Investment in science will pay off tomorrow

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2005, 12:00am

Nobel laureate says Hong Kong needs to look beyond markets and banking

The city would do well to invest in basic science, a Nobel laureate said in praising moves by a university to train young scientists in infectious diseases around the region.

'Hong Kong is an affluent society in many ways,' said Rolf Zinkernagel, the 1996 prize-winner in medicine. 'Money markets and banking are important but maybe part of this wealth could be used to further basic science investments.

'I am convinced that to add on to money and banking other activities where intellectual productivity is important, like biology, might actually be a very productive way to invest for the future,' said Professor Zinkernagel, of the Institute of Experimental Immunology at the University Hospital in Zurich.

He was speaking after a three-week virology course for 26 young Asian scientists organised by the University of Hong Kong-Pasteur Research Centre.

Professor Zinkernagel said he was convinced there would be good returns in 20 years. 'This is like arts or sports; you need long-term investments and a political system which says 'that is the future, we put in a certain amount of resources'.'

The virology course was one way of investing in young scientists, enabling them to learn from exchanges with international scientists and apply the knowledge in their own research work, he said.

'These are relatively young people and they are a bit more flexible. Oldies like me have the chance of inciting some queries and some question marks in their heads to stimulate them to look differently at things,' he said.

One of the workshop participants, Jean Millet, has been accepted by the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre to an eight-month internship from November. Mr Millet, 22, graduated from French International School in Hong Kong and went to Paris to study biological sciences.

'The course was very interesting and extremely useful,' he said. 'We had experts come to talk to us. You could actually interact with these very eminent people.'

Mr Millet said that on his internship, he would work on the Sars coronavirus to understand how it interacts with host cells. 'It is important because we do not know if Sars will come back. If it comes back it will be useful to have more information now. If it does not come back it is important to understand how viruses attack cells,'

New Delhi-based Kulbhushan Sharma said: 'This was very different from other workshops. Here we were really going deep into the viral life cycle. Some of the ideas were related to my lab work, it was very beneficial.'

Mr Sharma, 24, a PhD student who works at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, said he would continue with Sars research in his home country.