Zakri Abdul Hamid
Grieving the loss of his grandfather to a heart attack, a 14-year-old in India learned that a unique enzyme is found in victims of heart attack. Indeed, our bodies produce the enzyme in the hours beforehand.
Intrigued, he wondered, what if someone at high risk of a heart attack could watch for that enzyme in real time? What an advantage it would be to be forewarned in such a situation and to immediately take the medical steps known to avoid or reduce the impact of a heart attack.
The boy pursued his idea and learned that the enzyme can be detected on a patient’s skin. Therefore, he reasoned, it’s possible to create a non-invasive monitor for the telltale heart attack marker. The result of his curiosity was the recent award of a valuable patent for just such a device, now being clinically tested, with the potential to save many lives.
The story was told by India’s legendary Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and chairman of Axilor Ventures during the inter-sessional meeting of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council on Sept 30, making a point about breakthrough thinking — the Nobel mindset.
It illustrates well the sometimes simple makings and process of scientific innovation. Certainly, a genius mind helps, but isn’t required. Education, observation and curiosity combine to create an idea for improving some aspects of our lives, leading to a test which, more often than not, will fail at first. But, with perseverance, good ideas succeed. And, even those that don’t work out often lead to others that do.
Malaysia is blessed with many brilliant young minds and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to create an environment in which they get their chance to change the world.
It was my proud honour, therefore, to join the British high commissioner, Vicki Treadell, to recognise some of our brightest researchers with the prestigious Newton-Ungku Omar Prize, one of five awards used to advance and scale up promising scientific ideas in Malaysia, India, Thailand and Vietnam.
There were five projects shortlisted for the prize in Malaysia this year, and the recipient of the RM635,000 award was Professor Dr Phang Siew Moi and her team from Universiti Malaya (UM). In partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, the UM team successfully demonstrated how tropical algae from agro-industrial wastewater could be used to create bioelectricity. It represents a true win-win-win: produce electricity, lower carbon dioxide emissions by using green energy and treat wastewater. The team’s next challenge: power an entire rural house with this energy source in five years.
Others in prize contention:
A TEAM from City University of London and UM’s Photonics Research Centre developed novel rain and humidity sensors to
detect landslide movement, a way for Malaysians to mitigate future monsoon damage and casualties.
A TEAM from the United Kingdom’s Cardiff University and the United Nations University’s International Institute for Global Health, based in Kuala Lumpur, researched links between health in urban centres and such variables as a city’s walkability, river restoration and food systems, identifying lessons urban planners might also draw from indigenous knowledge.
A TEAM from UK’s University of Southampton and Universiti Sains Malaysia created a network focused on infectious disease vaccines that target a limited number of bacterial strains, which allows new, more pathogenic, antibiotic resistant strains to emerge, increasing the risk of epidemics. The problem is expected to grow with climate change, industrial air pollution and changes in seasonal monsoon patterns.
All four projects, supported by the London-based British Council and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (Might), through their joint Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, were dedicated to addressing climate change and sustainable urbanisation.
The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and Malaysia’s Academy of Sciences, meanwhile, partnered to support the fifth finalist project, led by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and UM. They developed a way to make electronics systems, including wireless medical devices, more reliable and secure from, for example, the threat posed by hackers.
Seeing what our researchers can do, we are encouraged as we struggle to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and to adjust to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). It may be trite to believe that there has never been a more pressing need for curious, innovative and creative thinkers. Perhaps every generation has considered their time more perilous and challenging than any before. But, it certainly feels justified saying so these days as we confront daunting issues stemming largely from our species’ overwhelming success, to the point where humanity constitutes such a dominant force that we define a new geological epoch.
Pessimists have been a constant throughout human history. I’m not one of them. Ours is a smart species; we will find
the way forward. My hope, though, for the sake of future generations, is that we, in our time, are smart and mature enough to anticipate and prevent the problems we’re creating before they, in theirs, must react and cure.
In either case, we need all brains on deck. The maximised creative talents and innovative potential of every young person in Malaysia will be essential to success. And, we are grateful, therefore, to the many international colleagues and collaborators who share their resources and expertise with us in such effective ways.
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and joint chairman of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (Might).
Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 11 December 2017
Globally, 800 million out of 7.6 billion people suffer from hunger. Although the number has decreased in recent decades, roughly one in 10 people goes to bed hungry every day, many of them from developing countries.
In a tragic irony, an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of food in developed countries is lost to waste. Malaysia, a prosperous developing country itself, is not spared of this notoriety. We are touted as the most obese country in Southeast Asia. The food left-over during Ramadan every year is evidence enough of our indulgence.
Food security is a concern in Malaysia as it is everywhere. Indeed, it ranks among the world’s greatest challenges. It is ranked second among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda which proclaims, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.2 billion — meaning an additional 1.6 billion people to feed, 200 million people more than today’s population of China. To ensure food availability for everyone in 2050, the world needs to increase food production by 70 per cent. Faced with dwindling agricultural land, less water for irrigation, rising energy and labour costs, and major grain crops already reaching yield plateau, it will be a daunting task.
Under the Transformasi Nasional 2050 agenda championed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, economic planners and policymakers have deliberated in great depth a wide range of issues and concerns about our food security status.
Further discussions should be welcome and continue unabated to address all issues and concerns comprehensively.
Last November, Malaysia’s National Professors Council and Indonesia’s Association of Professors convened more than 250 participants in “Forum Pertanian IPIMA 2017” (IPIMA Agriculture Forum 2017) to discuss imminent challenges and collaboration in agriculture, which also highlighted the bilateral food security issues.
Equally commendable, Universiti Putra Malaysia Alumni Association, under the able leadership of Perlis royal Datuk Seri DiRaja Syed Razlan Syed Putra Jamalulaill, organised a seminar on Agriculture and Food Security 2050 last month, engaging distinguished agricultural practitioners, both active and retired, to reflect on our future food security.
Will Malaysia prevail to meet these challenges by 2050? By then, it is expected that Malaysia will have added 9.7 million to its present population of 31 million. In 2015, food import bills hit RM45.4 billion, while exports were RM27 billion, giving a deficit of over RM18 billion. If such a trend persists, Malaysia is likely to face a food crisis in the future.
We may be able to grow or produce food locally at high self-sufficiency levels, but that does not mean the country has attained the desired food security status.
Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as “when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
In 2013, the International Conference on Food Security deemed food security as a multifaceted issue with four dimensions: availability, access, utilisation and stability. This led to the establishment of the Global Food Security Index (GFSI).
The GFSI informs food systems around the world with a common framework for understanding the root causes and risks of food insecurity, at the core of which are affordability, availability, quality and safety.
Thus, GFSI provides a measure of food security at country level, as influenced by culture, environment and geographic location.
Last year, Malaysia ranked 41st with a GFSI score of 66.2, while Singapore was 4th with 84. Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar ranked 55th, 79th, and 80th, with scores of 58.5, 47.3 and 44.8, respectively.
About 60 per cent of 113 countries experienced declines in food security scores last year compared with 2016. Malaysia declined by 3.2 points, followed by Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore by 1.0, 0.7, 0.7 and 0.6, respectively.
When natural resources and resilience are factored into the GFSI, Singapore drops 15 ranks, from 4th to 19th (49.2) because of the dependence on food imports and its susceptibility to environment-related events.
However, Malaysia drops only two spots in rank (52.1), largely due to lower dependency on food imports.
Universiti Putra Malaysia Adjunct Professor Dr Heong Kong Luen carried out an analysis of countries with high and low GFSI scores, and pointed out major issues that drag down Malaysia’s and other Asean countries’ scores seem to be related to quality and safety.
The quality and safety index for Malaysia is 71.1, compared with scores of France, Australia, and Singapore of 88.7, 86.4, and 78.3, respectively. Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Laos record much lower scores of 56.8, 54.0, 44.1 and 31.0, respectively.
One concern Malaysia and some Asean countries may immediately address is the overuse and misuse of pesticides.
Studies in Indonesia and Vietnam find that heavy use of pesticides in rice production did not translate into yield increases.
It is timely to review our approach to sustainable agriculture using science and modern technologies in addition to taking into account the role of traditional knowledge.
Also, we need to learn and apply valuable lessons from many case studies worldwide of successful efforts to stem and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss, the subject of major reports to be launched next month by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
A more environment-friendly agriculture landscape would enhance Malaysia’s score on the global food security index.
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman, National Professors Council
Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 19 February 2018
Amid the current turmoil in the Middle East and the ongoing negative image of Muslims in the West, it is reassuring, on a recent visit to New York City, I was able to visit the facinating exhibition "1,001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in our World"............. Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)