Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing has made a HK$500 million (US$64.1 million) donation to a local university to build the city’s first synthetic biology institute.
The research facility – to be called the Li Ka Shing Institute of Synthetic Biology – will be established at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in Sai Kung.
A spokesman for the university said the institute would provide advanced facilities for the world’s top scholars, bidding to make Hong Kong a global pioneer in biotechnology.
The remarks came on Thursday at a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding between HKUST and the Li Ka Shing Foundation, the local billionaire’s philanthropic organisation.
The new institute intends to emphasise originality, the spokesman said. In a statement, HKUST said the new lab would “first develop scientific infrastructure and technologies to integrate genetic engineering with artificial intelligence”.
Speaking at the ceremony, Li said he had campaigned since 2003 for the city to invest resources in science and technology. He described scientific technology as a “powerful geyser for upward mobility” as well an incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Li said: “Just as synthetic chemistry and petroleum were central to the 20th century, synthetic biology and DNA are the technological engines of this century, bringing disruption to traditional manufacturing and new opportunities in the industrialisation of biology.”
Professor Wei Shyy, the university’s president, said Li’s encouragement to students was a vote of confidence in the future of Hong Kong’s science and technology sectors.
Synthetic biology is an emerging field that uses engineering principles to design and assemble biological components. Potential applications include medicine, energy and other fields. The university said synthetic biology was set to become a core driver of Hong Kong’s economic future.