Demystify biotechnology to maximise its benefits for Hong Kong

Albert Yu and Kinnie Ho call for an informed discussion about the use of this fast-evolving field, and its impact on our health and environment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 December, 2015, 7:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 December, 2015, 7:00am

When people hear the word “biotechnology”, they often think of scientists in white lab coats in a sealed laboratory conducting experiments in search of a cure for some disease. Broadly speaking, biotechnology is the use of scientific and engineering technologies on biological processes to make useful products and provide useful services. Early applications include the planting of crops, domestication of animals, and use of microorganisms to make bread, cheese and wine. The element of scientific knowledge and innovation that inspired these applications has continued in modern-day biotechnology.

Biotechnology research constantly challenges our understanding of what is possible

Today, there are wide-ranging applications in health and medical research, food and agriculture, manufacturing technology, scientific instruments, energy and the environment. For example, the completion of the human genome project has allowed researchers to understand our DNA and take major steps in understanding the many ways in which diseases can develop at a molecular level. As we begin to understand more, in the not too distant future, biotechnology will enable not just early detection but also early prevention of diseases.

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Innovation through biotechnology contributes greatly to economic growth, which benefits the community. Hong Kong’s biotechnology industry plays a vital role in the establishment and growth of many sectors of industry.

Hong Kong’s biotechnology industry plays a vital role in the establishment and growth of many sectors of industry

Over the past decade, innovative products such as molecular diagnostic testing; advanced medical devices and traditional Chinese medicine-based health products have emerged from Hong Kong’s scientific research streams in both domestic and international commercial markets. Biotechnology research constantly challenges our understanding of what is possible, and Hong Kong is entering an exciting era in modern science where local industries can grasp the opportunities presented by biotechnology, to bring about changes and improvements as significant as those seen during the IT revolution.

At the same time, the growing number of concerns and considerations in society need to be acknowledged and openly discussed with scientists, policymakers, educators, industry bodies and the public. People will need greater awareness and understanding of how biotechnology and new products or services will affect human health, the environment, local and regional economies, and the overall well-being of society.

Professor Albert C. H. Yu is chairman of the Hong Kong Biotechnology Organisation, where Kinnie Ho specialises in scientific affairs and communications