Traditional Welsh folk songs and arias from popular operas may seem to have little in common with science, but to Professor Anthony Campbell, tenor, conductor and discoverer of one of modern medicine's most useful breakthroughs, the arts and science are inextricably linked. 'Imagine a painter who understands in detail how the eye works or a musician or composer who interprets the way the ear or voice-box works. These are discoveries that could add new dimensions to their arts,' says the professor of medical biochemistry at the University of Wales College of Medicine, who believes that useful applications from scientific discoveries are as rewarding as the discoveries themselves. Professor Campbell, in town last week for the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's (HKUST) Biotechnology Conference on Health and Diseases, has applied this philosophy to his own research in health and disease, and to developing platform technologies for clinical diagnosis and drug discovery based on chemical reactions that produce light. He is also passionate about public understanding of science and health, and says both play a central role in the evolution of culture and the global economy. Professor Campbell is credited with genetically engineering photo protein from a luminous jellyfish which is now used in more than 100 million clinical tests each year, including the most common test for HIV/Aids. The living light or bioluminescence extracted from jellyfish is used to track cell movements and identify cell patterns, which helps medical experts diagnose many different types of illnesses. The discovery, which has been patented, has so far raised more than $150 million for the University of Wales College of Medicine. The technique has also revolutionised the view of how cells switch on and off in health and disease and can be used as a simple means of tracking irregularities. But it is Professor Campbell's latest research work on lactose intolerance, being carried out in conjunction with his wife, Stephanie Matthews, that could change the lives of millions of Chinese and Japanese, and explain why many suffer from mystery illnesses related to the condition. Recently, the couple uncovered a new syndrome caused by lactose intolerance. Professor Campbell says that it will lead to new ideas about the origin of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis by linking diet to pathological events throughout the body. The couple published these concepts in a booklet entitled Lactose Intolerance Syndrome: What Are They and How Can I Cope? 'Once our discovery has been analysed through the proper channels, there will be benefits for millions of people; particularly for Chinese and Japanese people, many of [whom] have a very low tolerance to lactose,' he says. As increasing numbers of Asians incorporate western foods into their diet, they are unknowingly ingesting lactose that could cause a range of health problems, from mild headaches to more serious illnesses. 'We are not ready to make wild claims and we definitely don't want this splashed all over the British tabloid newspapers until peer tests are fully completed, but we truly think we have discovered something very important,' he says. The couple made their discovery after they carried out research when Dr Matthews was diagnosed with lactose intolerance. Two of the couple's children are also lactose intolerant. Although the professor's earlier photo protein-based discovery is used all over the world, he is a difficult man to lure away from his beloved Pembrokeshire in Wales, where he enjoys nothing more than grubbing around in fields for glow worms and other luminous creatures. Like one of his heroes, Charles Darwin - who, except for his epic voyage on the Beagle that lead to The Origin of Species, was a reluctant traveller - the professor doesn't like to stray too far from his home or his family. So what induced him to visit Hong Kong for the first time? 'I don't really like flying, but an invitation to take part in the HKUST conference was just too tempting to miss,' Professor Campbell says. 'Usually these events are lacklustre affairs dominated by research presentations that are so closely linked that they meld together.' He says that on all levels, science should be about the excitement of discovery. Scientists and professors should explain what they do in layman's terms, so that others can experience an enthusiasm for the subject and see the value. 'The HKUST conference achieved this. 'This was not a conference that attracted old professors, but a well-organised event that included lab work and interacting with Hong Kong students. These are the sorts of people who whet the appetites of others and get them interested in science by breaking down the boundaries,' says the professor, who has his own way of doing just that. As a key speaker, Professor Campbell opened the conference with a musical performance, singing a range of excerpts from operas and traditional folk songs in Welsh. Dr Andrew Miller, of the HKUST biology department and one of the key organisers of the event, says it is a fantastic experience for Hong Kong biology and science students to meet scientists and academics who are leaders in their fields. 'Hands-on conferences such as these lead to shared knowledge for Hong Kong and a better understanding of the complex cells that orchestrate key events during the development of, health and disease,' says Dr Miller. While not claiming to be an expert on Hong Kong, Professor Campbell says if the city wants to become recognised as a hub for biotechnology, the universities, industry and entrepreneurs must work together. 'The same philosophy applies anywhere in the world,' he says. 'Without a meaningful marriage between businesses and scientific research, it is virtually impossible to find useful research applications that benefit the wider community.' When the professor does decide to travel, his ability to explain useful scientific applications is seemingly inexhaustible. In much the same style as Sir David Attenborough on television, Professor Campbell has an engaging manner of conversation that keeps an audience enthralled as the mysteries of his theories are unravelled. Ignoring the back pain that he says prevents him from pulling on his socks - which, like many stereotype images of professors, he wears with sandals - professor Campbell describes to his audience how bioluminescence - the light emitted by creatures including glow-worms, fireflies, jellyfish and shrimp - plays a vital role in the research of cell development. Deep beneath the ocean's surface, almost all organisms are luminous, for functions including mating, as a camouflage, as a smoke screen, as a scare mechanism or as a lure of food. Plants or mammals don't emit visible light naturally, but some genetically engineered plants and mice glow in the dark. And some human cells produce a very dim light, known as ultra-weak chemiluminescence. 'Living light is a marvellous phenomenon to see,' Professor Campbell says. 'It excites young and old people alike. Yet it is also a beautiful example of how curiosity can lead, quite unexpectedly, to major discoveries and technology in biomedical research, medicine, biotechnology, and environmental monitoring.' Professor Campbell says his bioluminescence discovery that led to newer and safer diagnostic techniques was due to a combination of hard work and accident. 'As I turned out the light when I was leaving the lab one night, and saw a few of my specimens glowing in the dark, I thought, 'what if?'' The rest is hardly simple history, as many clinical trials were needed before the technique could be transferred from the laboratory to hundreds of medical centres across the world. The luciferase from the firefly is now used as a method for detecting bacterial contamination in food, and for investigating how genes switch on and off. Chemiluminescence is used in more than 100 million clinical investigations a year, and the green fluorescent protein in a luminous jellyfish has revolutionised cell biology, enabling specialists to see molecules and structures moving around in live cells. The platform can be used for discovering more about how some forms of cancer occur and the cell behaviour that may cause neurological illnesses.