Favourite Thing: To get hands-on with new laboratory techniques!
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh
BSc (Hons.) Medical Sciences
Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health (Hong Kong); Department of Clinical Oncology, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Department of Biology, University of York
Aspiring microbiologist training in basic science, hopefully moving on to a more clinical setting.
I have had a very British Commonwealth upbringing: born in Canada, raised in Hong Kong, graduated in Scotland and is now doing research in England. Although I no longer brag about it, I hold a licentiate diploma in piano solo recital from Trinity College London. I am a massive fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s universe. I am also an enthusiast in politics, history, gadgets, tech and ACG (anime, comics & games) culture. Through traveling with my partner, I have also developed an interest in (amateur) photography.
Finding out functions of genes in a brain-eating bacteria!
The bacteria Neisseria meningitidis is a serious, deadly pathogen that affects the very young, very old and those with weakened immune systems. It colonizes the human throat and waits for the perfect opportunity to invade us, potentially entering our bloodstream and infect our brain. Although easily treatable with antibiotics, it can exacerbate within a very short time frame if not treated promptly. Survivors of meningitis are also affected by irreversible neurological damages.
In the genome of N. meningitidis as well as its pathogenic cousin N. gonorrhoea, 9 “islands” of genes not present in harmless, commensal strains are found to be conserved. As a result, there is good reason to believe they contribute to their abilities to cause disease despite the fact that many of their predicted functions have not yet been experimentally characterized.
A substantial number of them are, however, not the classical repertoire of virulence genes we’re accustomed to, but rather involved in cellular maintenance and metabolism. Arguably these are equally important to invasive bacteria where there is a need to acquire vital resources as well as out-compete other microorganisms in their immediate microenvironment. This ability to adapt to a pathogenic lifestyle is sometimes called “nutritional virulence” and is often overlooked by researchers. My work is to undercover some of their functions and present a case for their roles in pathogenicity.
My Typical Day
Growing dangerous bacteria over and over again.
Without giving away too much preliminary, unpublished data, my work mostly involves the observation of bacterial growth phenotypes as they react to various experimental conditions. Molecular techniques are also used to create knockout mutants, clone and complement genes, as well as expression quantification through real-time PCR. Other techniques such as mass spectrometry using labelled isotopes and enzymatic coupled reactions are also used to strengthen experimental support. Last but not least, bioinformatics is a helpful but somewhat hit-and-miss tool to provide some clues as to the predicted functions of purely hypothetical genes.
What I'd do with the money
To introduce the geological beauty of the Far East to a global audience.
More than 70% of Hong Kong’s landmass is undeveloped. As a city-state, it is rather easy to access the countryside and nature reserves; as an archipelago, the coastline is always within reach. CNN Travel has considered the proximity of green belts as one of Hong Kong’s main attractive traits to locals and tourists alike.
My hometown proudly sports unique geological features and have designated geoparks, marine parks, wetlands, woodlands and even a WWF site. These are also home to many endangered species as well as dwindling rural heritages. Just like Hong Kong’s role as an entrepôt and transport hub , it also serves an important stopover spot for migratory birds, contributing to important avian and human epidemiological patterns across the hemispheres.
With the looming threat of massive, ever-increasing infrastructure mega-projects mandated by cross-border influences from China, I believe it is necessary to increase public and international awareness to Hong Kong’s often underappreciated green lands. The advent of drone imaging has revealed the marvels of Hong Kong’s natural beauty from previously unapproachable angles. I intend to acquire a drone and start a science blog which properly documents this serene yet dynamic side of Hong Kong, which is then presented to a global audience. When the reach is far enough, I will also take the opportunity to discuss issues or spread messages that are scientifically or clinically important.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Curry chicken mid-wings, sushi, matcha (green tea) desserts
What is the most fun thing you've done?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Were you ever in trouble at school?
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Characterizing hypothetical genes
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?