Nanyang Technological University

Harnessing the power of micro-organisms
Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering


If birds of the same feather flock together, so do communities of micro-organisms such as bacteria. The study of biofilms looks at what makes micro-organisms band together and how that information can be used to solve critical water and environmental challenges.

NTU is leading the development of the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), a key national research outfit that will harness the power of micro-organisms to solve various water and environmental issues.

In five years, the Centre aims to become a world leader in microbial biofilms, as well as a source of novel environmental engineering applications that tap the hidden power of such communities to solve problems from dirty water to toxic pollutants and infectious diseases.

For a start, the Centre will study biofilms which are communities of micro-organisms for cleaning up pollutants or contaminants and enhancing wastewater treatment. It will also establish an international biofilm database to manage research data arising from similar research efforts elsewhere.

The man at the helm is a leading authority and pioneer in biofilm biology, Prof Staffan Kjelleberg, founder of the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and a research leader at NTU since 2008.

A renowned expert in complex microbial communities, Prof Yehuda Cohen is Deputy Director of SCELSE. Professor Cohen is from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, where he founded the Minerva Centre for Marine Biogeochemistry.

On SCELSE's Scientific Advisory Board is US genetics pioneer Prof J Craig Venter, well known for sequencing the human genome and making global headlines for leading a team that invented the world’s first synthetic cell.

The Centre will recruit other world experts in environmental research, as well as draw on interdisciplinary talent from NTU's Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Observatory of Singapore.

A Singapore Research Centre of Excellence, SCELSE receives S$120 million in government funding. This Research Centre of Excellence is unique as it will include research contributions from the National University of Singapore (NUS). NTU and NUS will contribute S$62 million and S$24 million respectively to fund SCELSE's activities, bringing the Centre's dedicated funding to S$206 million.

Within five years, SCELSE expects to have 25 faculty members supported by a team of technical and administrative staff. To continue the cycle of research and discovery, its top scientists will groom about 100 graduate students and 40 post-doctoral fellows over a period of ten years.


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