MANILA, Philippines -- Dutch scientists are pitching in to strengthen the capability of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines to secure its huge collection of microorganisms and delicate genetic materials.
UPLB-Biotech maintains the Philippine National Collection of Microorganisms, which is essential for developing biofertilizers as well as bioremediation agents to control pollution, manage mine tailings and even improve soil fertility in logged-over areas like Benguet and many parts of Mindanao.
Genetic materials at the PNCM may also help develop better strains of rice, corn and other crops essential to ecological nutrition (econutrition) being pursued by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study in Agriculture and the UPLB Institute of Human Nutrition and Food.
Raising crop yields is a necessity as the country faces the prospect of a more severe El Nino phenomenon this year, said Searca director Dr. Gil S. Saguiguit Jr., and UP-Biotech is a key player in helping improve soil fertility and crop output through soil-based fungi and other natural substances.
UPLB chancellor Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez Jr. also stressed in a conference early last month that “one out of nine people in the world today remains undernourished. Moreover, 66.6 percent of the world’s hungriest people live in Asia, with Southeast Asia most afflicted with malnutrition -- 281 million people to be exact.”
Dr. Mark W.J van Passel of the National Institute of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Arjan van Wuijckhuijese of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and Tamara Neskovic of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute met with Biotech officials to improve the institute’s capabilities on biosafety and biosecurity.
Their visit was part of UNICRI Project 15’s theme of "Strengthening the laboratory bio-security and bio-safety through development of a laboratory iso-bank system for research facilities and hospitals."
For starters, the Dutch experts helped set into motion a database program at the PNCM to track materials within the laboratory and its processes as well as the movement of materials outside the laboratory.
The program was designed for UNICRI as a biosecurity tool to help bioresource centers, especially those with collections of potentially pathogenic microbes.
Dr. van Passel also gave a seminar to Biotech staff members on “Biosafety and Biosecurity: Synergy and Conflict.”
To highlight the importance of biosecurity, the Dutch scientist discussed real-life examples of cases when biosafety and biosecurity were not practiced.
Dr. van Passel defined safety as “protection from non-intentional events” and security as “protection from intentional malicious actions.”
He stressed that biosecurity and biosafety should be integrated systems to avoid hindering important emerging disease research and diagnostics.
To him, what is important is to find the balance between necessity and overkill of biosafety and biosecurity measures, with all decisions necessarily based on risk assessment.
He exhorted that scientists as well as ghe Biotech management to increase their awareness of biosecurity and thus prevent potentially hazardous materials and microorganisms from falling into the wrong hands.
He talked about real life examples of cases when biosafety and biosecurity were not practiced to highlight their importance.
Dr. van Passel then discussed the commonalities and differences of the two issues.
He informally defined safety as “protection from non-intentional events” and security as “protection from intentional malicious actions.”
Dr. van Passel said that biosecurity and biosafety should be integrated systems to avoid hindering important emerging disease research and diagnostics.
He also said that it is important to find the balance between necessity and overkill of biosafety and biosecurity measures with all decisions based on risk assessment.
The Dutch scientist exhorted Biotech scientists as well as management should increase their awareness of biosecurity so that potentially hazardous materials and microorganisms will not fall into the wrong hands.
Biopiracy and biological warfare are the usual threats to institutions like PNCM, the Dutch experts said, and it becomes a matter of national concern that all the collected microorganisms and genetic materials are secured.
UPLB-Biotech has already developed five products through its Biotechnology for Agriculture and Forestry (BAF) program headed by Dr. Mannix S. Pedro.
BAF develops and applies biotechnology strategies to address food security, enhance food production and improve crop productivity and its current research is on the improvement of microbial-based fertilizers and development of DNA-based research tools.
Dr. Pedro supervises five laboratories under the program.
On the other hand, the Environment and Industrial Biotechnology program is led by Dr. Francisco B. Elegado, who is responsible for developing biotechnologies and sustainable strategies to address environmental issues in the Philippines.
Among these efforts are the bioremediation of heavy metals and high lipid containing wastewater and sediments, waste management, recycling of distillery and sugar mill wastes for agricultural use and improvement in efficiency of bioethanol production.