Do something different

CUHK students bagged a total of 16 awards at the 8th Hong Kong University Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, including one first prize, three second prizes, three third prizes and four merit prizes in the innovation category, and two second prizes, one third prize and two merit prizes in the entrepreneurship category.

The innovation project nabbing a first prize was to do with boosting the production of a valuable compound through a chemical compartmentalising process. In single-celled organisms wanting a nucleus and organelles, E coli is deployed as a cell factory whereby active compounds are produced. Enzymes resulting from that, however, cannot be rightly distributed, as organelles aren’t here to assist.

Organelles, though, can be produced by a method called liquid-liquid phase separation, which perform a compartmentalising role within the cell, and render it favourable to the production of useful molecules.

Two doctoral students in chemistry, Liu Min and Wang Yue, made use of the phase separation method to produce organelles in E coli bacteria. A bio-based chemical, alpha-farnesene, was successfully catalysed under the divided cellular space. A much sought-after chemical, alpha-farnesene is an ideal raw material for pharmaceuticals, health products and fragrances, yet is rarely found in nature and expensive to synthesise. The method developed by Liu and Wang greatly boosts the yield of alpha-farnesene and significantly reduces the production cost.

The winners in both innovation and entrepreneurship categories will represent Hong Kong in two nationwide competitions.

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