Dr Tony Tan’s son clarifies his National Service status

Patrick Tan Boon Ooi

Dr Patrick Tan is the son of Presidential Hopeful and former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam. He is currently a research scientist at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Cancer Sciences Institute of Singapore. This is the official account of Dr Patrick Tan’s National Service stint. He was recently alleged by Temasek Review of ‘special treatment’ in the SAF due to his father’s status as Minister of Defence at that time.

Dr Patrick Tan

Dr Patrick Tan

I am proud to have served Singapore during my National Service. It is deeply upsetting to me that rumours have been circulating that impugn my integrity and the institution of National Service.

After completing my A-levels in 1987, I joined my cohort entering National Service in 1988. After completing Basic Military Training and Officer Cadet School (Junior Term), I was awarded a President’s Scholarship and a Loke Cheng Kim Scholarship to study medicine in the United States, where medical training typically comprises of a pre-medical degree followed by a graduate medical degree.

This is a longer process than in Singapore or the UK, but I chose it because I believed it was the best training for a medical scientist. I made my case to the Ministry of Defence and was granted permission to pursue this course of study.

I attended Harvard University (late 1988-1992) for pre-medical studies and moved on directly without interruption to Stanford University, where I completed an MD-PhD degree under the highly-selective Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). During my studies, I also acquired experience in DNA microarray technology. The science behind this revolutionary scientific tool by Stanford scientists Drs Patrick Brown and Ron Davis was developed in 1995. With its applicability proven in 1997,  microarray technology was only available at a few centers worldwide.  I graduated with the Charles Yanofsky Award for Most Outstanding Graduate Thesis in Biology or Chemistry.

After graduating from Stanford, I returned to Singapore in 2000 ready to complete my National Service in whatever post I was assigned. I knew that I had this obligation to complete. My father had since become Minister of Defence, but if anything that made it all the more important to carry out my duty.

At that time, melioidosis (also known as “soil disease”) was a serious concern to MINDEF as it had been affecting soldiers in the field and is a potential bio-terrorism threat (see below for more details). I was attached to what is now the Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute (DMERI, then called DMRI) to research Burkholderia pseudomallei, the bacterium that causes melioidosis. This research involved an organism called C. elegans, which had been the subject of my PhD thesis.

I also led a team to establish one of the first DNA microarray facilities in Singapore,  allowing us to analyze melioidosis genetic variation with unprecedented speed, resolution, and scale. As a result of this work, DMERI and Singapore is now regarded as a major global center of melioidosis research, which has facilitated interactions with numerous international universities and defence institutes. Our DMERI research team published peer-reviewed papers in established scientific journals (see references below).

Throughout my National Service, I received an NSman’s salary and fulfilled all requirements of NS including IPPT and subsequent reservist obligations such as in-camp training at the rank of 3rd Sergeant.

The current allegations — mostly posted anonymously on the Internet — are false. It seems clear that such rumours are intended to hurt my father, which makes it all the more painful for me. I am proud to have served my country, and I am proud of all that my father has done for Singapore also.


  • Gan YH, Chua KL, Chua HH, Liu B, Hii CS, Chong HL, Tan P. (2002) Characterization of Burkholderia pseudomallei infection and identification of novel virulence factors using a Caenorhabditis elegans host system.  Molecular Microbiology 44(5):1185-97

  • Patterns of large-scale genomic variation in virulent and avirulent Burkholderia species (2004) Ong C, Ooi CH, Wang D, Chong H, Ng KC, Rodrigues F, Lee MA, Tan P. Genome Research 14(11):2295-307.

Further information on meliodosis research at DMRI

Melioidosis is a serious, often fatal infectious disease of human and animals caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseuodmallei (Bp). Bp is found in South East Asian soils including Singapore, and Bp has also been officially designated a potential biowarfare agent by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), similar to anthrax. In Singapore, meliodosis cases are not uncommon, and in a 2004 outbreak 15 people died from the disease. Within the SAF, meliodosis has also occurred in otherwise healthy National Servicemen, in some cases resulting in death. For these reasons, a research program was initiated by DMRI in the 1990s to study Bp and how it causes melioidosis.

When I started my National Service stint in 2000, I was instructed to apply the knowledge I had obtained in my MD PhD to study melioidosis . Working with other colleagues from DMRI and NUS, we performed research to identify important genes used by Bp to cause disease, using the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model host (Gan et al., 2002 Molecular Microbiology). We also applied the latest genomic technologies at that time such as microarrays to study genetic differences between different isolates of Bp, and discovered a surprising amount of molecular variation (Ong et al., 2004 Genome Research).

Dr. Patrick Tan’s current work:

I am still extensively involved in genomics and biomedical research. As a faculty member in the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Cancer Sciences Institute of Singapore, we have an extensive translational research program in stomach cancer, working with both basic scientists and clinicians. I also have an appointment with the Genome Institute of Singapore, where we continue our research on melioidosis in collaboration with DMERI (formally called DMRI).