Weekly highlights: Biotechin.Asia

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March 28 – April 3, 2016

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Indian Govt. launches scheme to fund post-doctoral research to check brain drain

In one of the first positive steps to prevent brain drain, the Government of India has announced a scheme to fund science scholars so that they are able to continue their post-doctoral research, after completing their PhDs in India. This flagship scheme is called the SERB – National Post-Doctoral Fellowship (N-PDF) and was launched about a month ago. In its first year, the scheme would fund around 1000 scholars. This fellowship, according to SERB (Science and Engineering Research Board), “is aimed to identify motivated young researchers and provide them support for doing research in frontier areas of science and engineering. The fellows will work under a mentor, and it is hoped that this training will provide them a platform to develop as an independent researcher.” (Click here to read more)

This bacteria can fully degrade and utilize PET, a widely used plastic

An estimated 311 million tons of plastics are produced annually worldwide; 90% of these are derived from petrol and the majority of these plastics are used for packaging (water bottles). However, only ~14% of them are collected for recycling. PET or polyethylene terephthalate is the plastic found in most disposable water bottles and also in polyester clothing, frozen dinner trays and packaging materials. “If you walk down the aisle in Wal-Mart you’re seeing a lot of PET,” says Tracy Mincer, a scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Biodegradation is known as the chemical dissolution of materials back into natural elements by microorganisms. Why is it important, you may ask? Simply put, the more biodegradable a material is the more environmentally friendly it is. (Click here to read more)

NTU scientists discover way to improve effectiveness of antibiotics

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU, Singapore) have discovered that antibiotics can continue to be effective if bacteria’s cell-to-cell communication and ability to latch on to each other are disrupted. This research breakthrough is a major step forward in tackling the growing concern of antibiotic resistance, opening up new treatment options for doctors to help patients fight against chronic and persistent bacterial infections. The study, led by Assistant Professor Yang Liang from the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences (SCELSE) at NTU, found that a community of bacteria, known as biofilm, can put up a strong line of defence to resist antibiotics. The NTU team has successfully demonstrated how biofilms can be disrupted to let antibiotics continue their good work. The research was published recently in Nature Communications. (Click here to read more)

Google Brain’s Quoc Le speaks about Deep learning’s progress and its future

Dr. Quoc Viet Le is a research scientist at Google Brain known for his path-breaking work on deep neural networks (DNN). He is especially famous for his Ph.D work in image processing under Andrew Ng, one of the pioneers of the DNN revolution. Le’s and Ng’s work demonstrated how computers could be used to learn complicated features and patterns in a way similar to how the mammalian brain learns. This revolutionized the interest in DNNs, and got the current giants of the computer industry such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft in a race to incorporate AI techniques into their software. DNNs perform effectively in tasks such as image processing, handwriting recognition and game-playing, and are being explored for solutions to other problems such as self-driving cars, robotics, medical diagnosis and environmental and social problems. Quoc Le was listed as one of the top tech innovators under 35 in the MIT tech review. At EmtechAsia, we asked Quoc Le a few questions about his take on neural networks, its development, philosophy, challenges and future role in enabling or threatening humanity. (Click here to read more)

Richard Webb: Entrepreneur, Mentor, Investor and Disruptor

The following article is part of our Techventure 2015 series. Richard Webb is the CEO and Co-founder of Startmesh; Director of Meilė; Chairman and Founder of Red Ocean; Chairman of The Inspiration Room; Director of Tradiee and CEO and Founder of South Bondi. This article is an excerpt from the interview that we (BIA) had with Richard Webb (RW). BIA: What are your thoughts on the biotech/healthcare/medtech startup ecosystem in Singapore and Asia? RW: I will start with the big picture. I think Singapore has mobilised and done a wonderful job. As for the biotech space, I am relatively new to this field, but I am looking forward to meeting the incubation spaces here. I am excited! People I have met are amazing. (Click here to read more)

Screening for early stage stomach cancer with a blood test

Early detection is the key to treating any cancer effectively, especially the deadlier ones that don’t show any symptoms while slowly creeping and taking over the body completely. Late diagnosis could be due to less awareness of the tell-tale signs, or because some people are worried about what the doctor might find or due to the procedure of detection itself. Invasive procedures such as endoscopy, in which a flexible tube is forced into the digestive tract, make quite a few people paranoid. Thus, a detection system that is simple and affordable is the need of the hour. Researchers from MirXES, have come up with a screening procedure which involves a simple blood test to detect early stage stomach cancer, a killer disease that affects more than 70,000 people every year in Asia. (Click here to read more)

Technicolor trippy! Zebrafish show details of skin healing

In what looks more like a post-impressionist painting than a scientific achievement, a transgenic zebrafish is revealing how hundreds of its cells regenerate in a bouquet of colors. Thanks to a genetically engineered line of technicolor zebrafish, scientists can now watch – in real time – how hundreds of individual cells work together to maintain and regenerate wounded skin tissue. Each cell on the surface of the fish is genetically programmed to glow with a slightly different hue (theoretically up to 5,000 different hues). Thus, each cell from the center of the eye to the tip of each scale can essentially be distinguishable from the other. So, the colors sort of effectively stamp each cell with a permanent barcode, letting scientists track its movements in a live animal for days or even weeks at a time. This system called “Skinbow” by the researchers definitely serves a much deeper purpose than lighting up an aquarium. (Click here to read more)