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Singapore researchers’ innovation in food technology

Image credits: straitstimes.com/ SPH

With climate change being a global phenomenon of concern, food security is one of the uncertainties which are a result of the unpredictable sets of weather.

A team of scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered a cost-efficient and quicker method for creating a genetic material to be used in the research work surrounding disruptive agriculture.

This is in line with Singapore’s goal of being self-sufficient and producing 30 per cent of its own crops by 2030.

This research team was led by Professor Kang Zhou from the NUS Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department and by postdoctoral associate Dr Xiaoqiang Ma from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart), with researchers from both groups.

The brilliance behind the innovation is that this discovery has paved the way for more advanced research into the microbes that are genetically modified to produce fertilisers, nutrients and pesticides, which will boost Singapore’s crop yields.

Prof Zhou explained the motivation behind the discovery, “Laboratories have to go to a company to order custom-made material, but often, we will only use 1 per cent of it. The rest will sit for months in the freezer before it’s discarded as it’s not designed for multiple-time use.”

With this discovery, it will allow for researches to accurately pick and transfer genes. This process will prevent extra DNA sequences from affecting gene functions.

Researchers have tested and found that the process comes with an 85.9 per cent accuracy, as compared to other processes with only 50 per cent accuracy.

The best part of it is that the process is standardised and works well with frequently used DNA assembly methods. This allows for the universal use of the material by researchers from all over the world.

As mentioned above, this innovation is one of the many research works being done in food security sustenance in the face of widespread climate change.

Urban farming is another key area being explored on.

Dr Liew Woei Chang, a research investigator from the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL), has been working on incorporating technology in the breeding of the tilapia fish. With slower growth and high mortality rates in seawater, this breed of fish one of the most important aquaculture species in.

Technology has allowed for the accurate identification of tilapia with desired traits to be used in a selective breeding programme. With this process, researchers have been able to breed salt-tolerant, quality tilapia fish, without any genetic modification.

Mass-cross breeding is done and after three months, the fish which grew the fastest will be selected to be used in the breeding of more fish.

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