Ten years ago, under the UGC’s Areas of Excellence(AoE) scheme, the Chinese University of Hong
Kong established a Center for Plant and Agricultural
Biotechnology, to conduct research in a number of crucial aspects of plant & agricultural biotechnology.
During the past decade, the Center has assembled a world-class interdisciplinary team of
researchers from several institutions. This team has successfully
pursued a research approach that integrates
state-of-the-art modern technologies with the
traditional wisdom of breeders. It is also a significant example
to demonstrate cross-institution deep collaboration in Hong Kong.
The Center’s research team comprises 15 PIs (as regular or associate members) from 3 local institutes,
from a range of academic disciplines. The Center’s director Prof. SS-M Sun was elected a member of
the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2003 and a member of the Eurasia Academy of
Sciences in 2008. One of the Center’s members, Prof. J Zhang,
was featured by Nature as one of the ‘Five Crop Researchers Who Could Change the
World’ in 2009. Prof MC Fung’s influential paper, “Unvealing
the mystery of cancer recurrence", was awarded second place
among the top 10 discoveries in 2009 by Scientific American (Chinese edition).
Locally, two of the Center’s members, Prof. ML Chye and
Prof. LW Jiang, were awarded prestigious Croucher Foundation
Senior Research Fellowships in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Profs. SS-M Sun, J. Zhang, HM
Lam and LW Jiang have also won 4 regional and ministry level Chinese awards.
Establishing strategic research ties both
nationally and internationally
Food security is closely linked with social stability.
In China and other developing countries, the combination of a large population and limited arable
land and fresh water pose a severe threat to social stability. Using an approach that integrates
state-of-the-art modern technologies with the traditional
wisdom of breeders, the AoE center is conducting pioneering research on crop improvement (yield, quality, and stress tolerance) and the establishment
of technological platforms (plant transformation, bioreactors, and
bioactivities). The center’s
members have taken part in a number of important international and national initiatives, such as the
ProVitaMin Rice project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the China National
China has around 22% of the world’s
population but only 9% of the world’s arable land. The amount
of per capita available fresh water in China is only
about a quarter of the world’s average. Accordingly,
the main crop improvement programs of this AoE center focus on raising yield, quality and stress
The AoE center is
actively involved in China’s national hybrid rice improvement program. Hybrid rice
occupies more than 50% of the total rice acreage in China, and plays an important role in food
security. In collaboration with Prof. Yuan Longping,
“the father of hybrid rice", this center is conducting
path-breaking research aimed at increasing the photosynthetic efficiency of hybrid rice by
introducing genes from maize.
As a prominent exponent of crop quality research,
this AoE center was invited to join the ProVitaMin Rice project supported by the Grand Challenges in
Global Health initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation. This has further bound the Center into an international research network dedicated to rice
Germplasms are valuable resources for novel genes.
Recently, the Center has launched a collaborative large-scale wild soybean genome project with
Beijing Genomics Institute (Shenzhen), with the ultimate goal to clone stress tolerance genes from
unique soybean germplasms.
The Center has also established important
technological platforms, including using seeds as bioreactors, the transformation of indica rice (the
type of rice used for many hybrid rice breeding programs) and soybean, and assay systems for
bioactivities (for the analysis of genetically-modified
crops and the identification of bioactive compounds from natural products).
The Center’s Outputs
The Center’s team tries to achieve excellence while striking a balance among academic study,
application, and education. In the past 10 years, the team
has published a series of high caliber academic papers, generated intellectual properties,
and trained a large number of technologists who are now working in
research institutes in China, Hong Kong, and in other parts of the world.
Since the inception of this AoE, the team has
generated 438 publications. 191 of these publications appeared in SCI journals, and just about
a third were published in top-ranked international journals (i.e. the top 10% of journals
in the relevant category). The team has also actively participated in
academic activities, and many of its members serve on national and international advisory
committees. Team members have attended over 97 invited
plenary/keynote/symposium lectures at prestigious international/national scientific meetings and 72 outgoing
invited seminars. The team has also hosted 4 international and national conferences and over 40
academic seminars to promote academic exchange.