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Singapore, France deepen collaboration in biotechnology

The Business Times by CHIA YAN MIN

RESEARCHERS in Singapore and France are setting up a joint "virtual laboratory" to deepen collaboration in the field of biotechnology.

The move is part of efforts to ramp up innovation and research linkages between the two countries this year, which has been designated the France-Singapore Year of Innovation 2018.

Research institutes from both countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Paris on Wednesday.

Under the MOU, Singapore's Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*Star), the National University of Singapore, France's National Center for Scientific Research, National Institute of Applied Sciences and the National Institute for Agricultural Research Toulouse will set up a joint virtual laboratory to work on projects in the fields of systems and synthetic biology.

The MOU is the latest in a series of bilateral exchanges under the France-Singapore Year of Innovation 2018, which aims to strengthen cooperation on innovation and research between the two countries. The Year of Innovation 2018 was first announced in March 2017 by then-president Francois Hollande and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on the sidelines of Mr Hollande's state visit to Singapore.

The MOU will bring together multi-disciplinary teams from both Singapore and France to develop high-value products for different industries using biotechnology, said Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*Star's Biomedical Research Council.

"Developments in biotechnology have provided us new tools and approaches to make products that may no longer be economically or sustainably harvested from nature. These could include flavours, fragrances or compounds that deliver functional benefits to the consumer," he added.

For example, A*Star's Biotransformation Innovation Platform (BioTrans) uses microbes to impart flavours and functional benefits to food, produce high-value compounds sustainably, and convert food industry side streams into value-added products.

Kenneth Lee, senior director of A*Star's food and nutrition and consumer care cluster, said: "Singapore is evolving rapidly into a science and innovation hub for food and consumer care. Over the last few years, global giants of the food and consumer care industry have either established or expanded R&D centres in Singapore.

"These include leading French companies like plant-based ingredients maker Roquette, flavour and fragrance manufacturer Mane, and yeast maker Lesaffre.

"A*Star partners with many of these companies, applying approaches like biotransformation to develop safe, sustainable and healthy food."

France and Singapore have enjoyed strong cooperation in science and technology over the years. For instance, a national-level MOU signed between the Agence Nationale de la Recherche and the National Research Foundation Singapore in May 2014 established a three-year scheme for joint funding of French-Singapore collaborative research projects.

Several French multinational firms have set up research and development facilities in Singapore as well as research agreements with local universities and research agencies.

In addition, the French government has conferred the Order of the Legion of Honour on several Singaporeans in recognition of their efforts to advance bilateral science and technology cooperation. Recipients include NRF CEO Low Teck Seng, A*Star chairman Lim Chuan Poh and Nanyang Technological University vice-president Lam Khin Yong.