JUPAS Admission Scores – 2020 intake
Admission Requirements and Admission Score (IRE) (For 2021 intake)
Admission Requirements and Admission Score (SSCI‐A / SSCI‐A (AI) / SSCI‐B) (For 2021 intake)
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2021 JUPAS Program Consultation (IRE Program) – 5 Jul 2021
Slideshow of IRE event at a glance
IRE Program Talk
Videos of IRE student sharing
William YAM (JUPAS, Class of 2020)
Research lab tours guided by IRE students
2021 JUPAS Program Consultation (BIBU Program) – 7 Jul 2021
Slideshow of BIBU event at a glance
BIBU Program Talk
Videos of BIBU student sharing
Sonia LO (JUPAS, Class of 2021)
Thomas Michael BIEK (Local DE, Class of 2021)
2021 JUPAS Program Consultation (MAEC Program) – 9 Jul 2021
Slideshow of MAEC event at a glance
MAEC Program Talk
Videos of MAEC student sharing
LEE Yat Long Luca (JUPAS, Class of 2020)
HO Pak Wa Monoceros (JUPAS, Class of 2020)
2021 JUPAS Program Consultation (SSCI Programs) – 12 & 14 Jul 2021
Slideshow of SSCI events at a glance
SSCI Program Talk
School of Science Academic Advising and Support
Videos of SSCI student sharing
Video of MATH student sharing
Yuki CHAN (JUPAS, Class of 2020)
Video of BIOT student sharing
Sze CHEUNG (JUPAS, Class of 2020)
An international research team led by HKUST has developed a simple but robust blood test from Chinese patient data for early detection and screening of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) for the first time, with an accuracy level of over 96%.
Currently, doctors mainly rely on cognitive tests to diagnose a person with AD. Besides clinical assessment, brain imaging and lumbar puncture are the two most commonly used medical procedures to detect changes in the brain caused by AD. However, these methods are expensive, invasive, and frequently unavailable in many countries.
Now, a team led by Prof. Nancy IP, Vice-President for Research and Development at HKUST, has identified 19 out of the 429 plasma proteins associated with AD to form a biomarker panel representative of an “AD signature” in the blood. Based on this panel, the team has developed a scoring system that distinguishes AD patients from healthy people with more than 96% accuracy. This system can also differentiate among the early, intermediate, and late stages of AD, and can be used to monitor the progression of the disease over time. These exciting findings have led to the development of a high-performance, blood-based test for AD, and may also pave the way to novel therapeutic treatments for the disease.
“With the advancement of ultrasensitive blood-based protein detection technology, we have developed a simple, noninvasive, and accurate diagnostic solution for AD, which will greatly facilitate population-scale screening and staging of the disease,” said Prof. Nancy Ip, Morningside Professor of Life Science and the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at HKUST.
The work was conducted in collaboration with researchers at University College London and clinicians in local hospitals including the Prince of Wales Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The discovery was made using the proximity extension assay (PEA) - a cutting-edge ultrasensitive and high-throughput protein measurement technology, to examine the levels of over 1,000 proteins in the plasma of AD patients in Hong Kong.
As the most comprehensive study of blood proteins in AD patients to date, the work has recently been published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, and has also been featured and actively discussed on different scholarly exchange platforms on AD research such as Alzforum.
AD, which affects over 50 million people worldwide, involves the dysfunction and loss of brain cells. Its symptoms include progressive memory loss as well as impaired movement, reasoning, and judgment. While patients often only seek medical attention and are diagnosed when they have memory problems, AD affects the brain at least 10-20 years before symptoms appear.
Researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Beijing Tiantan Hospital have recently uncovered a new gene mutation responsible for the non-familial patients of cerebral cavernous malformation (CCM) - a brain vascular disorder which inflicted about 10~30 million people in the world.
While the mutation of three genes: namely CCM1, CCM2, and CCM3, were known to be a cause of CCM – they mostly targeted patients who has family history in this disorder – which only account for about 20 per cent of the total inflicted population. The cause for the remaining 80 per cent non-familial cases, however, were not known.
Now, using next-generation sequencing and computational approach, a research team led by Prof. WANG Jiguang, Assistant Professor from HKUST’s Division of Life Science and Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, in collaboration with Prof. CAO Yong from the Beijing Tiantan Hospital, analyzed the genomic data of 113 CCM patients and identified another mutation called MAP3K3 c.1323C>G, which is found to be responsible for almost all the tested cases who developed popcorn-like lesions in their brain arteries - the most common one among the four types of CCM lesions1(type II CCM).
At present, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a commonly used non-intrusive means that doctors can base upon for diagnosis and treatment. However, the MRI images can only tell the size and type of the lesions, but not the gene responsible for the problem – which can only be ascertained by surgery and laboratory tests. Now, the HKUST research team designed a computational method that could help assess the probability of connection between the lesion shown in the MRI image to the genetic mutation MAP3K3 c.1323C>G. So CCM patients with this gene mutation may be able to receive more targeted treatment without having to undergo surgery – which could bear serious risks including cerebral hemorrhage or new focal neurological deficits.
Prof. Wang from HKUST said, “Our research opens a new direction to the genetic landscape of CCM and uncovers clues to the correlation between MAP3K3 c.1323C>G gene mutation and type II CCM. The design of the computational method, or decision-tree model takes us a step closer to non-invasive diagnosis of CCM cause, and we hope the discovery could help pave way for candidate drug target and therapy development, bringing benefits to patients in the near future.”
The findings were recently published in The American Journal of Human Genetics.
1Type II CCM was said to be the most common among the four types of CCM: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6924279/
(This news was originally published by the HKUST Public Affairs Office here.)
(This article was published on EurekAlert! on May 4, 2021)
A group of researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has uncovered the mechanism of how DNA is being melted to start bacterial gene transcription and how one class of antibiotics inhibits this process – an important way in killing bacteria. This discovery provides useful insight on the development of new antibiotics for bacteria that is antimicrobial resistance.
The emergence and spread of new forms of resistance remains a concern that urgently demand new antibiotics. Transcription is a vital process in bacterial cell, where genetic information in DNA is transcribed to RNA for the translation of proteins that perform cellular function. Hence, transcription serves as a promising target to develop new antibiotics because inhibition the transcription process should effectively kill the bacteria. Bacterial RNA Polymerase, the core enzyme for transcription, must load the DNA and separate the double-stranded DNA to single stranded DNA to read the genetic information to initiate transcription. This process is also called DNA melting and is facilitated by the opening and closing of the loading gate of RNA Polymerase. The loading gate contains two flexible pincers (clamp and β-lobe) resembling the shape of a crab claw. DNA melting via this loading gate is a multi-step and highly dynamic process, and it provides a promising strategy for the design of novel antibiotics by inhibiting this process. Yet, the understanding of DNA melting requires a detailed understanding in the movements and dynamics of the loading gate, the lack thereof hampers future development of antibiotics.
To offer new direction for more effective therapeutics, a research team led by Prof. Xuhui HUANG, Department of Chemistry and Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST, recently discovered the working mechanism of an antibiotics, Myxopyronin, by targeting the movement of the loading gate to inhibit the DNA melting prior to bacterial gene transcription. The research team identified a partially closed form of the flexible clamp domain, into which an antibiotic called Myxopyronin can bind with. The binding of Myxopyronin to the RNA Polymerase diminishes the gate's ability to close, eventually inhibiting the DNA melting, which is vital for the survival of the bacteria.
More interestingly, the research team also found the unprecedented role of the β-lobe during the loading of DNA to the inner cleft of RNA Polymerase. They discovered that the opening of β-lobe is sufficient to accommodate the loading of double helix DNA without opening the Clamp. The role of β-lobe has not been previously reported, and this finding opens the opportunity to the development of new antibiotics targeting the β-lobe of RNA Polymerase to halt transcription.
"The shape of bacterial RNA polymerase resembles a crab claw that works like a pincer. The shape and flexibility of the two pincers are important for RNA Polymerase to hold and separate the double-helix form of DNA into single-stranded. We showed that an antibiotic that targets the movement of the pincers would be a promising as a drug candidate" said Prof. Huang. "What is more exciting, is that we also discovered a novel critical role of the β-lobe that can serve as a new target for future antibiotics development."
This work is made possible only with the quasi-Markov State Model (qMSM) recently developed in Prof. Huang's lab. qMSM is built from extensive all-atom molecular dynamics simulations, and successfully predicts dynamics of RNA Polymerase's loading gate at atomic resolution and millisecond (10-3 second) timescale. This new method adopts the generalized master equation formalism to encode non-Markovian dynamics, which has advantages over the popular Markov State Models based on Master Equation. Hence, it is especially promising to be applied to study complex conformational changes of proteins.
The first author of this work: Dr. Ilona UNARTAR is a long-time HKUST affiliate who completed her undergraduate, PhD, and currently conducts her post-doctoral training all at HKUST from Department of Chemistry and Bioengineering graduate program. Other collaborators of this work come from Kyoto University and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
This study was recently published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Being a world-class researcher has been a dream of Kevin LAU Shun-Fat. When Kevin completed his first degree in biochemistry and cell biology at HKUST in 2016, he was determined to pursue a postgraduate degree. The question was: where?
“There is a common view among local undergraduates that getting your postgraduate abroad offers superior research opportunities and a better experience in general. As it turns out, not really,” he says.
The right mentor is everything
Now a third-year doctoral neuroscience student at HKUST, Kevin has been studying with Prof. Nancy IP Yuk-Yu, Vice-President for Research and Development and the world-famous neuroscientist who delves into the research of target therapy drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. Under Prof. Ip’s supervision, Kevin has published seven academic papers and obtained the opportunities to attend many international conferences.
“Prof. Ip helped us get plenty of exposure with her international network,” says Kevin. “One time the renowned Belgian molecular biologist Bart DE STROOPER visited HKUST. Prof. Ip introduced me to him, and we discussed my research work which he found so impressive that he invited me to an international conference in Sweden for a presentation.”
That was the first time Kevin joined an academic conference as a presenter instead of a participant, surprising some attendees that he was just a doctoral student.
“People asked me if I was there to look for a faculty position. They were amazed when I told them I was still studying my PhD, because in Europe or the USA, it’s almost impossible for a student to participate in such a big research project, not to mention giving an academic presentation, which is usually reserved for professors,” Kevin recalls excitedly.
Demonstrate the value of your research
In addition to the networking opportunities, the ample, accessible resources, including financial support, enabled Kevin and his research group to continually test their ideas and make good progress in their research.
“Some research experiments can be costly, but if you can prove the results, there would often be funding available.”
“In our research we had to conduct an experiment of ‘single cell transcriptomic analysis’, an advanced cell analysis technology that could help us prove our research hypothesis, but its cost was HK$300,000. We explained the experiment proposal to Prof. Ip, and thankfully, she was convinced and approved the funding. Otherwise, our research progress would probably be stalled.”
Kevin added that the state-of-the-art research facilities at HKUST are conveniently put in one place and accessible to students, resulting in minimum red tape and waiting time.
Graduating this summer, Kevin now focuses his attention on the research project and has yet to decide whether he would choose to be an academic scholar or join a particular industry for his future career. In any case the five-year master and doctoral studies have left no doubt he made the right choice.
PhD holders can only be researchers? No!
The appeal of postgraduate studies is in fact not limited only to researchers, but also those eager to apply their skills and knowledge in business and public service. Gone are the times when, for instance, a graduate from a scientific background could only work in a related field or study for a postgraduate degree, says Prof. Tom CHEUNG, S H Ho Associate Professor of Life Science about the career prospects of his students.
“The economy is becoming growingly tech-oriented, and all sectors of economy need science and technology expertise. That is why, financial institutions, like investment banks, hire our graduates as they need, for instance, biotechnology researchers to advise on investment decisions when it comes to frontier healthcare technology,” says Prof. Cheung.
“Contrary to popular thinking that postgraduate studies narrow your possibilities, it will in fact open many more doors for you,” Prof. Cheung says.
With the economy hit hard by the pandemic, the decision to pursue postgraduate studies may be affected by financial considerations.
“My parents worried whether I could support myself if I didn’t look for a job. But actually postgraduate students can apply for scholarship that can cover tuition fees and living costs,” says Kevin.
Only top students get admitted? No!
For those who wonder if your undergraduate grades would affect your chances of admission, Prof. Charles NG Wang-wai, Dean of HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School, says what is often more important is your commitment.
“If you have a mediocre grade but did particularly well in chemistry, for instance, you will still stand a chance for getting into a postgraduate program in chemistry. Do reach out to professors to discuss your research plans and make a case for admitting you to show that you are committed,” advises Prof. Ng.
HKUST offers postgraduate programs leading to graduate diplomas, masters, and doctoral degrees. In particular, Research Postgraduate Programs (RPgs), comprising Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil), involve the completion of coursework, independent research, and a successful defense of thesis. Check out the application details, deadlines and scholarship here.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) will introduce a novel academic framework “Major + X” as a new degree option for undergraduates. Blending traditional programs with emerging hot topics such as artificial intelligence, this new degree structure not only offers students with greater flexibility, but also allows timely curriculum adjustment and better integration between existing and new knowledge to meet with the emerging need of the society.
Under the new framework, two new bachelor degree programs – Science (Group A)* with an extended Major in Artificial Intelligence (“Science-A + AI”) and Engineering with an extended Major in Artificial Intelligence (“Engineering + AI”), will be launched in the 2021/22 academic year. Students enrolled in the two programs will choose their major – such as Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Civil Engineering or Ocean Science and Technology from either science (group A) or engineering before the second year begins, while taking AI courses as an extended major.
“New technology and knowledge are emerging at an unprecedented pace in this digital era, while it may not be the most effective to launch a new program on every emerging knowledge, it is essential to incorporate new knowledge such as AI into our system so students could make sense of such novel technologies in real-life applications. Physics students, for example, would want to learn how to analyze billions of fast-disappearing data on particles with AI; while Civil Engineering students may wish to find out the most optimal location and materials for a project and its relevant risks with AI, this is why we launch the major + X initiative,” said Prof Lionel NI, Provost of HKUST.
This major + X approach allows students to finish their study within a four-year timeframe with a well-defined study pathway, and graduate with a title bearing both the traditional major subject they selected, and the extended major X which covers emerging areas such as AI and probably data science, FinTech or digital media and arts later.
“When computer science or Internet first emerged several decades ago, they were studied under traditional disciplines. Eventually, computer science has developed into a standalone discipline, while Internet remains as a subject area. Our major + X approach could offer more flexibility to our students, so they can seize the opportunities when a new area emerges, while also remain adaptable if an area becomes obsolete,” said Prof. PONG Ting-Chuen, Senior Advisor to the Provost and Chairman of the Undergraduate Admissions Subcommittee.
“Science-A + AI” (JUPAS code: JS5181) and “Engineering + AI” (JUPAS code: JS5282) have an intake quota of around 40 and 150 respectively for the year 2021/22. Students of the two programs will be given priority in selecting AI subjects – both mandatory and elective courses, which comprise around 21 to 24 credits in total. Students will also have to complete a capstone project on applying AI in the area of their major study.
“HKUST has always been a pioneer in innovative education, we are among the first to realize interdisciplinary teaching, e-learning, introduce research opportunities to junior students and novel programs that meet latest societal needs. We hope this new “Major + X” model would again, help us groom the right talent for this era,” said Prof. Ni, adding that the University will consider launching more programs under this new framework in the future.
HKUST will hold a Virtual Information Day this Saturday (October 17) on the University’s latest academic programs and admission requirement. Interested parties can register in advance.
* Science (Group A) major covers Mathematics, Physics, Ocean Science & Technology.
Glass is a sound-proof material, but researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have discovered a way which allows sound transmission for glass, opening a new horizon for the potential development of smart phones and other electronic devices that can function under water, while also offering greater flexibility to building design.
Using the theory of local resonance, a research team led by Prof. WEN Weijia from the Department of Physics has found that by crafting a structured pattern of openings in between glass panes, the sound waves’ mode of vibration will be altered, allowing sound to pass through.
The concept is similar to playing flute, where players can change the tone by adjusting the position of holes on the instrument. The glass with inlaid cavities can also transmit different sound frequency through the adjustment of those cavities’ shape and size.
The finding, made in collaboration with researchers from Chongqing University and Shenzhen Fantwave Tech. Co, was recently published in top physics journal Applied Physics Letters.
"The discovery overturns the concept regarding the use of glass in acoustics and provides a theoretical basis for new applications,” said Prof. Wen. “If holes or openings in glasses are no longer required for sound transmission, manufacturers can design more long-lasting water-proof mobiles or electronic devices. Interior settings which require both transparency and sound transmission - such as those of the bank teller counters or prison reception cells, may also find our technology useful."
As a renowned scientist in advanced functional materials, Prof. Wen’s discoveries span across microsphere and nanoparticle design and fabrications, soft matter physics, smart materials, metamaterials, electronic materials and microfluidics, many of which were eventually transferred into commercial products.
A thermal sensitivenano gel which he discovered in 2009 for example, has recently been applied in the production of a smart glass which transparency changes automatically according to the ambient temperature and solar radiation intensity. This automatic atomizing glass can block up to 70 per cent of the sunlight, effectively reducing indoor temperature by 5 to 8 degrees and minimizing energy consumption by air conditioning.
Sunlight-blocking glass has been a product made of well-known technology, but for installation on a building they all require power in changing opacity. The material developed by Prof Wen was the first one that allows glass to serve such purpose without needing an external power. The smart glass is now deployed in at least 8 mainland cities and provinces including Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangdong on facilities ranging from schools and hospitals to residences and exhibition halls.
Find out more on other works of Prof. Wen’s:
Homepage for Weijia Wen and his group
Before the third wave of COVID-19 outbreak hit Hong Kong in mid-July, Ryan FUNG Kei-Ning, an HKUST Year 2 business student, along with staff of the Salvation Army Integrated Service for Street Sleepers, used to go on evening outreach trips to bring food and daily necessities to the homeless up to three times a week; recently, he has had to cut the number down to one.
Knowing that homeless people are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus due to reduced health and medical support, Ryan offers support to help them off the streets.
“The disadvantaged have been hit really hard by the pandemic. Many of them who used to work in food and beverage have been laid off and can’t make ends meet,” Ryan says. “They have no choice but to live on the street.”
Even worse, the recent dine-in bans after 10pm have left many of the homeless people who used to seek refuge at 24-hour fast food chains with virtually no place to take shelter. Ryan then began to help the non-governmental organization (NGO), which serves street sleepers in Yau Tsim Mong district, compile a list of available community centers in the neighborhood that would allow them to stay temporarily during this difficult time.
On top of this, Ryan has also taken up the role of managing the organization’s social media page and finding ways to raise public awareness of homeless people.
Ryan began his internship at the NGO in July via participation of the Student Civic Fellowships, which HKUST Connect offers to give students opportunities for community service and personal growth. Student fellows work for six weeks to 12 months in an NGO or corporate social responsibility projects. This year, participating students showed their creativity and determination to continue their service despite physical limitations posed by the pandemic.
Used to aspire to a high salary career, Ryan has since realized that social value is more important than monetary benefits. “I work with many very experienced social workers and I am fortunate to be able to learn from them. While doing that, I also try to bring value to the mission wherever I could,” Ryan says.
Carina YIP Fung-Ting, a Year 4 biological science major who worked with the Chinese YMCA Chai Wan Neighborhood Elderly Centre, was also required to work from home. The arrangement inspired her to engage the elderly in innovative ways.
Given social distancing measures, elders who would normally spend their day at the center together now have to stay at home. So, she came up with the idea to share essential health tips about protection against COVID-19 through a series of five short videos explaining, for instance, how to handle masks while dining out and how to disinfect themselves when they return home.
“While the younger generations have no difficulty finding the right information online, the elderly may need some help. That’s why I came up with the idea,” explains the recipient of the Mrs Choi Ma Oi Kuen Public Service Leadership Program Award, which HKUST Connect offers to develop students' leadership skills and sense of social commitment through trainings, internships, and leading social service projects of their own.
Another video Carina produced was a step-by-step guide on how to make your own bleach for general household cleaning and disinfection. “We always hear about the 1:99 ratio, meaning mixing one percent of bleach with 99 percent of water. But how does one, let alone the elders, know how to measure it easily?” she asks. The videos she produced are shown on TV in the center and shared with the elders via their instant messaging platforms.
A long-time volunteer, Carina has worked with various NGOs since secondary school and carried on at HKUST. The pandemic has accentuated the need to reach out to the community by non-conventional means, she says.
“It brightens up my day to see people happy, so even though I may not be able to see the elders in person at the moment, I still love spreading joy around – only that it has to take a whole new medium,” she says.
WHEN 17 October 2020
TIME 12:00pm - 8:00pm
HKUST Virtual Information Day for Undergraduate Admissions is scheduled on October 17 (Saturday) from 12 NN to 8 PM (Hong Kong time). Themed “Dare to Dream, Ready to Achieve”, this online event offers you the opportunity to learn more about our admissions activities and life at HKUST.
Below are the highlights you can look forward to at our Virtual Information Day:
- Have individualized consultation with our Admissions representatives.
- Join our live admissions talks and student-sharing sessions, and get answers to your questions straight from our HKUST faculty, admission officers and students.
- Visit our virtual booths and receive information materials on your Department or programs of interest.
- Watch videos featuring the student life and community that define HKUST.
- Explore the university through our Campus 360 virtual tour.
Students, parents and teachers are welcome to join! Do not miss the opportunity to learn more about the world-leading undergraduate programs at the world’s top young university.
Please visit https://join.ust.hk/vinfoday for details and registration.
Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions Office
HKUST’s emphases on science and technology disciplines does not deter artistic talents from pursuing their studies and interests in creative endeavors. The University offers a wide range of scholarships to honor students also for their outstanding non-academic achievements.
For Exodus SIT, one of eight recipients of the Tin Ka Ping Scholarship (Arts), HKUST’s coastal, suburban location not only is a beautiful university to pursue his undergraduate studies, but is also strategic to pursue his greatest interest - stargazing.
Read another related article: Picture Perfect Balance for Student Life
During his four years majoring in Mathematics, Exodus led the Student Astronomy Club, strived to teach popular science on social media, and actively participated in international astronomy organizations.
But the astronomy buff isn’t only into science, he is also a music lover who plays multiple instruments. Last summer, in combining his two interests, he sent a Cantonese song called “Deep Sky Objects” that he composed to the edge of outer space through a music player mounted on a high-altitude balloon.
The title of the song refers to the stars that can only be seen in dark skies. “I wrote the song to tell people that we have to protect the night sky from excessive light for us to see stars in the clear sky,” he says.
“I always try to find new ways to inspire people to learn more about astronomy and science in general. Since I play music, I thought I’d try and merge the two,” he says. “It turns out music is a wonderful vehicle for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education.”
His “out of this world” achievements and “out of the box” creativity earned him the Arts Scholarship. Tin Ka Ping Scholarship was offered for the first time last year to encourage students to broaden their exposure, unleash their potentials and chase dreams.
Exodus says the Scholarship not only recognizes students’ artistic achievements, but a vivid demonstration of the University’s effort in helping students attain all-round development. “Science or arts, it goes back to the heart of education. In fact, in the old days, Renaissance astronomists had to be well-versed in the arts, philosophy, and science.”
Read another related article: Keeping Eyes On the Target
The Arts Scholarship is one of many other non-academic scholarships the University has set up to attract freshmen with diverse talents. One of which is Diversity Scholarship, for students who are “making substantial contribution to and impact on the student body or society at large”, among other criteria.
Alexis YIP, a Global China Studies graduate of 2020, was a recipient of the Diversity Scholarship for her dedication to the establishment of Rainbow Bird, the first LGBTQ+ support group established at the University, with two other students when she was in Year 2. The idea was to raise awareness about LGBTQ-related issues and provide peer emotional and social support to HKUST community members who are concerned about their sexual and gender identity.
“We formed the group because we felt students needed the support. We wanted to let everyone at the University know ‘you are safe and free to speak your mind here’,” she recalls. She also set up an art exhibition to break down stereotypes about LGBTQ people, reflecting her commitment to the University’s core values of Inclusiveness, Diversity, and Respect.
Besides the Diversity Scholarship, Alexis was also awarded last year the Stephen Cheong Kam-chuen Medal for Distinguished Service to the Student Body, which recognizes students who best exemplify the qualities of caring, constructive, and dedicated leadership during studies.
“I think of true inclusivity as people seeing each other as fellow human beings and not treat some people differently based on race, sexual orientation, disability, or mental capability,” she says. “I’m hopeful we are going in the right direction in creating an inclusive environment.”
Don’t miss the opportunity to have your achievement being recognized like Exodus and Alexis! Check out the list of scholarships available for all students here.
By Prof. Jason Chan, Assistant Professor of Science Education in the Department of Chemistry
Resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong once again left us all worrying about our safety in the midst of the global pandemic. Laboratory tests for the coronavirus is our essential frontline defence to identify infected persons for treatments and isolation. In this article, let’s take a look at the science behind how testing for the novel coronavirus is carried out.
To receive testing, a deep throat saliva sample will be collected and sent to the laboratory for screening to see whether it contained the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The screening test is based on One-step Reverse Transcription Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR). To appreciate how the test works, we need to break it down into smaller parts.
1. Reverse Transcription (RT)
Our genetic information is stored and encoded in the sequence of four bases (A, T, C, G) on a polymer chain called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Different stretches of these bases would encode for amino acid sequences of our proteins.
When our body needs to manufacture a certain protein, it would start by making a copy of the genetic codes to use as the transient storage. The cell chooses to write this transient copy in RNA (ribonucleic acid). The RNA copy of the gene is known as messenger RNA (mRNA). This process of forming mRNA from the DNA is known as transcription.
RNA viruses use RNA instead of DNA to store their genetic information. Some of them use their viral RNA directly as mRNA inside a host cell(such as SARS-CoV-2), while others (such as HIV viruses) convert their RNA into DNA once they enter a host cell to allow them to insert their viral sequences into the host’s DNA genome and trick the host to make copies of the virus. This process of making a DNA copy from RNA is the reversal of transcription, known as reverse transcription. RNA viruses have an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that carries out this reaction and the DNA produced from the RNA in this way is called complementary DNA (cDNA). cDNA is needed for the next step, PCR, as the template material.
2. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
The PCR reaction produces millions of copies of a target segment of DNA from even a single copy. This amplification of DNA sequence can provide scientists with sufficient amounts of DNA materials allowing them to study and work with them, such as to check if a match is present with a viral sequence.
The PCR reaction mixture contains at least these key components:
- a template (the original DNA material from which copies are made)
- a heat-stable DNA polymerase (an enzyme to make DNA copies)
- two short DNA pieces called primers (to mark the start and end of the target section)
- the substrates for making new DNA chains (dNTPs)
- a magnesium salt (Mg2+ is a co-factor for the polymerase)
- buffers (to maintain optimal pH for the enzyme).
This mixture is placed into a small plastic tube and into a thermocycler that would subject the mixture to cycles of the two key temperatures: 95 oC (3 sec) and 55 oC (30 sec).
At 95 oC, the template, in our case, the double-stranded cDNA from reverse transcription step would separate into two single strands. This step is called denaturation.
Then upon cooling to 55 oC, two DNA primers which are specific to SARS-CoV-2 sequences would now try and find complementary sequence to pair up with. If the cDNA from the virus is present, they will find the sequence and bind with it. This step is called annealing. Once the primers annealed with the correct sequence, DNA polymerase enzymes would also build new DNA copies during this period. This step is called extension. After this step, we would end up with two DNA strands from only one that was started with.
When the temperature is returned to 95 oC for the next cycle, the extension would stop as the newly formed double-stranded DNAs separate into single strands. They will be ready to act as templates when they hit 55 oC.
With each cycle being repeated, the number of DNA strands present would be doubled, such that after 45 cycles, there will be up to 245 copies of the target the DNA present.
3. Real-time or Quantitative PCR (qPCR)
One inconvenience for the usual form of PCR is there’s no way to know if the reactions are working well until all cycles are completed and you run a test to check the products. Scientists developed a modified version of PCR that allowed them to monitor the PCR reaction in real time as copies are being made. This is called real-time PCR or quantitative PCR. This is achieved by adding a DNA probe that has complementary sequence to a short region within the target gene. This probe contains two features: a reporter fluorescent dye (FAM) capping one end and a quencher unit (BHQ1) at the other end. When both ends are attached together on the probe, the quencher prevents the fluorescent dye from glowing and giving any signals.
During the annealing step, the probe would bind onto the template strand and the polymerase would eventually reach that position during chain extension. At this point, the polymerase would cleave off the fluorescent reporter from the probe, and fluorescence can be observed under UV light. Measuring the intensity of fluorescence signal gives us a way to tell if the PCR is going well within the tubes.
4. One-step RT-qPCR
Mucus samples collected from the deep throat of patients suspected of infection may contain the coronavirus and the viral RNA can be detected by a RT-qPCR reaction.
The first step is to convert the RNA in the viruses into cDNA by reverse transcription. The cDNA is then used for qPCR reaction in the next step.
Traditionally, one would have to extract the cDNA from reverse transcription (RT) before adding that into the qPCR reaction mixture. This two-step procedure is slow and tedious. In one-step RT-qPCR, these two steps have been combined into a one-pot reaction, which increased efficiency greatly. Temperature alone can control RT or qPCR steps.
In this article, we described the original protocol developed by CDC. Improved procedures have since been developed that would provide higher sensitivity (e.g. SYBR® Green probes).
5. Control experiments
The reliability of COVID-19 tests is of paramount importance. After all, no one would want to be falsely diagnosed with it (called false positive). On the other hand, it would pose a great danger to the public if the infected were mis-diagnosed as negative (called false-negative).
RT-qPCR tests are not fail-proof and it is possible to mess up at the various stages of the test. To prevent errors from creeping in, a set of control experiments are included to ensure each stage of the test is working as planned.
The first stage is the extraction of nucleic acids from the patient’s specimen. To check this has been done well, a human specimen control sample is included in the test kit. Both of these samples are needed to be tested positive for the presence of a common human gene (RNase P gene)./p>
Next, a sample of SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid sequences are included in the test kit. They are used as positive controls. These control samples need to be tested positive to ensure the RT-qPCR is functioning properly. Additionally, a negative control is also done that contains no biological sample and that should give negative results to all the tests.
A unanimous confirmation is only given when a patient’s sample is tested positive for not one, but three segments of sequences that are specific to SARS-CoV-2 and all the control experiments showed their expected results.
Let us not forget to thank all the laboratory workers for their hard work in providing us with reliable screening tests! Should you feel unwell with even the slightest symptoms of COVID-19, you should arrange for a screening test at a private or government clinic at the earliest instance!