JUSTL participant: Dr Ling Ming Tsang

21 May 2020

Dr Ling Ming Tsang is an Assistant Professor in the Simon FS Li Marine Science Laboratory in the School of Life Sciences at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He graduated with a PhD in 2010 from the laboratory of Prof Ka Hou Chu at The Chinese University of Hong Kong where he studied the evolution and phylogeny of various crustaceans such as crabs, hermit crabs and shrimps. After his PhD, Dr Tsang stayed on in Prof Chu’s laboratory as a post-doctoral research for 3 years, after which he went to Taiwan to work as an Assistant Professor and then as an Associate Professor for almost 5 years.

Current Work

Dr Tsang established his own laboratory in the The Chinese University of Hong Kong Simon FS Li Marine Science Laboratory in February 2018. He now has a number of projects. He uses molecular techniques such as next-generation sequencing (NGS) along with big data and RNA sequencing to investigate the evolution and ecology of crustaceans living in Hong Kong waters. One of his projects involves investigating how mangrove crabs digest leaves, if they contain the correct genes themselves or if they possess bacteria in their gut, which help to break down the plant material. To this end, his team are studying the genome of the bacteria and the crab in order to determine the relative contribution of the two. They also investigate how these different species evolve along different lineages. In addition, Dr Tsang conducts several projects related to conservation; he uses sequencing techniques to identify new species in Hong Kong, and simple population genetics to investigate the genetic diversity of different populations such as freshwater shrimp living in streams in and around the New Territories. Most recently, Dr Tsang and his colleagues have started to prepare a series of guidebooks for the marine organisms in Hong Kong. He goes out into the field, takes photographs of different species of crabs and then writes a brief description about how they can be identified.

JUSTL Programme

Dr Tsang was a first year PhD student when he joined the JUSTL programme in 2008. Another student from the Marine Science Laboratory (Alice Lie) had been involved in the programme during the previous summer and she highly recommended it to Dr Tsang. In addition, Dr Tsang’s PhD supervisor, who is an alumnus of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), suggested that Dr Tsang apply for the JUSTL programme to get some outside research and life experience. Not having travelled for such a long period before, Dr Tsang was hesitant at first, but when he was on the JUSTL programme, he thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Dr Tsang’s JUSTL mentor was Dr Timothy Shank who is a year-round scientist at the WHOI, which (like the MBL) is part of the Woods Hole Consortium. Dr Shank is interested in the molecular ecology and evolution of species living in the deepest part of the ocean, called the benthic layer. When he worked in the Shank laboratory, Dr Tsang analysed some of samples collected by the WHOI remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) from various deep-ocean sites. He also investigated the population genetics of the stalked barnacle (Glyptelasma sp.) from these sites using molecular techniques. Today, many researchers routinely apply these methods but over a decade ago, when Dr Tsang was working in Dr Shank’s laboratory, this technology was new and cutting-edge.

In addition to the research, Dr Tsang recalls the social and cultural aspects of the JUSTL programme: meeting and interacting with people from different places, and playing cards late at night in the dorm. He pointed out that even though the JUSTL programme had some limitations with regards to the duration of stay (only being for 8 weeks), it was so successful because it gave students inspiration and hope with regards to their future career. He thinks that this is a major benefit of the JUSTL programme.

Now that Dr Tsang is responsible for his own students, he is involved in helping to arrange overseas exchange for them. He now understands the importance of matching the students with right mentor depending on their interests. He said that Woods Hole is a unique place, and when other exchange programmes are arranged it is very difficult to exactly mimic the JUSTL programme at the MBL where everything, including the arrangement of accommodation and meal times allow researchers to interact.

Even though Dr Tsang spent his time in Dr Shank’s laboratory at WHOI, he still attended lectures and workshops at the MBL. Indeed, he attended all of the lectures and also joined in with the afternoon laboratory sessions for the Workshop on Molecular Evolution. Dr Tsang said that he learned a lot from the scientists running this course who were all leading experts in their field.

In addition to these various academic activities, Dr Tsang has many great memories from the JUSTL programme. He especially remembers the going to a barbecue, and also watching fire-flies as they walked back to the dorm one night. He said that if in the future another similar programme is organised then he would definitely encourage his students to attend.