Recognized internationally for his research in soybean, Prof. Lam Hon-ming, director of the Centre for Soybean Research and professor of the School of Life Sciences, disclosed that he knew little about soybean before engaging in the research. His work is a result not only of his commitment to advancing argricultural development, but also of a promise made to a senior scientist in the field.
On 1 April, Professor Lam hosted the third lecture of ‘The Pursuit of Wisdom’ Public Lecture Series entitled ‘Soybean Research: A Journey from Laboratory to Field’.
The journey started with Professor Lam’s trip to the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences—where he met Prof. Shao Guihua—in 1998 for exploring research topics. ‘Professor Shao devoted most of her career life in the field research of salt tolerance in soybeans. Limited by age and lack of proper facilities, she could not complete the study by herself. I proposed to achieve this goal with my team from CUHK and pledged to deliver my promise,’ said Professor Lam.
Since then, Professor Lam has decoded the genomes of 17 wild and 14 cultivated soybeans. The publication of these findings in the cover story of Nature Genetics in 2010 laid down the foundation for related research projects and programmes. In 2014, he successfully identified and cloned a new salt-tolerant gene from wild soybeans. The findings were published in Nature Communications in the same year. In 2019, his research team completed the world’s first reference-grade wild soybean genome.
Professor Lam also applied his findings to practice. By collaborating with mainland soybean breeders, three new varieties of stress-tolerant soybean were successfully bred in Gansu Province. The new varieties have been applied in semi-arid and drought-stricken areas in Northwest China. In 2018, he launched the STEAM@SOYBEAN Project to promote secondary school students’ interests in soybean cultivation.
The promise made 20 years ago has been fulfilled. But the journey goes on. Right after delivering the lecture, Professor Lam got on a flight to South Africa to help local peasants to cultivate stress-tolerant soybeans.
This article was originally published in No. 536, Newsletter in Apr 2019.