20 April 2015

CUHK Researcher Named Croucher Senior Research Fellow 2015
Recent Discovery of Magic Plan Protein Published in PNAS



Professor Liwen JIANG, Choh-Ming Li Professor of Life Sciences, has been presented the prestigious Senior Research Fellowship of The Croucher Foundation, in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the international scientific community. The award was presented by The Honourable Mr John Tsang Chun-wah, Financial Secretary for Administration of the HKSAR Government. 

Professor Liwen JIANG is a plant cell biologist and has been focusing on understanding the molecular mechanisms of protein transport and organelle biogenesis in plants over the past 15 years. Since protein transport and organelle biogenesis are crucial for plant development and plant stress resistance, understanding of their molecular mechanism will in future contribute to the development of plant biotechnology. Professor Jiang received the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship in 2009/2010 due to his outstanding research achievements in the study of plant protein transport. This is the second time Professor Jiang has been awarded by the Croucher Foundation. 

Recent Discovery of Magic Plant Protein 

Recently, Professor Jiang and his research team from the School of Life Sciences (SLS) have identified a magic protein that regulates vacuole biogenesis and vacuole-autophagosome-mediated degradation in plant cells. These findings, shedding new light on the molecular mechanisms of organelle biogenesis and function in plants with potential impact on crop improvement and plant biotechnology, have recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the official scientific journal of the National Academy of Sciences of USA. 

Food storage and garbage removal are the important and integral parts of our normal human life. As the largest biomass energy source, plants also require proper nutrient storage and recycling of the metabolisms for sustaining the plant life. Vacuole, a large membrane-bound organelle in plant cell, is the food storage center and waste disposal center during plant growth and development. There are two types of vacuoles in plant: protein storage vacuole (PSV) and lytic vacuole (LV). PSV usually exists in seed for storing storage proteins, while LV exists in vegetative cells containing hydrolytic enzymes. Normally, materials are delivered into the LV via endosomes for degradation. In addition to the endosome-vacuole degradation pathway, autophagy is another stress-induced degradation pathway that targets abnormal metabolic cargoes (such as proteins or damaged organelles) or pathogens into the vacuole via a double-membrane organelle termed autophagosome. Finally, the breakdown products are transported back into the cytosol for reuse. With these properties, vacuole controls many important aspects of crop physiology including seed germination, pathogen defense, and growth under nutrient-limiting conditions, therefore, knowledge on the underlying mechanisms of vacuole biogenesis and degradation will provide new tools for crop improvemement and plant biotechnology. 

As a further development of a previous work published early this year in Current Biologyhttp://www.cpr.cuhk.edu.hk/sc/press_detail.php?1=1&id=1903), in the study published in PNAS, Professor Jiang’s team further identified the new functional roles of this magic protein in regulating vacuolar protein transport, vacuole biogenesis and vacuole-autophagosome-mediated degradation. They have demonstrated that this protein is essential for vacuolar protein transport and vacuole biogenesis because mutant plant lacking this protein failed to form normal PSV in seed and central LV in vegetative cells, where normal vacuolar proteins are found to be secreted into the extracellular spaces. Since certain plant seed PSVs are rich in proteins, understanding the mechanisms of PSV protein targeting and PSV biogenesis will facilitate future application of using plant seeds as bioreactors for increasing crop nutrient components or producing pharmaceutical proteins. In addition, since the autophagy pathway is also involved in plant defense to pathogen attach, understanding of this protein on autophagosome-vacuole-mediated degradation of pathogens will provide new direction in future development of pathogen-resistance crops.

Biography of Professor Liwen JIANG 

Professor Liwen JIANG is currently Choh-Ming Li Professor of Life Sciences and Director of AoE Centre for Organelle Biogenesis and Function, as well as Director of Centre for Cell and Developmental Biology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Professor Jiang joined the Department of Biology of CUHK as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and was promoted as Professor in 2007. 

Professor Jiang's research team has been working on the underlying mechanisms of protein transport, organelle biogenesis and function in plants for almost 15 years at CUHK, and has been internationally recognized as a leading group in the field. Major contributions include the identification of multivesicular body (MVB) as prevacuolar compartment and trans-Golgi network as early endosome as well as the novel EXPO compartment and EXPO-mediated unconventional protein secretion pathway in plant cells. 

Professor Jiang received numerous awards for teaching and research achievements, including CUHK Science Faculty Exemplary Teaching Award 2008, CUHK Research Excellence Award twice (2006-07 & 2009-10), Croucher Senior Research Fellowship twice (2009-10 & 2015), Ministry of Education (MOE) Higher Education Outstanding Scientific Research Output Awards twice (2009 & 2013), Outstanding Fellow of the Faculty of Science (2013) and Choh-Ming Li Professorship of Life Sciences (2014). Graduate students from Professor Jiang's lab have also received many prestigious awards including CUHK Young Scholars Dissertation Award (twice), Postgraduate Research Output Award (four times), Keystone Symposium Scholarship (twice) and Human Frontier Science Program Long-Term Fellows (twice). 

The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships 

The Croucher Senior Research Fellowships scheme was first introduced in 1997. The value of the awards are about HKD900,000 for the Senior Research Fellowship and HKD1,000,000 for the Senior Medical Research Fellowship, each includes a personal grant of HK$60,000 to the recipient for research expenses.  It is awarded to local academics who have excelled in scientific research work as judged by leading international scientists invited to provide confidential reviews of candidates nominated in a competitive exercise. Funds are awarded to the universities of the fellowship recipients, enabling the university to recruit replacement teachers to take over the award winner's duties for the period of the fellowship.  This enables the awardees to devote more time and effort to research work. 

A total of 22 scholars from CUHK have been awarded the Croucher Senior Research Fellowships since its inception. They are: Prof. Henry WONG Nai-ching, Prof. WU Chi, Prof. XIE Zuowei, Prof. CHOW Hak-fun and Prof. Tony SHING Kung-ming of Chemistry, Prof. Raymond YEUNG Wai-ho of Information Engineering, Prof. WEI Juncheng of Mathematics, Prof. XIA Keqing and Prof. Emily CHING Shuk-chi of Physics, Prof. HUANG Jie of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, Prof. CHAN Hsiao-chang and Prof. HUANG Yu of Biomedical Sciences, Prof. Michael LYU Rung-tsong and Prof. John LUI Chi-shing of Computer Science and Engineering, and Prof. JIANG Liwen of Life Sciences. Among them, six scholars have been awarded the Croucher Senior Medical Research Fellowship. They are: Prof. Joseph SUNG Jao-yiu, Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Jean WOO, Prof. Francis CHAN Ka-leung, Prof. Henry CHAN Lik-yuen and Prof. Lawrence WONG Ka-sing of Medicine and Therapeutics, Prof. Dennis LO Yuk-ming of Chemical Pathology, and Prof. James LAU Yun-wong of Surgery.

Mr John Tsang Chun-wah presents the award of Senior Research Fellowship to Prof Liwen Jiang.
Mr John Tsang Chun-wah presents the award of Senior Research Fellowship to Prof Liwen Jiang.

Professor Jiang's research team has been working on the underlying mechanisms of protein transport, organelle biogenesis and function in plants.
Professor Jiang's research team has been working on the underlying mechanisms of protein transport, organelle biogenesis and function in plants.

Professor Jiang's research team has been working on the underlying mechanisms of protein transport, organelle biogenesis and function in plants.
Professor Jiang's research team has been working on the underlying mechanisms of protein transport, organelle biogenesis and function in plants.

A group photo of Mr John Tsang Chun-wah and CUHK members.
A group photo of Mr John Tsang Chun-wah and CUHK members.

(From left) Prof Michael Chan, Director of School of Life Sciences; Prof. Liwen Jiang; Prof. Henry Wong, Dean of Science; Dr. Tony Tsoi, Associate Director, Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services.
(From left) Prof Michael Chan, Director of School of Life Sciences; Prof. Liwen Jiang; Prof. Henry Wong, Dean of Science; Dr. Tony Tsoi, Associate Director, Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services.