UiTM-led team to conduct Antarctic research


Heo (second right) chats with Mohd Azraai (fifth left) as Mohd Nasaruddin and the rest of the latter’s team look on.

THE icy cold weather of the Antarctic is no barrier for a team of five passionate researchers who are set to study how animals, mainly penguins, decompose in the extreme weather.

Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) parasitology senior lecturer Dr Heo Chong Chin, who is the principal investigator in the research, is setting out with his team to understand the ecology of carcass decomposition in the Antarctic to apply the knowledge in the conservation of polar biodiversity, global food security and forensic archeology.

He took up the project as he felt there hasn’t been much study in the region regarding carrion decomposition.

Through this project, he also aims to develop Malaysia’s scientific capacity and promote science to the younger generation.

“When animals decompose, their nutrients go back to the ecosystem and plants will absorb these nutrients for photosynthesis.

“This forms the basis of our agriculture.

“We will collect swabs and bones from the penguin carcasses and collect soil samples from beneath the carcasses.

“So far, research is poorly done in the Antarctic and it is part of my (mission) to conduct it in extreme weather.

“In the future, as more people explore space, perhaps the concept from the research we are doing can be applied in extreme space environments, such as in Mars, where maybe one day we can have agriculture,” he said.

Led by Dr Heo, the three-year project is a collaboration between UiTM, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and the Korea Antarctic Research Programme.

Preparing for the project since January, the team had to undergo various training courses before setting off to the Antarctic for the three-week expedition, which involved building up their first

aid and survival skills and swimming.

“The impact of this research on the world is it will enhance people’s understanding of nutrient recycling in the polar region which will benefit human

society on how to sustain effective nutrient cycles in extreme weather.

“This fundamental concept is vital for the agricultural industry worldwide in food production and it is possible that in the future, humans may be able to cultivate crops on icy lands,” he said, adding that he hopes problems like world hunger can be resolved.

In addition to promoting science to young Malaysians, Dr Heo also aims to sustain Malaysia’s presence in polar research and strengthen its research capacities in global sciences.

“Malaysia is a member of the Antarctic Treaty System and Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).

“Malaysian scientists are actively involved in such research and have shared our findings and data with SCAR, which have been used for policy and decision making,” he said.

The project started on Dec 16 and is expected to be completed on May 31, 2022.

The team received their research grant from the Sultan Mizan Antarctic Research Foundation.

Also present were the foundation’s chief executive officer Mohd Nasaruddin Abd Rahman and UiTM vice-chancellor Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim.
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