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RGC Collaborative Research Fund - Layman Summaries of Projects Funded in 2011/2012 Exercise

Low-temperature, Ultrahigh-vacuum Glancing Angle Deposition (LT-UHV GLAD): Material and Morphology Engineering of Multi-dimensional Photonic Nanostructures for Fundamental and Applied Studies
Project Coordinator: Dr Zhifeng Huang (HKBU)

A low-temperature ultrahigh-vacuum glancing angle deposition (LT-UHV GLAD) system will be custom-designed at HKBU. In general, the GLAD technique is utilized to fabricate micro/nano "forests", the arrays composed of well separated micro/nano pillars (or "trees"), whose morphology (e.g. shape, dimension, periodicity, chirality, surface pillar density, and growth orientation) can be flexibly engineered. However, the morphology engineering is limited to dielectrics, which can be extended to metals using LT-UHV GLAD. A LT-UHV GLAD-based platform of material fabrication will be established in Hong Kong, aiming at the promotion of both fundamental studies in the morphology dependence of material properties and applied researches in, but not limited to, environmental protection and remediation, renewable energy, nano-biotechnology, nano-optics, nanophotonics, nanosensors, and nanoelectronics.

Defining the Regulatory Pathways Coupling Cell Division Timing and Cell Fate Differentiation During C. elegans Embryogenesis Using Automated Lineaging
Project Coordinator: Dr Zhongying Zhao (HKBU)

Propagation of a cellular organism from one generation to another requires both cell division and cell growth. Cell divisions of single-celled organisms are independent of each other while those of a multicellular organism require tight coordination among one another in order to form different cell types. Failure in the coordination frequently leads to abnormal cell death or tumorous growth. How the cell division paces are coordinated to ensure formation of proper cell types during animal development remains poorly understood. By a combination of biological and computing science, our previous group developed multiple tools allowing automatic tracing of cell division histories during C. elegans embryogenesis. We will apply these tools to identify genes that couple cell division paces with cell fate differentiation. The knowledge obtained will not only provide mechanistic insight into how cell division pace is tuned to accommodate tissue formation during animal development, but also shed light on how a cancer cell is originated in the first place.

EXPO (Exocyst-positive Organelle): Dynamics, Biogenesis and Function in Plants
Project Coordinator: Prof Liwen Jiang (CUHK)

We have recently identified a novel organelle termed EXPO (Exocyst-positive Organelle), which may mediate an unconventional cytosol to plasma membrane secretion pathway in plant cells. In this collaborative effort, using a combination of cellular, molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches, we

Genomic and Molecular Studies of a Salinity Tolerance Locus in the Wild Soybean Genome
Project Coordinator: Prof Hon-ming Lam (CUHK)

Soybean, an environmentally friendly crop with a high nutritional value, was first domesticated in China ~5,000 years ago. The wild soybean, adapted to grow in natural environments that are often suboptimal, is a vital genetic resource for studying how plants adapt to various adverse environments (such as high salinity), and therefore providing us with new insights into crop improvement.

This team has successfully obtained important genomic data and constructed unique genetic materials to identify a major salinity tolerance locus in the wild soybean genome. Subsequently, we will perform detailed functional analysis of candidate genes within this locus to unveil the tolerance mechanism.

Participating scientists have is a long-term collaborative relationship, constituting a team of complementary expertise. This proposed project is one of the very few attempts worldwide to combine the efforts of high-throughput sequencing and detailed molecular biology studies to address an important issue related to agriculture.

Memories and Monuments: Migration from South China to Chinese Cities in Different Colonial Settings, 1830-1930s
Project Coordinator: Prof Yuen-sang Leung (CUHK)

This collaborative research project, comprising four teams from the Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore, aims at investigating, analyzing and comparing the Chinese migration experiences and their diasporic practices in the four cities during the period from 1830s to 1930s when these cities were either under direct colonial rule or indirect colonialism.

Our project focuses on a relatively under-researched aspect in Chinese migration history, i.e., Chinese-Chinese relations. This can be defined in terms of the Chinese immigrants' relation with the Chinese society from which they came, and with the Chinese early settlers in the places they were migrating to. Most research on Chinese migration seems to focus on Chinese migration to a foreign country and the processes of their adaptation and adjustment in a new environment, but our project will analyse the Chinese networks in the migration process and focus on the linkages and continuities, and find out how these linkages and continuities influenced the social and cultural practices of the Chinese in their new cities.

The fact that the destination of the Chinese migration movement was a "Chinese city" would convey a sense of familiarity and security visa-a-vis that of "foreignness" and uncertainty at the beginning of the migration process, and that the Chinese elements in the receiving end would also shape their migration experience, this marks a clear difference for those who migrated to these cities and those who went abroad to a strange new world. But were these assumptions of familiarity-security and foreignness-uncertainty real? And how these different assumptions would translate into their diasporic practices? In this comparative study we attempt to analyze and compare the collective memory of the Chinese immigrants to the four "Chinese cities" of Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore by examining the sources (written, oral and material) that recorded or expressed their migration experiences, and in addition, to see how different colonial policies would affect their diasporic practices as Shanghai was governed primarily by the French and Anglo-American establishment in the settlements, Taipei was under Japanese occupation since 1894, and Hong Kong and Singapore were British colonies from the early nineteenth century onward.

Centre for MicroRNA Study - Basic Research and Clinical Potentials in Cancer
Project Coordinator: Prof Nathalie Wong (CUHK)

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) of cellular and viral origin have emerged as an important class of non?coding RNA that regulates gene expression by repressing translation of mRNA into protein. Supported by a Collaborative Research Fund in 2009, the present investigative team has reported on deregulated cellular and viral miRNAs of two locally prevalent cancers, namely Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma (NPC) and Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC), and the Epstein?Barr virus (EBV) which is a strong risk factor for the development of NPC. In this renewal fund, we propose to initiate new research areas that are vital in establishing firm understandings on the miRNA?modulated NPC and HCC biology. Recent studies have emphasized on miRNAs carriage in cell secreted exosomes in intercellular communications. Realizing EBV sequence variants can contribute to specific EBV miRNA expressions in NPC, it is also important that we assert comprehensive information on the viral sequence to fully apprehend the unique EBV miRNA biogenesis in NPC. Based on our experience in deciphering cellular and viral miRNAs, we propose to broaden our investigative scope in this project to include new research directions in NPC, HCC and EBV.

Controlling scattering and absorption cross sections using simple artificial structures
Project Coordinator: Prof Che Ting Chan (HKUST)

A wave is scattered if it encounters an object and the likelihood of it being scattered or absorbed is described by its scattering cross section (SCS) and the absorption cross section (ACS). Controlling these cross sections can result in many useful applications. For example, stealth technology works by coating an object to reduce its SCS. If a coating can enhance the ACS for light, it will facilitate light harvesting. If a coating can enhance the ACS for sound, it will facilitate sound absorption. We will design and build various structures and coating layers that can change the SCS or ACS of other objects, with emphasis on employing simple structures and materials that are easy to process. We will try to realize unusual effects by controlling the SCS or ACS. For example, we will see if we can use light beams to attract or rotate an object by manipulating its SCS.

Understanding the coupling of mass-transport and electrochemical reactions in the nanostructured fuel cell electrodes
Project Coordinator: Prof Tianshou Zhao (HKUST)

The direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) promises to be a clean and efficient energy production technology as it offers many unique advantages including a low demand on electrochemical catalysts, a high energy density of fuel, facile fuel storage and handling, and simplicity, making it particularly suitable for mobile and transportation applications. However, the performance of the DMFC has yet to reach the expected level for widespread commercialization. The limiting factor is the efficiency of the DMFC electrodes, which have a complex micro/nanostructure involving interrelated electronic and ionic conducting phases, gas-phase porosity, and catalytically active surfaces. These electrodes are extremely difficult to optimize. The primary objectives of this project are to understand the coupled transport of protons, electrons, and mass species and the electrochemical reactions in nanostructured DMFC electrodes, and to create and optimize a new class of electrode structures that maximizes both the power yield and the utilization of precious metal catalysts.

Molecular mechanisms of innate antiviral response
Project Coordinator: Dr Dong-Yan Jin (HKU)

Host cells combat invading viruses by initiating an innate antiviral response. Detection of viruses by prototypic cytoplasmic sensor RIG-I in human and animal cells elicits a signal which ultimately switches on the production of antiviral proteins such as interferons. Our recent research work has revealed a new partner and activator of RIG-I called PACT. Understanding the mechanisms by which PACT activates RIG-I will substantially advance the field. In this group research project, we will pool our complementary expertise and resources to carry out molecular and structural biological studies to understand PACT-induced activation of RIG-I during viral infection in both cultured cells and mouse models. By strengthening the new concept that the function of virus sensor RIG-I requires a dsRNA-binding protein partner, our work will not only provides new avenues for studying viral and cellular regulators of innate immune response, but will also reveal novel strategies for developing antiviral and immunomodulatory drugs.

Liver Transplantation Research Centre: A Multidisciplinary Study for Liver Graft Injury
Project Coordinator: Prof Chung Mau Lo (HKU)

Liver transplantation is a life-saving treatment for patients with end stage liver diseases including liver cancer. However, graft injury is the key issue, which may cause graft dysfunction and fibrosis and promote cancer recurrence. We aim to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of liver graft injury. This will allow us to identify the novel circulating biomarkers indicating acute phase graft injury and predicting late phase tumor recurrence and metastasis after transplantation. The potentials of stem cell therapy for graft regeneration will be also explored. The findings from this project will perfect the outcome of liver transplantation by addressing the issue of graft injury through integrated clinical, basic and translational research.

Strategic research of hormones and their receptors in the water homeostatic axis: from molecular mechanisms to anti-hypertensive drug design
Project Coordinator: Prof Billy Kwok Chong Chow (HKU)

Hypertension is a global health threat with approximately 1 billion people worldwide being affected causing 7 million deaths annually. Despite the many therapeutic options available today, majority of patients receiving anti-hypertensive treatment, however, cannot control their blood pressures within the normal range. Hence, the development of new classes of anti-hypertensive drugs is urgently needed. We have recently identified secretin as a key factor in regulating water/salt balance as well as cardiovascular function. These novel functions of secretin indicate its potential in bypassing actions of some of the hypertensive medications available nowadays. The objective of this project is to comprehensively investigate the interactions of secretin with other hormones in our body in regulating blood pressure and water/salt balance, and eventually to develop secretin receptor analogs as a new class of drugs for the treatment of hypertension.

Quantum Control and Quantum Information Processing
Project Coordinator: Prof Zidan Wang (HKU)

Quantum control and quantum information processing using atomic optical systems and solid state systems are cutting edge sciences with applications in device science, communication, cryptography, and metrology. In this collaborative project, we bring together the existing research strength in these areas in Hong Kong to form a team to address important issues in these areas. In particular, we will concentrate on the experimental studies on quantum state control, quantum information processing, and quantum communications using systems including photons, atoms and artificial atoms in solids. These studies will be backed up by the theorists in our team. We expect that the collaborative research in this emerging interdisciplinary field will not only advance our understanding of the exotic quantum world, but also expand our imagination for tomorrow's quantum technological innovation.