New research programmes in Singapore to address challenges in precision agriculture

New research programmes in Singapore to address challenges in precision agriculture, antimicrobial resistance and cyber-physical systems

Photo credit: National Climate Change Secretariat, Prime
Minister’s Office, Singapore

The Campus for Research Excellence And Technological
Enterprise (CREATE) in Singapore commemorated its
10-year milestone with new
to achieve greater impact from Singapore’s research
partnerships with world-renowned universities.

CREATE was set up by the National Research Foundation (NRF)
in 2007 to attract highly-regarded R&D institutions from all over the world
to set up research centres in Singapore, to partner Singapore universities and
research institutions to collaboratively conduct research in Singapore. Today,
CREATE supports the work of more than 400 research staff from overseas
partner institutions and close to 300 graduate students from the National
University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the
Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and the Singapore
Management University (SMU).

They work under the guidance of 170 Principal Investigators
from overseas partner institutions and 240 academics from Singapore
universities and research institutions. In total, close to 1,100 researchers
from more than 40 countries are collaborating on projects at CREATE. To date,
research at CREATE has produced around 540 patent applications, 336 invention
disclosures and 15 spin-off companies.

The new efforts include the formation of a CREATE Governing
Council to chart the overall strategy of the campus in terms of research
directions and collaborative efforts. The council will deepen engagements
between Singapore universities and the 2/4 overseas partner institutions in
CREATE by tapping synergies between multiple parties to achieve high impact

The CREATE governing council will be chaired by Mr. Peter
Ho, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Senior Advisor to the
Centre for Strategic Futures. It will comprise presidents from partner
universities in CREATE and members from government and academia.

Three new programmes have been announced in precision
agriculture, antimicrobial resistance and cyber-physical systems to create
globally-relevant technologies that will also address the challenges of

Precision agriculture

A Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural
Precision (DiSTAP) Interdisciplinary Research Group will be formed by the
Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), in partnerships
with Singapore universities and research institutions.

Commencing in January 2018 for an initial period of five
years, DiSTAP seeks to develop nanosensor-based detection technologies to be
applied in precision agriculture for the discovery, optimisation and
translation of plant biosynthetic pathways for improved yields in production.

In the Singapore context, DiSTAP could contribute solutions
to the challenges of urban food and nutrient production. The programme seeks to
develop technologies for highly resource-efficient urban farming and generate
economic value in the form of exportable technologies in innovative urban
farming. While the nano sensors and optical technologies will be initially
deployed for use in urban farming of leafy green vegetables, they should have
broad applicability in precision agriculture.

DiSTAP will be co-led by Professor Michael Strano from
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Professor Chua Nam Hai from
Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL). The research team will also include
Principal Investigators from NUS and NTU.

Researchers will also collaborate with Greenphyto, a local
developer of an automated vertical farming system, to ensure that Singapore
small and medium companies could benefit from new technologies developed in the

Professor Michael Strano, Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of
Chemical Engineering, MIT, said, “The Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies
for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) will utilise new techniques developed at
MIT to help world-class Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) produce the next
generation of agricultural products. Using powerful nanosensor technology, we
will tap and measure biochemical signaling pathways within the plant not
possible until now. The TLL is well-positioned to capitalise on these advances.
DiSTAP will engineer new plants to solve longstanding problems in agriculture
and also translate these advances to state-of-the-art biomanufacturing
technologies. The goal is to make the TLL and Singapore the technological hub
for a new generation of agricultural research methods.”

Professor Chua Nam Hai, Deputy Chairman, TLL, said: “Temasek
Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) focuses on the development of innovative
solutions to address realworld needs with the ultimate aim of improving lives
and benefitting the society. By leveraging TLL’s plant biology expertise, we
hope to contribute to the production of higher yielding plants and new systems
that enable high-density urban farming. We are pleased to partake in this joint
effort with these outstanding research and industry 3/4 partners and look
forward to the sustainable production of plant products for enhancing food
sustainability in Singapore.”

Antimicrobial Drug Resistance

An Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Interdisciplinary Research
Group will be formed by SMART, in partnerships with Singapore universities and
research institutions.

Also commencing in January 2018 for an initial period of
five years, it seeks to identify new antimicrobial drug resistance mechanisms,
with the goal of developing new therapeutics diagnostics and drug delivery
technologies and approaches, such as exploiting host immunity to kill resistant

Drug-resistant pathogens as well as emerging pathogens with
the potential to become drug resistant represent a real threat to the public
health and national security of Singapore. A significant 35-50% of bacterial
infections in Singapore hospitals are now resistant to antibiotics. The
Singapore Government recently launched a National
Strategic Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

The AMR programme will apply novel technologies to seek to
understand the biological mechanisms of drug resistance in microbes that are
relevant to Singapore. The team will then exploit these mechanisms to create
new approaches to identify and treat drug-resistant bacteria, parasites and

 The AMR programme
will be co-led by Professor Peter Dedon from MIT and Professor Peter Preiser
from NTU. The research team will also include Principal Investigators from NTU,
NUS, Duke-NUS, NTU/Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and the Singapore General
Hospital (SGH).

Professor Peter Dedon, Underwood-Prescott Professor in
Biological Engineering, MIT, said: “It is a privilege to work with such a
talented team of Singaporean and MIT researchers in the AMR research group.
This group brings exciting new technologies to bear on solving the most
challenging problems posed by antimicrobial drug resistance in Singapore and
around the world. We are all eager to get moving!”

Professor Peter Preiser, Chair, School of Biological
Sciences, NTU, said: “I am very excited about the unique opportunity the AMR
research group offers to Singaporean and MIT researchers to work together to
have a lasting impact on solving the global problem of antimicrobial drug


A Trustworthy and Secure Cyber-Plexus (TSCP) research
programme will be formed to examine the reliability and security of
cyber-physical systems in existing critical infrastructure.

The research team is led by Professor David Nicol from the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and it comprises
investigators from SUTD and UIUC. The programme will address prevailing issues
in trust and security of cyber-physical systems and improve the robustness of
critical cyber infrastructure in Singapore. Research under the programme
commenced in September 2017, for an initial period of five years.

Cyber-physical systems integrate computational, networking,
and physical processes. Existing cybersecurity solutions for cyber-physical
systems cannot ensure that the components within the systems behave as

The TSCP research programme will develop an overlay architecture
which can be integrated with cyber-physical systems in existing
infrastructures, to make them more trustworthy, reliable and secure.

Technologies for deep authentication, command validation,
detection of intrusion and interdiction will be developed to prevent
disruptions and to rapidly restore cyber operations following a disruption. The
programme will first focus on developing technology prototypes for energy
systems. The technologies developed could then be applied in other sectors
including transportation and advanced manufacturing systems.

The programme will also develop a pipeline of highly-trained
researchers who specialise in safeguarding the security of cyber-physical systems.
It will work closely with industry players to create a commercial pathway for
the adoption of its technology.

Professor David Nicol, Franklin W. Woeltge Professor of
Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director, Information Trust Institute, UIUC,
said: “We are excited for the opportunity of working with Singapore’s
universities and industries to address this key challenge of securing the cyber
component of critical infrastructures. As a result of Singapore’s strong
culture of partnership and cooperation among government, universities, and
industry, we have a unique opportunity to tackle this problem in an operational
context. We are confident that what we learn and develop here will have
application in other modern nations, and are grateful to NRF for bringing us
into the CREATE community.”