His innovation and pioneering spirit, commitment and hard work, ingenuity and world class achievements embody the qualities of excellence that the Merdeka Award recognises.
Tan Sri Datuk Dr Augustine Ong Soon Hock
Member of the Nomination Committee,
Health, Science and Technology
Academician Professor Emeritus Dr Yong Hoi Sen was born on August 25, 1939 in Mentakab, Pahang Darul Makmur. His parents came from Guangdong, China, with little or no education. When Professor Dr Yong was in Primary Six, his father passed away. His mother supported him and his two younger brothers by growing vegetables in their yard in Mentakab New Village, Pahang.
Despite the difficult home environment, Professor Dr Yong was a bright student. He received the Pahang State Scholarship when he was in upper secondary, enabling him to continue his sixth form studies at the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur where his interest in biology was kindled.
Researching the richness and diversity of the Malaysian ecosystem.
"When I was in Form 6, I was exposed to two field projects organised by the biology teacher – one on the vegetation of tin tailings and the other on the fauna of the Dark Cave of Batu Caves," he said. "The outcome was my first publication on the fauna of Batu Caves which appeared in the Scientific Victorian (1960).
"In those days, you had to choose between biology and mathematics in the science stream, so I decided to pursue disciplines in life science," he added.
Professor Dr Yong received all his formal education in Malaysia, graduating from the University of Malaya where he specialised in the areas of botany and zoology and received his doctorate from the same university for research in genetics and zoology.
He is the first Malaysian to hold the Chair of Zoology at the University of Malaya and is currently Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Malaya.
He has supervised 11 PhD and 12 MSc candidates, in addition to numerous final year research projects. A number of foreign and local higher degree students under his supervision have successfully produced monoclonal antibodies against various human parasites. These monoclonal antibodies could be employed for diagnostic purposes. A molecular marker was discovered by Praphathip Eamsobhana, his PhD student from Thailand, for the diagnosis or confirmation of human angiostrongyliasis which is a disease due to the presence of lung worm.
Professor Dr Yong has published over 300 articles and four books on Malaysian flora and fauna. He also established an illustrated quarterly called NATURE MALAYSIANA, and was editor of various journals including the Malayan Nature Journal.
Although he was offered a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for a PhD in the United Kingdom, Professor Dr Yong chose to receive all his education in Malaysia and says this has not been a disadvantage to him.
Professor Dr Yong adopts a holistic and innovative approach to solving problems in biosystematics, employing both classical and modern methods.
"In life sciences, correct identification (or diagnosis) is critical and biological problems are often very complex and require different approaches to arrive at the correct answer," he said.
"When I was pursuing my PhD, there existed conflicting opinions on some specific problems such as whether two given rats were of the same or different species, based on 'classical approaches' (anatomy and morphology)," he added. "To resolve the problem, I employed modern or newer approaches such as cytogenetics, immunogenetics, serology, and electrophoresis. This multidisciplinary approach resolved the problem for good. In a particular case, the two rats considered to be colour phases/morphs of the same species were shown to be valid sibling species. The challenges in those days were the lack of equipment and experts for guidance. I had to learn from existing publications."
His innovative approach and wide interests have led him to explore several branches of biology. Among outstanding and significant discoveries made by Professor Dr Yong were the direct development of frogs - that female mammals with XO chromosome constitution or X-monosomy may be fertile. His other discovery is the phenomenon of isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) gene duplication in soy bean.
Prof Yong has identified many new species and recorded new living organisms in Malaysia.
"The answers for many biological problems require multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary inputs," he said. "My main tool was genetics and this is a very powerful tool in solving many biological problems."
"Of course I had and still have great interest in various groups of living organisms," he added. "I believe that to excel, one must be multi-skilled, flexible, and knowledgeable with broadbased knowledge. One must also have basic knowledge on various disciplines of science and humanities."
Professor Dr Yong is also a keen researcher in the area of human and medical cytogenetics to identify the genetic or hereditary basis of diseases and disorders.
He made new discoveries of species and recorded new living organisms and confirmed the occurrence of many other species in Malaysia.
The discovery of the largest trypanosome parasite found in frogs and toads in the world was among his most noteworthy achievement. The parasite, called Trypanosoma raksasa, was also a milestone in that Malay was used next to the traditional Latin nomenclature.
"The use of Malay words or words in any other language does not pose any problem in naming a new species of living organism," he said. In fact, there are others now using Malay words for naming new species."
Several other species of fauna have been named after him by foreign scientists including Topomyia (Topomyia) yongi, a species of mosquito from Peninsular Malaysia, and Kalophrynus yongi, a new microhylid.
On being named the joint recipient of the 2010 Merdeka Award in the Outstanding Scholastic Achievement category, he remains modest and says that he is pleased that associates and friends in the scientific community have recognised his contributions in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Professor Dr Yong was appointed by the Government of Malaysia as a Foundation Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in 1995. He was appointed a Senior Fellow (with the title Academician) in 2002, and was conferred the JMN (Johan Mangku Negara) by His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 2002.
Professor Dr Yong has been honoured with several other accolades including the Malaysia Toray Science Foundation First Science and Technology Award in 1994 and the National Science Award in 1995.
Prof Yong's publications are well received locally and internationally.
Despite his many achievements, he views his published works as his most significant achievement.
"I think my greatest success is in pioneering the local publication of scientific works by Malaysians, and founding and editing the first-ever Malaysian full-colour quarterly NATURE MALAYSIANA for some 20 years. This magazine and the books have been very well received locally, regionally and internationally," he said.
He advises young people interested in pursuing a career in science to be creative and imaginative and to pursue original ideas and new knowledge.
"They should not be in a great hurry as significant breakthroughs can rarely be documented before a decade or so of sustained activity," he said.
Carrying out a field study early on in his career.
Professor Dr Yong is an outstanding scientist whose accomplishments play a major role in advancing research and education in science. He has demonstrated the benefit of wide ranging research and its far reaching impact on the understanding of the natural world.