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  Theme-based Research Scheme–Call for Proposal Chinese children

  Theme-based Research Scheme–Call for Preliminary Proposals

  Launch of New Joint Research Schemes

  Nanotherapeutics in Angiogenesis: Synthesis and in Vivo Assessment of Drug Efficacy and Biocompatibility in the Zebrafish Embryos

  Nimodipine suppresses chemokine release via inhibition of adenosine uptake in endothelial cells

  DNA-binding Activities of Some Alkaloids from Chinese Medicinal Herbs

  Development of a High Performance Liquid Chromatographic Method for the Quality Control of Rhizoma Smilacis Glabrae and its Derived Products

  Interactions between UGT isoenzymes and MRP transporters during the oral absorption process of Baicalein

  Gender Differences in the Regulation of Endothelium-Dependent Contracting Factor

  Areas of Excellence Scheme Project: Introducing the Work of the Hong Kong Institute of Economics and Business Strategy

  Areas of Excellence of Scheme Project: Building excellence in plant and agricultural biotechnology research

  RGC Collaborative Research Fund – Layman Summaries of Projects Funded in 2009/10 Exercise


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 Transgenic Initiatives. 

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 tolerance.

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 improvement. 

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.


The Center has also developed technologies and prototype products of considerable scientific and economic value, and a total of 20 regular and 6 international PCT patent applications have been filed to protect the intellectual property generated by these developments. Up to May 2010, 4 US, 1 Hong Kong, and 2 China patents have been granted.

The Center’s high caliber and intensive research activities also provide exciting training and education opportunities for our graduate/undergraduate students and technologists. In recognition of the outstanding scientific achievements and vigorous training provided by the Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong has allocated over 30 additional postgraduate quotas to the Center since its establishment in 2000. Up to May 2010, 272 graduate/undergraduate students, technicians, and other research personnel in the field of biotechnology have been, or are being, trained.

The Center has also organized 12 public talks and a number of exhibitions to introduce the importance of plant & agricultural biotechnology in the future development of China and beyond to the general public. 

State Key Laboratory of
Agrobiotechnology in Hong Kong 

State Key Laboratory are laboratories that have their research tied to national priority and achieving national level of excellence. In 2008, China’s Ministry of Science & Technology authorized the Center’s team to establish a State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology in Hong Kong, in partnership with the prestigious China Agricultural University

After approval by Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) to establish the State Key Laboratory (SKL) of Agrobiotechnology, Professor WAN Gang, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Minister of MOST officiated the opening of the SKL 

The establishment of the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology represents a milestone in plant research in Hong Kong. As an important Chinese city with an international outlook, Hong Kong makes a significant contribution to China’s economic and financial systems. At the same time, Hong Kong’s universities have also recruited a critical mass of internationally trained scientists. Through the UGC’s Areas of Excellence scheme, scientists with the necessary expertise in the appropriate research fields can now work together on important national issues.

China has just launched a 13-year Transgenic Research Initiative, with a total budget of US$3.5 billion. Plant and agricultural biotechnology research has therefore been established as a national priority. The State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology provides a platform for Hong Kong scientists to contribute to the technological advancement of agriculture in China. Through this platform, this team is leading a (RMB3.5M-) project of the national initiative, aiming at identification and characterization of useful genes related to crop yield, quality, and stress tolerance.

Looking forward 
Agricultural issues in China and other developing countries are tied tightly to sustainable development and environmental conservation. The ideal model for sustainable agriculture in China, which has a large population but limited arable lands and fresh water resources, is a mode of agriculture that uses less water and agrochemicals and generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less leaching. Hong Kong should embrace this opportunity to forge a team that can pioneer the development of this kind of low-input and reduced-emission agricultural model. A cross-disciplinary research approach, drawing on expertise from biology, engineering, and information technology will be essential. This Centre and the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology can play an important role in this endeavor. 

The second phase of sustained funding for this Area of Excellence is nearing completion. To build on the firm foundations it has already established, and to maintain the strong momentum it has already achieved, the team needs and will seek continued support from grant agencies (local, national, international), industrial sectors, and donations. 

Project Coordinator:
Prof Samuel S.M. Sun