POPULATION growth, worsening pollution and global warming could make Hong Kong a breeding ground for deadly bacteria in the new millennium, leading international scientists say. The warning came yesterday as the University of Hong Kong and Institute Pasteur in Paris announced the setting-up of a $52 million scientific research centre to study emerging infectious diseases in the SAR. But the scientists admitted there were no quick answers and that finding new vaccines for emerging diseases could take up to 12 years. The centre will open on January 1, in the Dexter Man Building on the university's Pokfulam campus. Its initial term will be three years. The announcement came a day after the Post reported the two institutions would link to search for a vaccine against Burkholderia pseudomallei, which struck down hundreds of Hong Kong people and led to several cases of fatal pneumonia. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung warned that infectious diseases were a threat to everyone. About 10,000 people a year were admitted to hospital with influenza, he said. The main targets of the study are influenza, microbial resistance and melioidosis, a disease distinguished by 'liquidising' pneumonia that can dissolve the lungs. Gene scientist Professor Antoine Danchin from the Paris institute said subtropical weather, heavy traffic, dense population and pollution made Hong Kong a breeding ground for infectious diseases. Both scientists cited the outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu in 1997 as evidence. The laboratory hopes to predict emerging infectious diseases by carrying out environmental and animal studies. Through close study of these two areas, researchers can detect the appearance of new pathogens before the bugs infect humans. Professor Danchin will bring three scientists from Paris and head a team of 12 researchers.