Lab Upgrades to Attract More Science Students

PUTRAJAYA, March 1 — Science laboratories in schools nationwide need urgent upgrades to narrow the gap between Science and Arts students in Form Six, said the Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.

This year, there are 37,033 students in the Arts or Social Science stream and 6,202 in the Science stream, he said. 

“This is a problem we are facing, that Science stream students are very much lacking in schools,” added Mahdzir when announcing the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) 2016 results at a press conference yesterday.

“Under equipped Science labs are the cause for this imbalance. In addressing this issue, we hope 2017 will be the year all schools will have proper labs, so that our students’ potential can be fully harnessed.”

Mahdzir said the ministry would be buying apparatus for the labs and reinforcing practical Science classes from Form 4 onwards. 

He said the divide between Science and Arts students was beyond schools. 

The lack of Science stream students would cause a strain on talent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) if not addressed quickly. 

“STEM is very important, and we cannot allow the imbalance to continue,” he said. 

“We lack students in these areas based on statistical research carried out in 22 public universities.” 

Mahdzir said the lack of Science stream students stemmed mainly from local day-to-day schools.

“Most of our boarding and high-performance schools are fully equipped for what is needed,” he said. 

In September last year, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau said Malaysia was facing a shortage of talent in areas related to STEM. 

He said the government needed to study why students were not interested in STEM-related careers. 

Madius also said it was Malaysia’s hope to reach a 60:40 ratio of Science to non-Science graduates by 2020. 

The target, introduced in 1967, was to see 270,000 students take up Science and Technology in their tertiary studies. 

G25, a group of  high-ranking retired civil servants, had also predicted in 2015 Malaysia may fall behind other Asian countries if a policy for STEM was not introduced. 

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Read the original article here

Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016

(Solna, Sweden) The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced in a press release on 3rd October 2016, that the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.

Summary

This year's Nobel Laureate discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components. 

The word autophagy originates from the Greek words auto-, meaning "self", and phagein, meaning "to eat". Thus,autophagy denotes "self-eating". This concept emerged during the 1960's, when researchers first observed that the cell could destroy its own contents by enclosing it in membranes, forming sack-like vesicles that were transported to a recycling compartment, called the lysosome, for degradation. Difficulties in studying the phenomenon meant that little was known until, in a series of brilliant experiments in the early 1990's, Yoshinori Ohsumi used baker's yeast to identify genes essential for autophagy. He then went on to elucidate the underlying mechanisms for autophagy in yeast and showed that similar sophisticated machinery is used in our cells.

Ohsumi's discoveries led to a new paradigm in our understanding of how the cell recycles its content. His discoveries opened the path to understanding the fundamental importance of autophagy in many physiological processes, such as in the adaptation to starvation or response to infection. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause disease, and the autophagic process is involved in several conditions including cancer and neurological disease.

Degradation – a central function in all living cells

In the mid 1950's scientists observed a new specialized cellular compartment, called an organelle, containing enzymes that digest proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. This specialized compartment is referred to as a "lysosome" and functions as a workstation for degradation of cellular constituents. The Belgian scientist Christian de Duve was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for the discovery of the lysosome. New observations during the 1960's showed that large amounts of cellular content, and even whole organelles, could sometimes be found inside lysosomes. The cell therefore appeared to have a strategy for delivering large cargo to the lysosome. Further biochemical and microscopic analysis revealed a new type of vesicle transporting cellular cargo to the lysosome for degradation (Figure 1). Christian de Duve, the scientist behind the discovery of the lysosome, coined the term autophagy, "self-eating", to describe this process. The new vesicles were named autophagosomes.

Figure 1: Our cells have different specialized compartments. Lysosomes constitute one such compartment and contain enzymes for digestion of cellular contents. A new type of vesicle called autophagosome was observed within the cell. As the autophagosome forms, it engulfs cellular contents, such as damaged proteins and organelles. Finally, it fuses with the lysosome, where the contents are degraded into smaller constituents. This process provides the cell with nutrients and building blocks for renewal.

During the 1970's and 1980's researchers focused on elucidating another system used to degrade proteins, namely the "proteasome". Within this research field Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose were awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation". The proteasome efficiently degrades proteins one-by-one, but this mechanism did not explain how the cell got rid of larger protein complexes and worn-out organelles. Could the process of autophagy be the answer and, if so, what were the mechanisms?

A groundbreaking experiment

Yoshinori Ohsumi had been active in various research areas, but upon starting his own lab in 1988, he focused his efforts on protein degradation in the vacuole, an organelle that corresponds to the lysosome in human cells. Yeast cells are relatively easy to study and consequently they are often used as a model for human cells. They are particularly useful for the identification of genes that are important in complex cellular pathways. But Ohsumi faced a major challenge; yeast cells are small and their inner structures are not easily distinguished under the microscope and thus he was uncertain whether autophagy even existed in this organism. Ohsumi reasoned that if he could disrupt the degradation process in the vacuole while the process of autophagy was active, then autophagosomes should accumulate within the vacuole and become visible under the microscope. He therefore cultured mutated yeast lacking vacuolar degradation enzymes and simultaneously stimulated autophagy by starving the cells. The results were striking! Within hours, the vacuoles were filled with small vesicles that had not been degraded (Figure 2). The vesicles were autophagosomes and Ohsumi's experiment proved that authophagy exists in yeast cells. But even more importantly, he now had a method to identify and characterize key genes involved this process. This was a major break-through and Ohsumi published the results in 1992.

Figure 2: In yeast (left panel) a large compartment called the vacuole corresponds to the lysosome in mammalian cells. Ohsumi generated yeast lacking vacuolar degradation enzymes. When these yeast cells were starved, autophagosomes rapidly accumulated in the vacuole (middle panel). His experiment demonstrated that autophagy exists in yeast. As a next step, Ohsumi studied thousands of yeast mutants (right panel) and identified 15 genes that are essential for autophagy.

Autophagy genes are discovered

Ohsumi now took advantage of his engineered yeast strains in which autophagosomes accumulated during starvation. This accumulation should not occur if genes important for autophagy were inactivated. Ohsumi exposed the yeast cells to a chemical that randomly introduced mutations in many genes, and then he induced autophagy. His strategy worked! Within a year of his discovery of autophagy in yeast, Ohsumi had identified the first genes essential for autophagy. In his subsequent series of elegant studies, the proteins encoded by these genes were functionally characterized. The results showed that autophagy is controlled by a cascade of proteins and protein complexes, each regulating a distinct stage of autophagosome initiation and formation (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Ohsumi studied the function of the proteins encoded by key autophagy genes. He delineated how stress signals initiate autophagy and the mechanism by which proteins and protein complexes promote distinct stages of autophagosome formation.

Autophagy – an essential mechanism in our cells

After the identification of the machinery for autophagy in yeast, a key question remained. Was there a corresponding mechanism to control this process in other organisms? Soon it became clear that virtually identical mechanisms operate in our own cells. The research tools required to investigate the importance of autophagy in humans were now available.

Thanks to Ohsumi and others following in his footsteps, we now know that autophagy controls important physiological functions where cellular components need to be degraded and recycled. Autophagy can rapidly provide fuel for energy and building blocks for renewal of cellular components, and is therefore essential for the cellular response to starvation and other types of stress. After infection, autophagy can eliminate invading intracellular bacteria and viruses. Autophagy contributes to embryo development and cell differentiation. Cells also use autophagy to eliminate damaged proteins and organelles, a quality control mechanism that is critical for counteracting the negative consequences of aging.

Disrupted autophagy has been linked to Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and other disorders that appear in the elderly. Mutations in autophagy genes can cause genetic disease. Disturbances in the autophagic machinery have also been linked to cancer. Intense research is now ongoing to develop drugs that can target autophagy in various diseases.

Autophagy has been known for over 50 years but its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Yoshinori Ohsumi's paradigm-shifting research in the 1990's. For his discoveries, he is awarded this year's Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Key publications

Takeshige, K., Baba, M., Tsuboi, S., Noda, T. and Ohsumi, Y. (1992). Autophagy in yeast demonstrated with proteinase-deficient mutants and conditions for its induction. Journal of Cell Biology 119, 301-311

Tsukada, M. and Ohsumi, Y. (1993). Isolation and characterization of autophagy-defective mutants of Saccharomyces cervisiae. FEBS Letters 333, 169-174

Mizushima, N., Noda, T., Yoshimori, T., Tanaka, Y., Ishii, T., George, M.D., Klionsky, D.J., Ohsumi, M. and Ohsumi, Y. (1998). A protein conjugation system essential for autophagy. Nature 395, 395-398

Ichimura, Y., Kirisako T., Takao, T., Satomi, Y., Shimonishi, Y., Ishihara, N., Mizushima, N., Tanida, I., Kominami, E., Ohsumi, M., Noda, T. and Ohsumi, Y. (2000). A ubiquitin-like system mediates protein lipidation. Nature, 408, 488-492

Yoshinori Ohsumi was born 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan. He received a Ph.D. from University of Tokyo in 1974. After spending three years at Rockefeller University, New York, USA, he returned to the University of Tokyo where he established his research group in 1988. He is since 2009 a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

The Nobel Assembly, consisting of 50 professors at Karolinska Institutet, awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Its Nobel Committee evaluates the nominations. Since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded to scientists who have made the most important discoveries for the benefit of mankind.

Source: Nobel Prize Press Release

Towards a better tomorrow

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau spells out the need to look beyond 2020 to gear Malaysia up for what lies ahead, stating that a lot of work needs to be done to prepare the nation for the future.

Today, the 58-year-old finds himself heading one of the key ministries to spur Malaysia towards Vision 2020 as Science, Technology and Innovation Minister.

But with just four years away from the target, Tangau has been focusing on looking at the bigger picture and going beyond 2020.

In fact, a “foresight” study or plan to map out Malaysia’s economy of the future (in 2050) is currently being prepared by the ministry through the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and will be presented to the National Science Council (NSC), chaired by the Prime Minister, in the last quarter of this year.

The plan will envision how Malaysia will be in 2050, based on the aspects of science, technology and innovation (STI), economics and finance, society and culture as well as governance.

Ultimately, this outlines the need to leverage on STI to design and engineer the future that Malaysia desires.

“The new economy will be science and technology-driven, moving away from resource-based industries. We must also realise that knowledge is the currency of the new economy. So, in order to be competitive, we have no choice but to enhance our capacity, capabilities and talent pool in STI.

“It has to be. Malaysia has committed 50% of its land to forested areas. Our sea is only so much, even fishing has to be innovative through the application of sonar technology.

“This is exactly why the plan needs to be out and we are driving it,” says Tangau in an interview with Sunday Star recently.

With climate change being an inevitable part of the future, the ministry will upgrade the equipment at the Malaysian Meteorological Department by this year to better forecast and deal with weather changes.

“About RM66mil has been approved to enhance the department’s forecasting capabilities. It is currently in the tendering process,” he says.

As for growing the local pool of talent, Tangau, who is also United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) acting president, says there is a great need to increase the percentage of science students from the current 20%.

“No, I’m not confident we can achieve our target of science students being 60% by 2020. But by 2020, we will increase it from the present 20%. If I can push it to 30%, I will be very happy,” he says.

How is our progress towards Vision 2020 at present?

We are not too bad in terms of some achievements. But in terms of the contribution from science and knowledge-based businesses, I think it is very low. There is a need to drive the economy into one that is based on science, knowledge and technology and innovation-driven. The economy will not be sustainable if we continue to be a resources-based economy. Our STI policies are there.

The problem is how to get them implemented and carried out, especially when it comes to research and commercialisation. In this sense, if compared with Singapore and other developed nations, our achievement is still low.

In terms of coming up with intellectual property (IP), our achievement is around 24,000 in 2014 while it is 33,000 in Singapore and over 523,000 in South Korea. Another matter to look into is the rate of commercialisation of such IPs. We have a long way to go.

One of the strategic challenges of Vision 2020 is for Malaysia to be a nett contributor to technology and not a nett consumer. We have four years to go.

Within the next four years, we have a lot of work to do.

There is waning interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among schoolchildren. What is your take on this?

By 2020, the ratio of science to non-science students is 60:40. Currently, eligible students taking STEM subjects is only 20%. Where have we gone wrong? I find that one factor is that principals and teachers are not actively promoting science and mathematics for students. Maybe they think it is a harder subject to pass and their KPI might be affected. There are other various reasons. On the other hand, students find it boring and bothersome. For the ministry, I need to work on the career path. I need to create jobs and encourage more technology-driven companies.

We need companies in biotech, nanotechnology, nuclear sector, aerospace and so on. We need to create a lot of (such) companies so that there is a career path for our students. At the same time, applied research agencies are saying they don’t have enough scientists. Currently, we only have around 58 researchers for every 10,000 workers.

We need to create more scientists, identify talents and provide more incentives to create them. There are companies that want to apply for licences to set up clinical research and one of the reasons why companies are not bidding is (due to) the lack of scientists. Even within the ministry, we do not have enough.

Research by scientists must result in commercialisation so that there is a form of royalty and income. The rate of commercialisation is low at present. In 2013, it was reported that commercialisation through the ministry’s R&D funds stood at 3.1% and institutions of higher learning at 2.1%.

With 2016 being declared as Malaysia’s Commercialisation Year, I hope the ministry will be able to meaningfully increase the percentage of R&D commercialisation and spur the local R&D institutes to make Malaysia a competitive technology hub in the region.

Also, agencies dealing with science, technology and innovation are all over the place. Perhaps, there is a need for rationalisation. There is a need to study whether agencies should be under my ministry or other ministries.

At the end of the day, this ministry must be driver of the new economy or economy of the future, which is science, knowledge and technology driven.

How do you plan to do this?

How do we drive the new economy? The Government must have a very clear policy on research, commercialisation and innovation. As the ministry mandated to lead the National STI Agenda of the nation, a major responsibility of ours is to develop and implement an effective STI Policy.

In the current National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation (NPSTI) 2013-2020, there are six strategic thrusts to respond to the challenges of the new economy, including advancing scientific and social research, development and commercialisation, developing, harnessing and intensifying talent and energising industries.

However, there are still gaps in the execution of NPSTI which we will need to address as we explore, develop and utilise STI to generate knowledge, create wealth and ensure societal well-being. All ministries need to work together as each have a role to play in ensuring the success of the nation’s STI agenda. So, it is important for me to highlight here that NPSTI is not a ministry policy but a national policy to achieve our goal of becoming a developed country by 2020.

How can we move forward beyond Vision 2020? What’s in store from the ministry?

We want to drive Malaysia beyond 2020 where the situation will be technology and innovation-driven. For example, we can expect artificial intelligence to be part of the future. To illustrate, we are wearing clothes to keep warm and look good, but maybe the clothes of the future can tell you about your health. When you have that, the existing industry will be wiped out. The future in five, 10 and 20 years will be totally different. We have to be prepared for that in so many ways.

How is Malaysia preparing for that?

We start with our human resources. If our students are not into STEM, codes, computer language, algorithm, they will not be able to participate and create. Inventors today are those who create applications, those who are into codes and mathematical models.

We will need to take stock of the current national STI situation, focus on leveraging on our advantages, moving forward and reinforcing the implementation and monitoring of STI projects. The economy of the future must have a very strong STI foundation.

How is the ministry going to intensify the promotion of STEM?

Everybody has to do their part. Communicate and tell the people about the importance of science. Start with that. We have to start with ourselves. We have to be passionate about it. Next, we have to address it to community leaders, teachers, principals and education officers. Bear in mind, our science students are at 20%.

The ministry has also been actively promoting Inquiry Based Science Education (IBSE) method in teaching and learning of science, which doesn’t require a science teacher. A pilot study has been done in four schools and after introducing IBSE, they have done better.

We are now testing it in Sabah and a few other states. After this, we hope it will be absorbed into the school system beginning from kindergarten, secondary school to university. With this, science will be interesting subject.

It sounds like a lot still needs to be done. Are you confident we can achieve the ratio of 60:40 for science students?

No. I am not. But by 2020, we will increase it from the present 20%. If I can push it to 30%, I will be very happy. When the Prime Minister heard about the current percentage, he was very concerned. My ministry was appointed to lead a team to overcome this.

The Education and Higher Education ministries are working together with us. We have started working on this with ASM and we will be coming up with strategies soon to address this. We are also doing our own promotion through social media to educate students and the public about science.

What are the plans for beyond 2020?

For the new economy, we have a plan or foresight that maps out strategic moves for future from 2020 to 2050. That is the year world leaders have agreed to have zero carbon emissions. The plan will be unveiled in late 2016. A lot of work needs to be done and international treaties to be signed. Several agencies are working with ASM on this plan, to be presented to the National Science Council.

 

Source: www.thestar.com.my

Four New Elements to be Added to Periodic Table

Kosuke Morita, leader of the Riken team, with the new table in Wako, Japan, on December 31, 2015.

(CNN) Elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 have formally been recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the U.S.-based world authority on chemistry. The organization's announcement on December 30 means the seventh row of the periodic table is finally complete.

It's the first time the table has been updated since 2011, when elements 114 (Flerovium) and 116 (Livermorium) were added. Devised by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, the table categorizes chemical elements according to their atomic number.

"The chemistry community is eager to see its most cherished table finally being completed down to the seventh row," said Jan Reedijk, president of the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC, in a statement.

"IUPAC has now initiated the process of formalizing names and symbols for these elements temporarily named as ununtrium, (Uut or element 113), ununpentium (Uup, element 115), ununseptium (Uus, element 117), and ununoctium (Uuo, element 118)."

A Russian-American team at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California discovered elements 115, 117 and 118, while Japanese researchers were credited for discovering element 113.

All four elements are not found in nature, and were synthetically created in laboratories. Until now, these elements had temporary names and symbols on the periodic table as their existence was hard to prove. Since they decay extremely quickly, scientists found it difficult to reproduce them more than once.

Japanese researchers said their search for element 113 began by "bombarding a thin layer of bismuth with zinc ions travelling at about 10% the speed of light." By doing so, they would theoretically fuse, forming an atom of element 113.

"For over seven years we continued to search for data conclusively identifying element 113, but we just never saw another event. I was not prepared to give up, however, as I believed that one day, if we persevered, luck would fall upon us again," said Kosuke Morita, the lead researcher at Japan's RIKEN group.

"Now that we have conclusively demonstrated the existence of element 113, we plan to look to the uncharted territory of element 119 and beyond."

With the discovery process now over, researchers have another tricky task at hand: coming up with permanent names and symbols for the elements.

According to the IUPAC, new elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.

After the proposed names are submitted, they will be open for public review for five months before the organization makes a final decision.

 

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/04/world/periodic-table-new-elements/

Shell Opens Lubricant Plant in Indonesia

As part of its continued growth strategy, Shell recently opened its latest lubricant blending plant in Indonesia. The facility, which is located north of Jakarta and sits on 246,000 square feet of land, strengthens Shell’s global supply chain and brings world-class lubricant production capability to Indonesia.

The plant features automated lubricant blending, filling and packaging technology, and is equipped with a quality-control system that tests lubricants at all stages of production to ensure products meet specifications. As part of the focus on quality products, the facility will also have a dedicated lubricant-testing laboratory.

Capable of manufacturing 120,000 tons of finished lubricants a year, the new plant will produce Shell’s leading lubricant brands, including Shell Helix (passenger car motor oil), Shell Advance (motorcycle oil), Shell Rimula (heavy-duty engine oil), Shell Spirax (transmission oil) and other industrial lubricants.

These products will support Indonesia’s growing demand for vehicle motor oils and other lubricants for applications in sectors such as mining, power generation, transportation and the growing infrastructure building sector in the country.

Previously, Shell has imported lubricants to Indonesia. With the new lubricant plant, the company will be able to manufacture and supply a full range of locally produced, high-quality motor oils, transmission oils and industrial lubricants to the Indonesian market.

 

Source: http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/30307/shell-lubricant-plant

Mark Mobius views Asean among most exciting investment targets

KUALA LUMPUR: Templeton Emerging Markets Group’s executive chairman views Southeast Asia as among the most exciting investment destinations available to emerging and frontier market investors.

In his newsletter to investors, Mark Mobius says the range of opportunities available to investors is remarkable.

This ranges from the highly developed and technologically sophisticated Singapore market through emerging markets in various stages of development such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to exciting frontier prospects such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

This also comes at a time as Asean has set ambitious plans for a new Asean Economic Community (AEC) to come to fruition in 2015.

Mobius is enthusiastic to see the outcome of discussions among Asean members to prepare for the AEC and as they work out the fine points.

The AEC will have a very significant impact in Asia, especially as the role of Asian markets in the global economy has grown significantly in recent years, he says and he expects this trend to continue in the future.

Many of these countries have also made fundamental improvements to their economies, and he thinks these changes are here to stay.

Asean – founded in 1967 -- is a strong regional economy made up of 10 members: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR (Laos), Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The 10 individual Asean members already have attractive characteristics for investors, including favorable demographic profiles, abundant natural resources and low-cost labour, among other factors.

Combined into a single market, the population exceeds 600 million and a wide range of economic attributes from the financial, trading and technology skills available in Singapore to the largely untapped reserves of labour and natural resources in Myanmar that, when combined, could well represent far more than the sum of their parts.

When the AEC was mooted, it was envisaged to be: (a) a single market and production base, (b) a highly competitive economic region, (c) a region of equitable economic development and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy.

“Because Asean countries have to work toward a collective vision and cooperative spirit when AEC fully comes together, we think it should strengthen their partnership, even though there has been some outlying resistance and concerns about some aspects.

“If it is fully implemented later this year, the AEC represents an opportunity to further promote cross-border trade and connect economies, companies and people within the region in the years to come,” he said.

Mobius cites a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group that businesses in the region are remarkably bullish about the AEC.

A total of 80% of those surveyed regarded the AEC as a business opportunity for their firm and believed it would help accelerate growth in their respective industries.

Business executives also acknowledged that progress has been made over the years in most sectors, and two-thirds of the companies responding to the survey said they were adjusting their product offerings and upgrading their organizations and supply chains.

However, Mobius is quick to point out also that some business executives in Asean also expressed concern that governments would not wholeheartedly facilitate the free flow of goods across the region. In our view, the enviable location of the proposed AEC, bordering the fast-growing economic giants of India and China, could be a major potential benefit for companies within Asean as well as investors.

The region lies on one of the “one belt, one road” trade routes identified by the Chinese government as significant focuses for investment. Chinese firms are already active investors in countries such as Vietnam, taking advantage of significantly lower wage rates in comparison with Southern China, and ambitious plans for transport infrastructure improving China’s links with Southeast Asia are under development.

International trade could become a further stimulus to growth for Southeast Asia, with some of the countries of the region closely involved in major free trade initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently under negotiation, while also looking to deepen intra-regional trade links.

“Asean has seen continuing population growth over the last 15 years, totaling 620 million people in 2014 and expected to increase further to close to 670 million by 2020, a growth of about 30% from the 514 million in 2000.

“We believe this growth potential, combined with increasing per capita incomes and relatively younger population structures, could further drive the growing consumer demand in the region as a reduction in the cost of doing business, improved labour and capital movement and the streamlining of taxation can only increase the opportunity for growth,”  he says.

As a result, Asean economies are increasing domestic consumption of a wide range of goods and services. According to various forecasts, the prospects for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the region going forward are far stronger than in developed markets, and in excess even of other emerging-market regions.

GDP growth in emerging Asia is expected to average 6.6% in 2015, while frontier markets such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are forecasted to grow even faster.4 At the other end of the spectrum, Brunei is expected to contract by 0.5%, while Thailand and Singapore are expected to expand by a still-reasonable 3.7% and 3%, respectively.5

 “In our view, Southeast Asia is currently among the most exciting investment destinations available to emerging and frontier market investors.

“The range of opportunities available to investors is remarkable, from the highly developed and technologically sophisticated Singapore market through emerging markets in various stages of development such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to exciting frontier prospects such as Vietnam and Myanmar,” he explains.

Indonesia is in the midst of a significant reform programme initiated by President Widodo, while Thailand’s military government is looking to shore up support through growth-oriented activities.

In his view, Singapore’s role as a global trading hub should permit continued growth and prosperity for that market.

Myanmar’s opening to market forces could receive a significant boost should scheduled elections pass off successfully, while Vietnam is also engaged in a cautious opening to global investors and gradual reform of its banking sector. Laos has the potential to join compelling frontier stock markets as demand for its hydropower and mineral resources boosts economic growth.

“We believe economic reform proposals under way elsewhere in the region also have the potential to boost economic growth and corporate profitability,” he says.

With its excellent international trade links and the availability both of sophisticated technology and low-cost labor, Southeast Asia has long been an important center for the supply-chain activities of Japanese companies, while labour cost advantages have seen much basic manufacturing activity migrating from China.

There are still some challenges for Asean countries ahead; naturally, when there is a divergence of countries, there are going to be differences of opinion but collective cooperation is needed to make the AEC successful.

“We would also like to see continued progress in removing barriers to the global flows of goods and services in the region, and policies that encourage foreign investment. In order for AEC to gain credibility and develop as envisioned, we believe various obstacles need to be addressed, including differences in regulations and policies, bureaucratic pressures, and perhaps a perception or concern among some business owners about whether Asean can be an open market.

“AEC, if successfully implemented, will represent a common market with a combined GDP of nearly US$2 trillion. We believe the fact that all Asean countries will ultimately have to work toward a collective vision and cooperative spirit when AEC comes together should strengthen their partnership and, hopefully, improve the lives of the people.

“We think the future for the region remains positive, supported by several factors including solid growth prospects, strong labor and natural resources, favorable demographics, advantageous trade links and geographical positioning, as well as watershed initiatives for reform,” says Mobius.  

(Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/Business/Business-News/2015/05/24/Mark-Mobius-views-Asean-among-most-exciting-investment-targets/?style=biz)

Chinese-Malaysian Halal Food Lab set up in Gansu Province

Xinhua has reported a joint-venture between China and Malaysia that has led to the set-up of halal food laboratory in northwestern China’s Gansu Province lately.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology launched a halal food program in partnership with Malaysia, under which Gansu Province will lead its implementation, giving full play to the province’s strength in Muslim culture, science and technology, location, trade, industry and other aspects.

Gansu will work closely with the Malaysian side in halal food processing, biological material research and certification, in order to build an international-level halal food testing laboratory.

With the laboratory construction as the turning point, Gansu will lead the establishment of Chinese halal food industry technology innovation alliance, to build a platform of technical cooperation between China and the Muslim countries along the "Belt and Road" routes.

Source: http://www.namnewsnetwork.org/v3/read.php?id=MzA2MTM3

Chinese scientists just admitted to tweaking the genes of human embryos for the in history

A group of Chinese scientists just reported that they modified the genome of human embryos, something that has never been done in the history of the world, according to a report in Nature News.

Caption: The genome-editing enzyme known as CAS9 at work on a strand of DNA

A recent biotech discovery — one that has been called the biggest biotech discovery of the century — showed how scientists might be able to modify a human genome when that genome was still an embryo. This could change not only the genetic material of a person, but could also change the DNA they pass on, removing “bad” genetic codes (and potentially adding “good” ones) and taking an active hand in evolution.

Concerned scientists published an argument that no one should edit the human genome in this way until we better understood the consequences after a report uncovered rumors that Chinese scientists were already working on using this technology.

But this new paper, published April 18 by a Chinese group led by gene-function researcher Junjiu Huangof Sun Yat-sen University, shows that work has already been done, and Nature News spoke to a Chinese source that said at least four different groups are “pursuing gene editing in human embryos.”

Specifically, the team tried to modify a gene in a non-viable embryo that would have been responsible for a deadly blood disorder. But they noted in the study that they encountered serious challenges, suggesting there are still significant hurdles before clinical use becomes a reality.

CRISPR, the technology that makes all this possible, can find bad sections of DNA and cut them and even replace them with DNA that doesn’t code for deadly diseases, but it can also make unwanted substitutions. Its level of accuracy is still very low.

Huang’s group successfully introduced the DNA they wanted in only “a fraction” of the 86 embryos they tried it with, and also found a “surprising number of ‘off-target’ mutations,” according to Nature News.

This story is developing.


Source: http://www.businessinsider.my/chinese-scientists-genetic-modification-human-embryo-crispr-2015-4/#PxfR6805KzvRpAkD.99

Innovate or die: Thailand's top industrial firms ramp up R&D budgets

BANGKOK, March 26 (Reuters) - Thailand's two biggest industrial groups are raising their R&D spending to develop higher-end products, leading a growing troop of Thai companies under pressure to quickly evolve their low-value and increasingly uncompetitive business models.

Thai companies are expanding their line-up of premium products as rivals in neighbouring Vietnam win more orders for low-margin, commoditised goods with cheaper prices. A recent hike in Thailand's minimum wages has also dampened the country's competitiveness, forcing some foreign investors to shift operations to other Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Myanmar where labour costs are lower.

Siam Cement, a barometer of Thailand's economic health, lifted its research and development budget to a record 4.8 billion baht ($147 million) this year, or 1.0 percent of projected sales. That compares with 2.7 billion baht, or 0.6 percent of sales, in 2014. Thailand's third-largest listed company is no stranger to high value-added products, which accounted for 35 percent of its sales last year compared with just 4 percent a decade ago. These days, Siam Cement is focusing on higher-margin petrochemical products including high-end plastics and food packaging such as glassine paper.

To encourage innovation, the Thai government has increased R&D corporate tax deductions equal to 300 percent of R&D spending, from 200 percent previously. PTT, the country's biggest oil and gas company and the largest firm on the Thai bourse, aims to spend 2.25 billion baht on R&D in 2015, versus 2.08 billion baht in 2014. The group has a policy of spending 3 percent of its income on R&D. The state-controlled company is expanding into specialty products including biodegradable coffee cups and high-density polyethylene used to make fluorescent nets for night-time fishermen.

"It's in line with global trends as major petrochemical producers shift from commodity-grade products to specialty grade, and that's why they need to spend more on research," said Songklod Wongchai, an analyst at Finansia Syrus Securities in Bangkok. "But given the weak economic outlook and poor domestic consumption, I'm worried about demand because everyone needs to control costs. Prices of premium grade products are much higher than normal." ($1 = 32.60 Baht) (Editing by Ryan Woo)

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/26/thailand-conglomerates-rd-idUSL3N0WS3BF20150326

Malaysia needs more scientists

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia still faces a shortage of scientists involved in research and development (R&D) activities, Malaysian Nuclear Agency (Management Programme) senior director Dr Dahlan Mohd said today.

"By 2020, the government's vision is to have 70 scientists per 10,000 workers," he said, adding that the current ratio is about 58 scientists per 10,000 workers. 

Dahlan was speaking at a press conference after a “Meet the Scientist” programme at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency, which saw the participation of 110 students.

“The main objective of this programme is to make scientists as role models to the students. They were also exposed to the research that has been carried out by the scientist,” he added.

The programme is a collaboration between the National Science Centre and the science, technology and innovation ministry (MOSTI).

 

Source: http://www.nst.com.my/node/74315

Activated Autologous Stem Cell Therapy a Grey Area in Indonesia

As an alternative treatment, stem cell therapy was introduced in Indonesia about 10 years ago.

A stem cell is a single cell that can replicate itself into many cell types, such as blood cells or skin cells; while stem cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition.

People with certain ailments have turned to stem cell therapy to naturally replicate or regrow damaged cells in their own bodies to improve their health.

Speaking at a recent seminar, plastic surgeon Karina F. Moegni described stem cells in more detail.

“There are three types of stem cells: autologous — stem cells that come from your own body; allogeneic — stem cells that come from other people; and xenogeneic — stem cells that come from animals, which have been banned around the world.”

Karina said that bone marrow, brain tissue, blood vessels, skeletal muscle cells, heart cells and fat tissue were among several potential sources of stem cells. 

As a surgeon, Karina said that she could treat patients with “activated autologous stem cell therapies” derived from a patient’s own fat tissue, which contains up to a thousand times more stem cells than bone marrow. 

“It is also easier and painless to harvest the stem cells from fat — when the cells are also inactive,” Karina, who practices at the Unistem Clinic and Hayandra Clinic in Jakarta, said.

She adds that activated autologous stem cell therapy might help people with degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and Parkinson’s disease; autism; cerebral palsy; as well as autoimmune illnesses, such as scoliosis, epilepsy, asthma and lung and heart illnesses.

The therapy is also applicable for anti-aging treatments, which Karina claims will give a natural result, as compared to Botox and face-lifts.

“Please do bear in mind that stem cell therapy is not magic. Some [patients] can get good results within six months,” says Karina. “Others need to wait for two years.”

Karina says that autologous stem cell therapy using fat tissue involves manually extracting fat from a patient, separating stem cells from unnecessary objects — for example the fat itself — and activating the stem cells with lasers before returning the stem cells to the patient.

“The extraction takes about 30 minutes, the next process needs about two hours, while returning the stem cells to a patient needs another 30 minutes,” she says adding that she directly injects stem cells into the target area for anti-aging treatments.

However, there is no specific dose for therapies involving activated autologous stem cells.

“You can never expect an exact number of cells in autologous stem cell therapy. What you get is what you inject,” says Karina.

On the recommended frequency of treatments, Karina said that no one in the world could answer that question yet — including her. However, she suggests that patients wait for at least six months to see if a treatment works. 

Karina said that she would perform additional therapies after that period if a patient wanted better results.

On the regulations governing activated autologous stem cell therapy, Karina claimed that treatment with cells that are sourced from an individual without “manipulation” can be categorized as a treatment, instead of a medical procedure. 

Therefore, Karina said, there was no need for regulations that would require clinical testing to conduct such treatment, based on prevailing practice in other nations.

“What is considered manipulation, among other things, is harvesting the stem cells in a laboratory,” Karina says. “As long as the stem cells come from the patient himself, it is considered a treatment.” 

Karina adds that the practice of developing stem cell therapy using blood cells from the umbilical cords of other people stored at cord blood banks (as is done in Indonesia) could be considered alloegeneic stem cell therapy.

While Indonesia apparently does not currently specifically regulate alloegeneic (as opposed to autologous) stem cell therapy either, that is expected to change.

Contacted on the telephone, Marhaen Hardjo, a member of the government’s National Stem Cell Commission, noted that Health Ministry regulation No. 32/2014 limited stem cell use in Indonesia to 11 public hospitals.

Indra Bachtiar, a principal investigator for the privately operated Stem Cell and Cancer Institute in Jakarta, says that Indonesia is on the way to making such regulations in the next few years.

“We may be able to apply allogeneic stem cell therapy by 2017 or 2018,” says Indra.

In the interim, patients must make informed decisions in such therapy.

Marhean advised caution. “The Health Ministry does not have enough resources to act as the police in handling those clinics offering therapy without permit,” he said.

 

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/02/25/activated-autologous-stem-cell-therapy-a-gray-area-indonesia.html#sthash.LvxgzJPs.dpuf

ASEAN: The New Front Line in Asia

On the heels of the US-ASEAN summit in Myanmar, manufacturers are considering ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to be a much closer horizon for business opportunities compared to other economic goliaths in the region.

In fact, the ASEAN-5 (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) has been attracting more businesses than China, with about $128 billion in foreign direct investments, overtaking that of China’s $117 billion in 2013.

This year’s plans for economic integration throughout ASEAN should further grow the strategic importance of the 10-member collective as it will further open up trade, make commerce across the region more seamless, and come closer to being a single market of more than 600 million people.

While market entry into Asia is not without significant challenges, multinational companies have found that they can adapt their business strategies to Asia’s complex and diverse business landscape by investing in local hubs. This recognition comes at a critical juncture, when higher wages and currency appreciation in China are prompting companies to look elsewhere. ASEAN stands to benefit from this, with each nation offering a unique value proposition be it advanced technological innovation, an abundant labor force, or a growing shift towards more high-skilled industries.

Singapore

For example, Singapore,  is a strategic entry-point for companies to better access pan-Asian growth markets. The city-state boasts numerous resources valuable to MNCs such as a business friendly environment, highly-skilled labor force, well-established financial markets and infrastructure that support them, opportunities to test bed new products for the region and a predominantly English-speaking population. As a result, Singapore serves as a high tech manufacturing hub which also ranks first for foreign subsidiary density and fifth in the world for corporate headquarters.

As a base for knowledge, partners, and talent, Singapore enables companies to access increasingly critical markets like Indonesia and Vietnam, where revenues are growing. A recent example is General Motors, which moved its international headquarters from Shanghai to Singapore in August of last year for easier access to the company’s priority markets like ASEAN, Africa and Australia.

Along a similar vein, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is also centralizing the coordination of its Asia Pacific activities. The American agricultural processing company announced in June 2014 that it will be relocating it regional headquarters from Shanghai to Singapore. This is testimony that many corporations are seeing that their business strategies for Asia can no longer focus on just the region’s largest markets, and are moving their headquarters to Singapore as a gateway to the growing ASEAN customer base.

Malaysia

ASEAN is also home to Malaysia, a country which has been encouraging its universities to invest in R&D centers and partnering with private sector companies to create more high-skilled jobs. These initiatives have yielded significant results. Malaysia is a particularly attractive investment destination for companies looking to capitalize on the lower cost of electricity in developing manufacturing sectors like solar energy. The country plays home to six First Solar plants, which collectively produce more than 80% of the American company’s solar panels. The Southeast Asian nation is currently ranked the world’s third-largest producer of solar equipment; companies including Panasonic, SunEdison and SunPower have also set up shop in the country.

The Philippines

The Philippines is another increasingly attractive business hub with a GDP growth of 7.2% –second only to China’s 7.7% in 2013.  An important component of the country’s growing economy is the information technology sector, which contributed to 6% of the GDP last year, or $16 billion. With multinational companies entrusting their customer services to the Philippines, the sector aims to increase annual revenues to $25 billion by 2016. Increasing investment in the region from high-tech companies is likely the reason for this confidence; Accenture, for example, is capitalizing on local talent by establishing business process outsourcing operations in rural regions like Tanjay.

Additionally, the Philippines is uniquely insulated from international market fluctuations due to the number of allowances it receives from citizens living abroad. With the economy more resilient to shifting global economic conditions, heavyweights including JP Morgan and Procter & Gamble have recently taken advantage of the stability the Philippines offers by expanding their operations in the region.

While each nation offers a unique investment proposition, it is important to note that a one-size-fits-all strategy towards the region is unrealistic. There are wide gaps between the economic development stages and political landscapes of different nations. For example, Indonesia represents almost 40% of the region’s economic output and is a member of the G20, while Myanmar is still an emerging market working to build its institutions after a period of isolation from the global community.

Investors need to be aware of local preferences and cultural sensitivities when looking at ASEAN as a business opportunity.

Source: http://www.industryweek.com/expansion-management/asean-new-front-line-asia