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Driving innovation in food and biochemical production

20 June 2018 | Research
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NUS has teamed up with agribusiness group Wilmar to establish a corporate laboratory focused on healthier food products and ingredients, as well as greener and more sustainable biochemical production

A new $110 million research facility jointly established by NUS, Asia’s leading agribusiness group Wilmar International Limited (Wilmar), and the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) was launched on 19 June. The WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory will conduct cutting-edge clinical nutrition and synthetic biology research to address the need for healthier food products and ingredients, as well as lead the way for greener and more sustainable biochemical production.

“This win-win partnership combines NUS’ strong expertise in biomedical sciences and translational medicine with Wilmar’s rich industry experience and global networks to address two pressing real-world challenges — lifestyle-related diseases and sustainable production of industrial chemicals,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye at the launch. He added that the University looks forward to working with Wilmar to develop scientific innovations that can both improve health outcomes and generate societal and economic benefits for Singapore, Asia and beyond.

Minister for Finance and Chairman of NRF Mr Heng Swee Keat, who was Guest-of-Honour at the event, praised the partnership as an example of the growing number of collaborations between academia and industry in the nation’s innovation ecosystem with the potential for far-reaching positive societal impact.

“It is very important for us to link academic research to industry for translation. In turn, this translates into benefits for our people — for the people in Singapore and the people around the world. In the case of Singapore, the importance of it resulting in job creation, product development and manpower training for our companies,” said Mr Heng.

This win-win partnership combines NUS’ strong expertise in biomedical sciences and translational medicine with Wilmar’s rich industry experience and global networks to address two pressing real-world challenges — lifestyle-related diseases and sustainable production of industrial chemicals.

The 2,000sqm laboratory based at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine will have two main research clusters. The first aims to address major public health issues like diabetes and obesity through studying the impact of food structure and composition on nutrition and health in Asian populations. The cluster hopes to develop healthier food options such as satay made of plant protein and a combination of oils with the best ratio of nutrients.

The second cluster takes a closer look at the processes that underlie production of oleochemicals, which are involved in the making of everyday consumer products. WIL@NUS researchers will capitalise on recent advances in synthetic biology to work on engineering microbes and enzymes that are able to produce oleochemicals in a more sustainable and green manner, with a lower carbon footprint.

The new laboratory will be helmed by Associate Professor Matthew Chang, Director of the NUS Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technology Innovation programme, and Dr Rebecca Lian, Distinguished Fellow at Wilmar.

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From left: Wilmar Chief Scientific Advisor Prof Chua Nam Hai, Mr Kuok, Mr Heng, NUS Chairman Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, and Prof Tan officially launching the laboratory

“We hope that this gathering of great minds will result in the development of new technologies that can enhance the quality of our food products and at the same time reduce our carbon footprint. This way, consumers worldwide will benefit,” said Wilmar Chairman and CEO Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, adding that Wilmar was honoured to be able to leverage NUS’ world-class clinical research capabilities in this endeavour.

Prof Tan also paid homage to the “special, longstanding and fruitful relationship” between Wilmar and NUS at the launch ceremony. “Over the years, Wilmar has generously contributed nearly $10 million to support various causes at NUS, such as research, student financial aid, and public policy programmes. We are deeply grateful that Wilmar has recently pledged to additionally support two full term bursaries and two full term scholarships each year,” shared Prof Tan.

In the next five years, the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory hopes to train more than 60 researchers and PhD students to play a critical role in supporting the growth of the food and nutrition industry as well as synthetic biology-related industries in Singapore and Asia.

See press release.

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Guests at the launch had a chance to take a look at some of the healthier food products the researchers are working on



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