artificial intelligence and relevant analysis methodologies.

Through professional autonomous mechanisms, the Institute will bring about discoveries ranging from biomolecules to cells as well as actual products, thereby promoting public health, environmental sustainability and foster social advancement and co-sharing.

The vision of the Institute is to develop Hong Kong into a global hub of synthetic biology, transfer research results under new policies and new models of education and entrepreneurship.

The Institute also seeks to create opportunities in new industries, nurture a new generation of talent in scientific innovation, and offer Hong Kong citizens more opportunities in participating or starting their own businesses.

It was noted that the Institute will fully complement HKUST’s long-standing commitment to entrepreneurship, knowledge transfer as well as talent development, and enhance the region’s overall competitiveness at the same time, contributing to the development of Hong Kong and the world.

The Chairman of Li Ka Shing Foundation stated he has been advocating, since 2003, that HK must put resources behind science and technology-based manufacturing industries as it is a powerful geyser for upward mobility as well as a playground where entrepreneurship and innovation thrives.

Just as synthetic chemistry and petroleum were central to the 20th century, synthetic biology and DNA are the technology engines of this century, bringing disruption to traditional manufacturing and new opportunities in the industrialization of biology.

HKUST’s President stated that the Li Ka-Shing Foundation and HKUST share a common commitment – a deep devotion to science and Hong Kong. Thanks to the support of the Foundation, the university is able to establish Hong Kong’s first synthetic biology research platform and get connected with the world. This will enable the development of Hong Kong’s science and technology-based industry.

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