CUHK students win 16 awards at the 8th Hong Kong University Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition
Students from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) received a total of 16 awards at the 8th Hong Kong University Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, including one first prize, three second prizes, three third prizes and four merit prizes in the Innovation category, and two second prizes, one third prize and two merit prizes in the Entrepreneurship category.
The Innovation project awarded a first prize was “Enhanced Biosynthesis of Alpha Farnesene via Phase Separated Multienzyme Compartmentalisation”. When E. coli in prokaryotes is used as a cell factory to produce active molecules, the spatiotemporal distribution of biological enzymes often cannot be achieved due to the lack of organelles. In recent years, scientists have discovered a new organelle formed by liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS), which can form biomolecular condensates or coacervates in cells, separating high-concentration regions from the bulk solution. Two PhD students at CUHK’s Department of Chemistry, Liu Min and Wang Yue, under the guidance of Professor Xia Jiang, constructed “artificial organelles” in E. coli cells through LLPS, and divided the cytoplasmic space to catalyse the terpenoid α-farnesene. Alpha-farnesene is a bio-based chemical with a wide range of applications and ideal effects. It can be used as a raw material for the production of pharmaceuticals, health products and fragrances. However, it appears rarely in nature and is expensive to manufacture with synthetic methods. The research results show that in the organelles assembled by LLPS, RGGRGG protein and the interaction between Idi and IspA improve the catalytic efficiency of the enzyme, which can improve the yield of α-farnesene and significantly reduce the production cost, increasing its commercial value.
The competition was organised by the Hong Kong New General Cultural Association, and the winners will represent Hong Kong in two nationwide competitions. Winning projects in the Innovation category will take part in the “Challenge Cup” National College Students’ Extracurricular Academic Science and Technology Contest, while the winning Entrepreneurship projects will be entered in the China International College Students’ “Internet+” Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition and/or the “Challenge Cup” (Chuang Qing Chun) China College Students Entrepreneurship Competition.
Director of CUHK’s Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services Professor Benny Zee said, “The University puts great emphasis on cultivating young researchers and provides plenty of support and training for young scientists and entrepreneurs through internal and external competitions, such as the Professor Charles K. Kao Student Creativity Awards and the Vice-Chancellor’s Cup of Student Entrepreneurship Competitions. I hope all teams will continue to work hard in the national competitions and achieve their dreams.”