Team:HKU-HKBU/Human Practice Interview


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We are much honored to have Dr. JD Huang and Dr. JJ Wang as the frontiers in molecular biology research to share some of their views on genetic engineering and synthetic biology with us.

Here below are some extracts of our discussion.

HKU-HKBU = HKU-HKBU iGEM team; DR.H = Dr. JD Huang; DR.W = Dr. JJ Wang

HKU-HKBU: This year is the second year for our joint-universities team to enter to the iGEM competition. Why you decide to form a team to compete at iGEM again this year?

DR.H: We believe that providing hand-on experience to students is a much more effective way of learning than just asking students memorizing thousands of things from the book. They will understand and appreciate more when they formulate the questions, design the experiments, and perform experiments by themselves. . In this process, they are applying their knowledge to make something real. Meanwhile, they will learn more cutting-edged developments in the research field and hopefully to develop their interest to purse research career.

DR.W: Adding to what Dr. Huang have just said, going to the MIT and doing a presentation in front of many experts is a dream to many others. This kind of achievement will be very impressive at one's CV, no matter if they choose to purse Science as their future career or not. We want to provide students with this opportunity to broaden their horizon and interact with many outstanding scientists. We hope to keep this competition as an annual event at our department.

HKU-HKBU: What experiences/skills do you hope our students can gain from this competition?

DR.H: Mainly, we hope the student can learn how to think logically. From brainstorming, planning and performing the experiments, they all require many patients and logical thinking . Students cannot learn how to think by just reading textbook but this kind of competition provides an opportunity to sharpen their mind.

DR.W: This kind of competition offer undergraduates a chance to do some research! Many undergraduates do not know what exactly research is and how it is being performed. We hope they will develop some interests in research throughout the competition. Besides pure experiments, activities such as fund-raising and human practices allow our students to get out of their lab and interact with the community. These associated activities can also develop their whole-person education at the same time .

HKU-HKBU: How about the importance of synthetic biology. In your professional opinion, does it have a bright future ahead of it?

DR.H: It is hard to say. Synthetic biology is still at its early stage, like a new-born baby. It is very hard to determine its future impact on the basis of its relatively young history background. In terms of its contribution, synthetic biology is most well-known for the development of a drug to cure malaria, otherwise we are still awaiting for some major breakthroughs in the near future. Nevertheless, the wide applicability of synthetic biology makes it an exciting field to explore , especially in the energy and medicine fields. It will sure stand itself up after sometime.

DR.W: There is still a long path ahead of us, synthetic biology itself is built upon on genetic engineering, molecular biology and others genetically-related field. It requires and relies on accumulation of knowledge in other more fundamental fields. However, synthetic biology itself is more engineering like in terms of the logic behind it. This kind of "cut and paste" process allows more creative design and wilder development. Who knows what coming next but surely it is a field that will catch scientist's eyes very soon .

HKU-HKBU: As you all know, there are some people out there who go against genetic engineering, such as GM food. They visualize genetic engineering as a dangerous and unethical practice. Do you share the same view with them?

DR.H: Everything has a risk, fire is dangerous, and so as nuclear power, but we are still need them in our life. The true meaning of dangerous is depends on how you practice and handle the risk. This also applies to genetic engineering! It may be unethical and dangerous only when used irresponsibly, but when they are preformed under regulations and their possible benefit can be enormous, why stop them?

DR.W: In addition to that, there are committees out there closely monitoring and regulating our genetic research activities , making sure our practices have its risk being kept to minimal. We could not just stop research when people say it is dangerous or it is unethical. Instead, we need to find compromise between one and other because we understand how this scientific field can revolutionize the world , especially in the human health.

HKU-HKBU: To be honest, many people regard scientists/researchers as some crazy people doing things that no one can understand. In your view, is there really a gap between the science and the public? What can be done to improve this situation?

DR.H: I would say there really is a gap between the scientists and the public in Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong being a world-renown financial city. I think the most effective way to close this gap is by communicating with the public via public lectures, TV and online videos. Additionally, I also suggest our young undergraduates to tark with your parents and friends, this not only allow the public to know more about science but also as a way to develop your communication skills.

DR.W: I remember the time when I was in America as a postgraduate student, I was so amazed with all those stunning collections in the Science Museums at the States, they are all free and you can hang around in there for whole day without being bored. I hope the government can devote more resources into the education of science, not only to the current students but to the general public, allowing them to know Science is not that mysterious.

After some nice fore-and-back Q & A session, we also discussed briefly on the future of Science development in Hong Kong. They both think that one of the main obstacles ahead of the Science development in Hong Kong is the lack of support from the government. They pointed out that only a mere 0.79% of GDP was used in research activities in Hong Kong in 2008, comparing to ~ 2.5% in many other developed countries/regions. This figure is extremely low comparing to Japan 3.53%, United States 2.62% and Taiwan 2.58%. That's why many outstanding undergraduates at Hong Kong choose to perform research activities in other countries and thus further retard the Science development in Hong Kong. However, we all believed that Science will be more frequently under the spotlight in the coming decades as more health problems, climate problems and energy crisis emerges out. They also advised us to keep our faith and passion for Science because this is where success and breakthroughs come.