Hong Kong’s emblem is the beautiful Bauhinia flower and appears on our flag. This is the flower of the orchid tree Bauhinia blakeana, which was first discovered in Hong Kong. What many people may not know is that it is a sterile hybrid, and how and why it ended up in Hong Kong is shrouded in mystery.

One of the best ways to help uncover the secrets of any organism is by understanding its genetic makeup. Genomics, sequencing of the genetic code of organisms, provides a complete look into the genetic complement of any species. It is also one of the key technologies that will define the 21st century. While Hong Kong has made major advances in this field, the general public has a very poor awareness and understanding of what this field even is.

By bringing together the emblematic and mysterious Bauhinia flower and the power and knowledge of genome technology, we can build a bridge between science and community— enlightening our understanding of this plant’s interesting biology and informing and educating the public about this exciting and rapidly advancing field.

To build such a collaborative endeavor, we are launching the Hong Kong genome project through which we will sequence the genome of the Hong Kong emblem to better understand where it came from; train local students to assemble and analyse the data — crucial skills needed for this field to advance; and engage the public through local pride.

This will be the first Hong Kong genome project: funded by the public; sequenced in Hong Kong; assembled and analysed by local students; and directly shared with the public. We also welcome contributions and interest from the rest of the world, 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.