LOS BAÑOS - Dutch scientists have visited the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB-Biotech) to discuss security measures for protecting its huge collection of microorganisms and delicate genetic materials from theft or illegal use.
The visit came just three months before three savants in the United States raised issue with the biosafety security system in that country, some 40 years after the protocol for biotechnology and genetic research were established during the Asilomar Conference in California.
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 discuss ways of improving the institute's capabilities on biosafety and biosecurity.
The UPLB-Biotech facility maintains the Philippine National Collection of Microorganisms (PNCM), which is essential for developing biofertilizers as well as bioremediation agents to control pollution, as well as 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) efforts being pursued by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study in Agriculture (SEARCA) 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 Niño 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.
The visit of the Dutch scientists was part of the Project 15 program of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).
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."
The Dutch experts helped set up a database program at 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 improve and secure the work of 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."
He 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 informed risk assessment.
He exhorted scientists to increase their awareness of biosecurity and, thus, prevent potentially hazardous materials and microorganisms from falling into the wrong hands.
Biopiracy and biological warfare are the usual threats to institutions like the PNCM, the Dutch experts said, and it becomes a matter of national concern that all the collected microorganisms and genetic materials are secured.