ASIA – Asian agribusiness company Wilmar International and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invested in a new research laboratory to conduct clinical nutrition and synthetic biology research to create healthier food products, worth US$80.1 million.

According to FoodBev, the laboratory seeks to strengthen Singapore’s innovation system by conducting industry-relevant research and development.

Research activities at the 2,000-square-metre laboratory will focus on two key areas: firstly, to address major public health issues through the development of healthier foods and ingredients; and secondly, to design cost-effective and sustainable methods of producing chemical compounds using natural sources.

Based at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the research facility was jointly set up by Wilmar, NUS and the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore.

NUS said that as food choices and uptake are influenced by culture and ethnicity, Asian-centric studies are “essential to better manage and prevent such lifestyle-related diseases in Singapore and the region”.

Wilmar CEO Kuok Khoon Hong said: “As a Singapore-headquartered company, Wilmar is very honoured to be able to leverage the world-class clinical research capabilities of NUS in this academic-industry collaboration.

We hope that this gathering of great minds will result in the development of new technologies that can enhance the quality of our food products and at the same time reduce our carbon footprint.

This way, consumers worldwide will benefit.”

Researchers at the WILNUS Corporate Laboratory will study how different combinations of food can alter absorption and metabolism in Asians, and ultimately prevent diseases or promote health and well-being.

These biochemicals can then be used in industries such as food and nutrition, flavours and fragrances, as well as therapeutics.

“This win-win partnership combines NUS’s strong expertise in biomedical sciences and translational medicine with Wilmar’s rich industry experience and global networks to address two pressing real-world challenges: lifestyle-related diseases and sustainable production of industrial chemicals,” said NUS president Tan Eng Chye.

“We look forward to working closely with Wilmar to create and commercialise scientific innovations to improve health outcomes as well as generate societal and economic benefits for Singapore, Asia and beyond.”

Scientists at the WILNUS Corporate Laboratory will also capitalise on recent advances in the field of synthetic biology to engineer microbes and enzymes – to function as ‘bio-factories’ – to produce biochemicals from natural sources in a more sustainable and cost-effective way.

NRF CEO Low Teck Seng added: “The partnership between Wilmar and NUS is significant as it builds on Singapore’s growing research expertise in synthetic biology, nutrition and food science.

The WILNUS Corporate Laboratory leverages the deep knowledge and strong capabilities in NUS, and will see researchers work with industry to create products that have high value for health, nutrition and industrial use.

“Companies are investing more in R&D to create new products and businesses for growth.

We will continue to support industry-academia partnerships to translate cutting-edge technologies into health and economic benefits for Singapore.”