CUHK Professor Develops World-leading Cell Research CentreContributing to Biotechnological Advancement in Hong Kong and Mainland
Prof. Jiang Liwen, Professor, School of Life Sciences, and Director, Centre for Cell and Developmental Biology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has formed a multi-disciplinary research team to establish the ‘Centre for Organelle Biogenesis and Function’, which received around HK$47 million funding from the Research Grants Council in the Sixth Round of Areas of Excellence (AoE) Scheme. The research centre aims at investigating the fundamentals of important biological processes, with potential applications in biotechnology such as increasing crop yields, prevention of human diseases and developing biofuels.
Since he joined CUHK in 2000, Professor Jiang and his research team have initiated a number of research programmes on plant cells in Hong Kong with internationally recognized contributions over the past ten plus years. One of the major steps forward was the groundbreaking discovery of a novel organelle named ‘EXPO’. Cell is the basic unit of life, and an organelle is essentially a plant’s ‘organ’ within a cell with a specific function. There can be over a thousand organelles in a plant cell responsible for secretion of different proteins which are used as building blocks by the plant.
Professor Jiang’s team found that ‘EXPO’ was responsible for an unconventional way of protein secretion that had previously been ignored by the plant research community. One of its possible functions is to release antimicrobial agents into the plant’s exterior to combat against bacteria, viruses or insects. The unconventional protein secretion occurs in all plants but so far it has been underestimated. Understanding EXPO’s functions and its pathways will be useful for the fields of biofuel and plant biotechnology.
Contributing to the biotechnology industry
Building upon his research achievements over the years, Professor Jiang aspired to develop a world-leading research ‘Centre for Organelle Biogenesis and Function’. His proposal has recently been selected as an AoE project by the Research Grants Council. The Centre has brought together experts in multiple disciplines to address important biological questions on organelle biogenesis and functions (including EXPO). The team will use a combination of cellular, molecular, biochemical, physiological, genetic and omics approaches in multiple model organisms such as Arabidopsis, rice, yeast, fruit fly and mouse.
Professor Jiang said, ‘Our research will have potential applications for the biotechnology industry in Hong Kong and mainland China to improve the value of plants as biofuel feedstocks and to enhance crop productivity in high-stress environments. We feel most encouraging that the project is supported by Research Grants Council and we hope that our work can contribute to society. I am grateful to the University for its support and nice research environment with high academic freedom. My heartfelt thanks also goes to my team who have made great contributions towards our research over the past years.’
A recognized scholar in plant cell biology
Professor Jiang has devoted most of his career to plant cell biology research, especially the molecular mechanisms of protein trafficking and organelle biogenesis which primarily affect the growth of plant. His research has potential applications in plant biotechnology, such as developing transgenic rice which contains the missing proteins in human genetic diseases. In recognition of his remarkable achievement, Professor Jiang was awarded a Croucher Senior Research Fellowship (2009–10).
Professor Jiang has a BSc from South China Agricultural University and a PhD from Simon Fraser University. Prior to joining CUHK in 2000, he had spent four years conducting post-doctoral research at Washington State University. Professor Jiang received various awards from CUHK for his outstanding teaching and research achievements, including the Science Faculty Exemplary Teaching Award and the Research Excellence Award. He has also received competitive research grants from, among others, the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National High-technology Research and Development Programme.
Postgraduate students of Professor Jiang’s laboratory have also received prestigious awards, including the Award for the Best Research Output by Research Postgraduate Students of CUHK and Best Paper Awards from the Chinese Associate of Plant Physiology, and others such as the Keystone Symposium Scholarship of USA and Best Student Oral Presentation at international conferences. Some of his students obtained excellent postdoc positions in renowned institutions such as the University of California and Harvard University.
The Research Grants Council has recently announced the results of the Theme-based Research Scheme (third round) and Area of Excellence Scheme (sixth round). CUHK tops local institutions by participating in all the six selected projects, four of which are led by CUHK researchers, with a total funding of over HK$200 million.