Who’s who in the project

  • Business
  • Saturday, 16 May 2009

COLLABORATION is essential in science. The notion of a professor coming up with an earth-shattering discovery all by himself is highly unlikely. In this community, it is the norm to share information, pool resources and undertake projects jointly.

For one thing, complex scientific work and research often demands an integration of expertise from various disciplines. We can see that with the oil palm genome projects in Malaysia, for example.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board has reportedly tied up with South Korea’s Macrogen Inc, US-based Orion Genomics LLC and Britain’s Oxford Gene Technology IP Ltd. Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd’s collaborator is Synthetic Genomics Inc.

Sime Darby Bhd has not ventured into genomics as a lone ranger either. Sime Darby Plantation Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid says to ensure success, the company must truly have the ability to execute.

“That means having the right people, those who know what has to be done and how to go about doing it. We need to get people who can guide us along the right path. With the genome project, we decided that we needed more help from outside and we were not shy to approach people,” he says.

Here are the companies and people who are Sime Darby’s partners in its bid to unleash the oil palm’s genetic potential:

> Synamatix Sdn Bhd is in the business of bio-informatics, the field of science that centres on the use of computer technology to manage biological information.

The company’s role in the Sime Darby genome sequencing project was to basically supply the computing muscle to arrange and analyse the copious amount of data churned out. Managing director Abdul Karim Hercus set up Synamatix in 2001. Its head office is in Kuala Lumpur and it has a research and development (R&D) laboratory in Cyberjaya.

> 454 Life Sciences Corp is part of Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company. More specifically, it is called a centre of excellence of Roche Applied Science. Based in the United States, 454 Life Sciences provided the DNA sequencing system for the project.

> In his speech during the launch of Sime Darby Genomics Sdn Bhd on Tuesday, Sime Darby chairman Tun Musa Hitam introduced Pavel Pevzner as an authority on the use of computers in analysing the human genome.

Pevzner is a computer science professor and the director of the Centre for Algorithmic and Systems Biology at the University of California, San Diego. He was brought in mainly to give an opinion on the strategy employed in the sequencing work.

> Azhar says Sime Darby Genomics recently established a scientific advisory board “to guide us on what would be the best thing to do”.

Its members are four professors, three from the US and one from Britain. The board chairman is Anthony Sinskey, a professor of microbiology and health sciences and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He is said to be a renowned academic entrepreneur and an expert in the formation of biotechnology enterprises.

The biotechnology companies he founded included Metabolix Inc, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc and Tepha Inc. He is also the scientific co-founder of Nasdaq-listed Genzyme Corp.

Board member Andrew Greenland is a plant biotechnologist with more than 20 years’ experience in academic and commercial research. He is from the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, Cambridge. Also on the board are Harvey Blanch, a professor of biochemical engineering with the University of California, Berkeley, and Mani Subramaniam, a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and the director of the Centre for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing at the University of Iowa.

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