$83m boost to help S'pore tackle challenges

(From left) Principal investigator Rajeev Ram and team members Yin Zhongchao, Sarojam Rajani, Jang In-Cheol and Azlinda Anwar are working on sensors that can monitor plants to grow healthier, leafier crops.
(From left) Principal investigator Rajeev Ram and team members Yin Zhongchao, Sarojam Rajani, Jang In-Cheol and Azlinda Anwar are working on sensors that can monitor plants to grow healthier, leafier crops.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Global and local researchers to collaborate in areas such as healthcare and cyber security

Scientists and researchers from top universities across the world will give Singapore a boost in meeting its challenges.

They will collaborate with local agencies and institutions on three new research programmes, totalling $82.5 million in funding, in fields like healthcare and cyber security.

The research initiatives come under the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (Create), which celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday at its campus at the National University of Singapore's University Town.

Create was set up by the National Research Foundation (NRF) to forge collaboration between local and top overseas research institutions.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said at the event: "Create has provided Singapore, our partners and their faculties a unique environment in which to interact and discover ways to make an impact that might not have been possible otherwise."

Mr Heng, who is the NRF's deputy chairman, added that since Create's inception in 2007, the campus has filed 540 patent applications and 336 invention disclosures, and started 15 spin-off firms.

The latest programmes include the use of sensors to monitor plants to grow healthier, leafier crops; finding ways to counter drug-resistant microbes; and developing cyber-physical security systems to protect important infrastructure.

Research into using sensors to track the health of crops in real time will begin next month, with the NRF providing $40 million in funding.

The team behind the research, with members from the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, will develop ways to use sensors that can detect chemical changes in plants when they are not growing well. The team's principal investigator, Dr Rajeev Ram of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: "It's like taking a picture of the plant, but that picture has chemical information."

The goal is to minimise food waste by reducing the amount of yellowing or unhealthy produce which gets thrown out by farmers.

A research project in antimicrobial resistance will also begin next month, which the NRF will fund with $30 million over five years.

Led by biological engineer Peter Dedon of MIT and Nanyang Technological University's School of Biological Sciences chair Peter Preiser, the research team will examine the mechanisms behind drug resistance in viruses, bacteria and parasites, and come up with new ways to identify and treat resistant infections.

Mr Heng also announced the formation of a Create governing council led by former civil service head Peter Ho. It will oversee the campus' strategy for research direction and engagement between local varsities and overseas partner institutions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline '$83m boost to help S'pore tackle challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe