Covid-19 shows how scientists must collaborate to make breakthroughs, says DPM Heng

Sharing the virus genome with the global community had allowed various diagnostic test kits to be developed quickly.
Sharing the virus genome with the global community had allowed various diagnostic test kits to be developed quickly.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE -The fight against Covid-19 shows international collaboration is crucial if the world wants to continue making scientific breakthroughs, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told young scientists at a global virtual summit on Tuesday (Jan 12).

He said sharing the virus genome with the global community had allowed various diagnostic test kits to be developed quickly and led to the creation of safe and effective vaccines in record time.

"We must build on the positive momentum of collaboration in the fight against Covid-19 and redouble our efforts to work in stronger partnership - across disciplines, across borders, and across industries, academia and governments," he said in the pre-recorded opening address at the 2021 Global Young Scientists Summit.

"This will allow us to not only overcome this pandemic, but also other global challenges such as poverty, ageing and climate change."

The annual summit, which runs from Tuesday until Friday and is hosted by the National Research Foundation (NRF), will feature 21 globally recognised scientists and involve more than 500 young researchers from 30 countries.

In his opening speech, Mr Heng - who is also the NRF's chairman - emphasised that global partnerships deepen Singapore's research and development capabilities. For example, the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore is one of the international reference research centres in quantum information science. In 2019, the centre developed the world's first quantum nanosatellite that can generate entangled photon-pairs, or light particles, further advancing cyber security and data encryption.

It was reported last December that Singapore will pump a record $25 billion into research over the next five years, with a focus on health, sustainability, the digital economy and manufacturing.

Mr Heng said: "We will continue to stay true to our vision to be a knowledge-based, innovation-driven nation, fuelled by scientific excellence."

The summit covers chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, computer science and engineering. The 21 scientists - Nobel laureates and recipients of global science accolades - will share details of their discoveries by delivering plenary addresses, participating in panel talks and engaging with the young scientists in small group discussions.

The line-up of 21 speakers is the biggest since the annual summit started in 2013.

They will also discuss the latest advances in research and how they can be used to develop solutions to address major global challenges.

One of the scientists who will speak at the summit is Professor Robert Langer, co-founder of Moderna, the American biotechnology firm that has created one of the two leading Covid-19 vaccines. Holding more than 1,400 patents, Prof Langer will be sharing insights in advanced drug delivery systems and therapies, touching on areas including diabetes and skin.

The summit will be livestreamed on the NRF's YouTube channel.

Some of the speakers at the summit

Professor Ada Yonath

- Martin S. and Helen Kimmel Professor of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel

- Recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for mapping the structure and functions of the ribosome, a protein-making machine

Professor Caucher Birkar

- University of Cambridge, Professor of Mathematics

- Recipient of the Fields Medal in 2018, the highest honour in mathematics, for his contributions to algebraic geometry

Professor Didier Queloz

- Professor in Astronomy in the University of Geneva, and Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge

- Recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the first planet outside the solar system that orbits around a sun-like star in 1995

Professor Jennifer Doudna

- Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley

- Recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for co-creating a gene editing tool to design crops that can better withstand drought, and treat diseases such as cancer

Professor Robert Langer

- Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

- Founded more than 40 biotechnology firms, including Moderna

- Recipient of the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize, the world's largest award for technology innovation, for developing innovative biomaterials for controlled drug release and tissue regeneration