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SGD110 million lab to create healthier foods and sustainable biochemicals
SGD110 million research facility will deepen knowledge of good macronutrients and micronutrients, food products and ingredients, as well as design eco-friendly ‘bio-factories’ to produce industrial biochemicals

A sia’s agribusiness group Wilmar International Limited (Wilmar) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have established a new joint research laboratory to conduct cutting-edge clinical nutrition and synthetic biology research to create healthier food products as well as to devise green production technologies for industrial enzymes and biochemicals.

Based at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the SGD110 million research facility, named the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory, is jointly set up by Wilmar, NUS and the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF). This laboratory seeks to strengthen Singapore’s innovation system by conducting industry-relevant research and development.

The WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory is helmed by Associate Professor Matthew Chang, Director of the NUS Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation programme, and Dr Rebecca Lian, Distinguished Fellow at Wilmar.

Research activities at the 2,000 square metre laboratory will focus on two key thrusts: to address major public health issues through the development of healthier foods and ingredients; and to design cost effective and sustainable methods of producing chemical compounds using natural sources.

Food as the new medicine

Inadequate understanding and availability of good macronutrients has contributed to a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases worldwide. As food choices and uptake are influenced by culture and ethnicity, Asian-centric studies are essential to better manage and prevent such lifestyle-related diseases in Singapore and the region.

Researchers at the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory will study how different combinations of food can alter absorption and metabolism in Asians, and ultimately prevent diseases or promote health and well-being. For example, researchers will formulate healthier cooking oils that could reduce cholesterol levels in the elderly, and in turn lower the risk of chronic diseases, increase muscle mass and improve taste perception. In addition, they will develop food products (such as ready-to-eat meals and beverages) that could control weight gain, blood glucose and lipids to help individuals manage diabetes and obesity.

Green technologies for bioeconomy

Currently, plant-based feedstock is utilised for the production of high value oleochemicals that are subsequently used in a number of industry sectors in Singapore and beyond.

Scientists at the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory will capitalise on recent advances in the field of synthetic biology to engineer microbes and enzymes - to function as ‘bio-factories’ – to produce biochemicals from natural sources in a more sustainable and cost-effective way. These biochemicals can then be used in industries such as food and nutrition, flavours and fragrances, as well as therapeutics.

Over the next five years, the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory expects to train more than 60 researchers and PhD students, who will play a critical role in supporting the growth of the food and nutrition, as well as synthetic biology-related industries in Singapore and Asia.

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