Inspired by our Hong Kong home, this month we’ve launched an exciting new crowdfunding project to help learn about the enigmatic biological and genetic history of the beautiful symbol of Hong Kong: the Bauhinia flower.
Hong Kong’s emblem is the beautiful flower of the Hong Kong Orchid Tree Bauhinia blakeana: mysterious in origin, beautiful to photograph, and lovely along the roadside and in any garden.
History of the Bauhinia flower
It was first discovered growing on a remote mountainside in Hong Kong in the 1880’s, but how it got there is a mystery – especially since it is sterile. But now, we have an opportunity to get a glimpse into its past by carrying out a crowdfunding project to determine its entire genetic make up.
In addition, it’s a project that everyone can be involved in: from gardeners to botanists, to photographers to school children, including local historians— really, to anyone interested in being a part of Hong Kong’s First Emblematic Genome Project and understanding the biological secrets of this unique flower.
A new crowdfunding project
Teaming up with BGI Hong Kong and scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, this new crowdfunding project (launched here in the South China Morning Post) will use one of the best techniques to help uncover the secrets of any living being: sequencing the genome.
Determining every letter in an organism’s genetic code allows insight into its biology, evolution, and parentage, which is especially important for this flower, as its parents were clearly two different species.
Genome Sequencing is also one of the key technologies defining the 21st century, and a field in which Hong Kong has made major advances (for example in BGI Hong Kong’s giant sequencing capacity, as well circulating DNA diagnostics), though more effort is needed to engage and inform the general public.
To build such a cooperative endeavor, we’ve teamed up with a group of local based scientists from BGI-Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong to launch the Hong Kong genome project.
Through sequencing the genome of the our emblem to better understand where it came from; this will help to train local students to assemble and analyze the data – crucial skills needed for this field to advance; and engage and educate the public through local pride (listen to our radio interview for an example of that).
The project seeks a variety of things from the community: at its most basic level, help in the form of donations can be provided at the project’s website. As a community project no contribution is too small, so please contribute via the crowdfunding page.
Furthermore, we’ll be carrying out community engagement and citizen science in Bauhinia Watch, where people in the community can inform researchers about sightings of the flower and its relatives, and look for the very rare individual plants that may produce seeds.
Photographs along with location information are especially desired and can be shared with the global community on social media (use the #BauhiniaWatch tag).
Also, getting involved in educating the community is key. The project’s website, in addition to explaining the science behind the project, provides information for identifying the different Bauhinia species, which can be fun for the whole family. (Now is the time! Bauhinia blakeana is in peak flowering season from November to March).
Moreover, this is a great opportunity for creating school projects, to learn about botany, evolution, the latest scientific technologies, and to participate in the research or carry out fundraising to join the Bauhinia community.
This will be the first Hong Kong genome project: funded by the public; sequenced in Hong Kong; assembled and analyzed by local students; and directly shared with the community.
Being Open Data advocates, all data produced will immediately be shared with our GigaDB platform, and all methods, analyses and teaching materials will be captured and made open to empower others to carry out similar efforts around the world.
Bauhinia Genome welcomes contributions and interest from across the globe, hoping this serves as a model to inspire and inform other national genome projects, and aid the development of crucial genomic literacy and skills across the globe; inspiring and training a new generation of scientists to use these tools to tackle the biggest threats to mankind: climate change, disease and food security.