Stranger No More: Elvis Chua On Discovering The Wonders Of Synthetic Biology

By Kami Navarro

While the term ‘synthetic biology’ was coined over a century ago in 1912, it’s only recently that the field has blossomed into the buzzing research area at the interface of molecular biology and engineering. Accordingly, synthetic biology researchers come from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds ranging from chemical engineering, bioinformatics, and more.

Having been trained as a chemist, diving into a new and unfamiliar research area was initially daunting for SynCTI Research Fellow Elvis Chua. Since joining the laboratory, however, Elvis has been able to put his chemistry knowledge to good use by supporting the analytical aspects of SynCTI.

In this feature, discover a day in the life of Elvis and learn about his journey navigating the brave new world of synthetic biology research.

1.   What does your day as a research fellow look like? 

As I am heavily involved in supporting the analytical side of SynCTI, everyday is about tackling how to measure different challenging chemical compounds. And this is not an easy task since SynCTI has projects in many different fields such as food, pharmaceuticals, and environmental mitigation.

2.   What inspired you to explore the field of synthetic biology? 

During my PhD, I always considered myself as a stranger to synthetic biology especially because of the strict policies on working with genetically modified organisms in Australia. Thus, I am very new to the field and everything was just amazing to me. After one year, I’ve come to realise just how synthetic biology can really change how we will live in the future world.

3.   What do you enjoy most about working at SynCTI? 

Because of the various projects in SynCTI, I am learning so many things, not only from the different seminars, but also from the numerous researchers and PhD students that I work with. Aside from this, I enjoy teaching and sharing my skills to fellow researchers especially the PhD students. I am really thankful for the camaraderie I share with my fellow group members.

4.   What scientific advancements are you most excited about? 

I am most excited about how new technology can support high-throughput screening needed for synthetic biology experiments especially when we are talking about doing hundreds to thousands of mutations in microorganisms. Currently, there are only a number of instrument manufacturers that cater to this high-throughput need. And so, with the increasing popularity of synthetic biology, it is very exciting to think about how this challenge will be tackled.

5.   Outside of the laboratory, what do you enjoy doing?

As I came from Queensland, I do miss the green parks. So I enjoy walking along Singapore’s Botanic Gardens during my free time. I also volunteer at a local church as part of the audiovisual team.