Kota Kinabalu Meeting

Asian Chemical Biology Initiative

Unlike previous ACBI meetings, the event held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, on December 19, 2014, took an experimental and didactic approach to sharing the activities of the ACBI. The event was organized by and convened at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), a high-ranked university in Malaysia, with the purposes of introducing chemical biology to UMS students and young faculty members and strengthening academic and research linkages with UMS. Because of the nature of the event, only nine ACBI professors were invited to participate, and no closed-door scientific sessions or discussions among ACBI members were held. UMS acted as the local host, with support from the JSPS Asian CORE Program and agencies in South Korea, China, and Singapore.

Tutorial Lectures

Chemical biology is an interdisciplinary field that applies the principles and techniques of chemistry to understand biological processes. A major challenge facing the ACBI today is the low visibility and limited accessibility of chemical biology in the universities of Southeast Asian countries. The ACBI aims, therefore, to introduce chemical biology in those countries and recruit bright students from the region. The premise is that, if the basics of chemical biology are properly introduced to students, and if such students are given the chance to train in chemical biology in leading Asian universities, they could eventually become the first generation of chemical biologists in their home countries. Focusing on this goal, the first half of the Kota Kinabalu meeting consisted of tutorial lectures on chemical biology that were targeted for senior undergraduates and graduate students at UMS. Each ACBI professor gave a 15-minute lecture about chemical biology and showcased specific examples of their research:

Prof. Motonari Uesugi (Kyoto University)

Chemical Genetics:
Prof. Seung Bum Park (Seoul National University)
Prof. Ming-Wei Wang (Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica)
Prof. Minoru Yoshida (RIKEN)

Prof. Young-Tae Chang (National University of Singapore)
Prof. Kazuya Kikuchi (Osaka University)

Peptide-Based Chemical Biology:
Prof. Shiroh Futaki (Kyoto University)

Other Technology:
Prof. Fumi Nagatsugi (Tohoku University)
Prof. Koichi Fukase (Osaka University)

The reaction of the audience was unanimously positive. There were 217 attendees who included senior and postgraduate students from the Industrial Chemistry and Biotechnology programs at UMS, UMS faculty members, and other UMS faculty members in related fields.

Student Interview Sessions

ACBI members believe that one of the most effective ways to promote chemical biology is the proactive recruitment of the brightest students to the field. Two months before the Kota Kinabalu meeting, UMS students majoring in chemistry and biology were invited to visit the ACBI Web site (http://www.asianchembio.jp) to browse the member database and were encouraged to register for an interview at the meeting. From among the 39 applications received from UMS, 25 students were invited to attend the 1-hour interview sessions. The ACBI professors had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with about five students each and talk with them about research and scholarship opportunities for overseas master’s degree and Ph.D. programs in chemical biology in individual countries or at specific institutions.

The interview session was successful, largely because the UMS students were interactive, communicated well in English, and were highly motivated to study abroad for an advanced degree. Some of the ACBI professors were impressed with the vigorous discussions they had with the UMS students and indicated a willingness to offer some students opportunities to study in their laboratories.

ACBI Alliance with UMS

The morning of December 19 began with a casual conversation with the Chairman of the UMS Board of Directors, the Honorable Tun Dato’ Seri Zaki Tun Azmi. He extended a cordial welcome to the ACBI professors who had come from Japan, South Korea, China, and Singapore. This session was followed by a group discussion led by Prof. Dr. Shahril Yusof, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) and several other UMS faculty members. After due deliberation, the ACBI professors agreed to form an alliance with UMS by assisting the university with networking and research collaboration, by offering educational programs in chemical biology at UMS, and by arranging research training and internships at top-tier institutes in Asia.