Friday, November 28, 2008

MABIC is hiring!

MABIC is looking for a suitable candidate to fill in the position of Biotechnology Information Officer. Below are the details:

The Job:

· The Biotechnology Information Officer will be fully responsible for the management of MABIC website, its databases and information resources
· Assist the Executive Director in initiating programmes and activities for its stakeholders
· Take up speaking engagements
· Helps in the dissemination of information about biotechnology to stakeholders and responds to queries
· Coordinate logistics for MABIC activities such as seminars, workshops, and meetings


The Person:
· Possess at least a Bachelor’s degree in biotechnology, biology or any related field
· Has excellent command of written and spoken English language
· Basic knowledge of information technology tools, such as HTML, database
· Able to work independently but a team player
· Willing to travel both within and outside Malaysia
· Excellent interpersonal skills
· At least 1-2 years of experience, but fresh graduates are encouraged to apply

For more information on MABIC, visit:

Applications should be sent to:
Executive Director
Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre
2-5-40 Monash University Malaysia
Jalan Lagoon Selatan, Bandar Sunway
46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 03-551 46174
Fax: 03-55146184


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Internships: First dip into the industry

The completion of a tertiary education can never be said as being fulfilled without industry experience. Students, who have been cooped up in the ivory tower for so long, find it hard to adapt to the dynamic and demanding lifestyle of the working environment without prior experience. Similarly, many companies have been complaining on the lack-luster quality of graduates, unable to cope with the needs and demands of the industry. I have mentioned this previously in many of my posts on nurturing human capital, and I have generally held the view that both parties should be more proactive and held responsible for this predicament. However, I foresee a way out. It is called “an internship”, aka industrial training.

If one looks at most established companies, it is not hard to find interns milling about the company premises. Many a story have been written about the experiences of an intern, ranging from being treated as an office boy/girl, to being shown the loops of the industry which culminated in an ultimately successful career. However it may turn out, this would still be a student’s first experience with the industry. Even if the supervisor is a Miranda Priestly (of Devil Wears Prada persuasion) wannabe, there are far more that one may experience through the “ordeal”. In the words of an acquaintance of mine, “The ‘horror’ (of the bad internship) will end, but the links and connections (forged during this period) will survive.”

Not that I am trying to say that internships would be horrifying, but it certainly is a challenge. And unless students are not only willing to step up to the challenge, but also be proactive in seeking opportunities to improve oneself, they would be left behind.

Companies and policy makers are starting to understand the importance of such training. At a recent seminar, the general manager of a Bionexus status bioinformatics company mentioned to the general audience that the company has an internship programme to help graduates understand the loops of the industry. The Managing Director of a biotech product development company has mentioned to me on many occasions how he employs staff from the various interns the company takes in from the biotech field every year. Similarly, BiotechCorp, the one stop biotech support center under the purview of MOSTI, had announced a Biotechnology Special Training Programme for Unemployed Life Sciences Graduates (BeST) which is a six-month intensive and structured retooling programme combining classroom-based instruction, laboratory work and industry internship.

The opportunities that are available are endless. Now, with the “adults” opening up the avenues and showing the way to move to students, my only advice is, “Go, explore and experience to the fullest”. Maybe one day, the “lowly” intern will blossom and become one of the movers-and-shakers of the local or even global biotech industry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

EU’s GM aversion costs €2.5 billion a year

The European livestock sector is losing €2.5bn a year thanks to EU time-wasting on authorising GM feeds and a zero-tolerance policy on new GM varieties, according to a report by agricultural trade researchers.

While feed prices have been hit by poor harvests and world-wide shortages, EU import bans on GM maize have pushed up prices further, the report by organisations including the Agricultural Industries Confederation says.

An estimated 15% of losses in the sector are caused by EU delays, it adds.

The researchers, who have sent their report to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barrosso, said policy needed to change before the livestock industry was "destroyed" due to lack of feeds.

AIC said the situation would get worse unless EU policy towards GMs was altered.

With new GM varieties due to be commercialised in 2009, increased use of GM crops in North America and Brazil and GM residues contaminating non-GM crops, finding importers who could provide non-GM soya feeds would become increasingly difficult, AIC said.

The EU is 78% dependent on imported animal proteins like soya and there are few domestic alternatives, it added.

by Lucy Busuttil for Farmers Weekly Interactive

Comments from malaysia4biotech:
It is amusing that EU bans GM feed but imports livestock products of animals fed with GM feed. It is clear that the denial of GM products in the EU is nothing more than a trade barrier. This double standard completely lacks science-based decisions. EU is already facing pressure from their farming communities to allow GM feed to enter the country. With the current global shortage of grains, the government will have a big problem persuading consumers that GMOs are safe, when they have denied this in the past.
Many developing countries are influenced by the positions taken by EU, which is heavily influenced by Green NGOs.

Norman Borloug, Father of Green Revolution says this:
"Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

When NGOs say we need to farm sustainably, they mean the farmers... not them. These NGOs should try to get themselves dirty in the soilbeds, sweating and back-breaking, with a fork and spade. Imagine being a woman trying to feed five kids, lost her husband to HIV, working from dawn to sunset on arid land, without irrigation, fresh water, fertilisers and quality seeds. Who deprives them of technology and quality life?
By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Global Entrepreneurship Week Seminar: Bio-entrepreneurship: Driving the New Economy

Bio-entrepreneurship: Driving the New Economy

19th November 2008
University Kuala Lumpur

The 21 st century has been widely touted as a century for the renaissance of the ‘New Biology' in the form of life science and biotechnology. Asia is currently a source of global economic growth where the demand for bio0based products for food, feed, fiber and industrial materials is fast growing. Putting all these together gives an exciting mix for innovation and entrepreneurship. Malaysia realized these opportunity and has a forward looking biotechnology policy in place which was launched in 2005.

The Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) and Malaysian Bio Industry Organization (MBIO) are jointly organizing a seminar on “Bioentrepreneurship: Driving the New Economy”. This seminar is hosted by University Kuala Lumpur and is in conjunction with the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) which is a global initiative to inspire young people to embrace innovation and creativity.

The seminar will feature industry players from Synamatix Sdn Bhd (a bioinformatics company with global presence), Infovalley Sdn Bhd (a BioIT company), StemLife Sdn Bhd (the pioneer in stem cell banking and therapy), and a scientists from Forest Research Institute Malaysia who has successfully created many entrepreneurs producing planting materials from tissue culture. Dr. Arif Anwar, Mr. Mathavan Chandran, Ms. Su Hu Yong, and Dr. Kodiswaran Kandasamy will speak on the various opportunities available in biobusiness based on their scope of business, starting up biobusiness, the challenges, potential, the needs of the business, and what it takes to be successful in this area.

Admission is Free.

For more information and registration, please call Mr. Liew Kong Cheng: 016 3681987 or email:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Biofuel Debate (2nd Part)

I am definitely not qualified to debate on biofuel as im not an economist, an industry player, an activist and definitely not a politician thus my views are going to be very personal and general. From what I have been observing lately, on the global and local trend on biofuel, there seems to be groups that believe in this golden oil and critics who oppose this technology. In my previous post, I uploaded a link in which Sillicon Valley billionaire, Vinod Khosla presented passionately on the potential of biofuel which can reduce the dependence on black gold (petroleum) drastically. His vision was instantaneously criticized by biofuel critics. It is difficult to deny the importance of critics, as they serve to keep technology in a check and balance manner, but unfortunately, those opposing new technology often does it beyond logic and without scientific relevance. Some of which we can see in cases where GM Food is often said to be dangerous even when there has not been a single food safety issue since the technology was commercialized more than 10 years ago.

I am not going to discuss on the benefits raised by Khosla or the issues brought up by the critics, but I am going to discuss some of the main issues plaguing bifuel players in Malaysia. When biofuel or biodiesel is mentioned, the first thing that comes to our mind is fuel from palm oil. Biodiesel is not all about palm oil. Biodiesel is actually fatty acid or known as ethyl esters. These are byproduct of the reaction between vegetable oil and ethanol. Any vegetable oil can be transformed into biodiesel, even used cooking oil can be filtered and processed to be used as biodiesel.

Producing biodiesel from palm oil has its advantages. Recently I came across an article published in The New York Times, which claims that we are converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that Malaysia is running out of uncultivated land. This statement was clearly made without the understanding that oil palm trees are the most productive oil producer compared to other oil crops. It simply means, to produce one ton of palm oil requires far less land than other crops such as canola or rapeseed. At an average production rate, 600 to 700 gallons of biodiesel can be produced per acre. Malaysia is blessed with the right environment and climate which propelled us to be one the largest palm oil producer supplying nearly half of the world demands. But despite this advantage, producing biodiesel from palm oil may not be the best strategy.

So far 91 manufacturing licenses for biodiesel plants have been approved but only five is in operation. Few years back the government had to stop giving out licenses due to too many applications but now they are requesting those who are not interested to return the license. This clearly shows that there are some pertinent issues on the reluctant shown by the industry players to start producing biodiesel. One of the main reasons for this is the fluctuating Crude Palm Oil (CPO) price in the market. This causes unpredictability for the industry players to determine a standard price as well as to forecast profit. Adding more uncertainty to this equation is the price of crude petroleum prices that is not stable. Palm biodiesel will only interest the industry if the petroleum prices are high and CPO prices are low. Not only this is a rare case as the CPO at most times tag along with petroleum, but even if this ideal state can be attained, it doesn’t stay in that way for a long time. This is one of the main reasons on why palm biodiesel did not live up to the hype that was created years ago.

Besides the trade and pricing issue, converting too much palm oil to biodiesel may reduce the supply of oil used for food production which then will affect the prices of food. European environmentalists are already bringing up unsubstantiated claims that Malaysia and Indonesia are clearing up forest to meet the demand for biodiesel. Thus we can’t simply increase our production by planting more oil palm trees but we have to find alternative ways to increase yield maybe through the use of biotechnology to produce better variety. Until then mass production of biodiesel from palm oil has to be put on hold. On my third and final discussion, I will discuss on other alternative ways to produce sustainable biofuel.

By Joel William

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The New Economy

Recession is setting in; share prices are plunging; food prices are soaring; many companies are wrapping up. Many countries are gearing up to face the financial uncertainties that are in store globally. Is this going to be worse than the 1997 financial turmoil? We don’t know. Many MNCs are moving out of Malaysia. Furthermore, Vietnam and China seem to be a preferred choice among investors and those looking to expand their business in the Asian region.

From an agrarian economy, Malaysia moved on to manufacturing sectors. Now the agriculture sector is being revisited. But how committed are we in promoting this? How are the different ministries and agencies working together to bring glory to our agriculture sector by modernizing and transforming it? How are universities supporting the government’s agenda? How much of importance is accorded to the agriculture courses in the universities? Do we have a target of the number of plant breeders, plant pathologists, soil scientists, entomologists, etc that need to be achieved within a stipulated period? How much of funds are allocated for research in agriculture?
As in many countries, the agrarian community is aging. And the younger generation does not perceive agriculture to be lucrative and glamorous. The plantation industry in Malaysia depends on foreign labourers extensively. How can we change these scenarios?

The agriculture sector should be revived with massive efforts and strategies. Interest in agriculture among students should be inculcated. If we are serious about this business, the courses in agriculture at tertiary levels should be enhanced and given great prominence. In fact, Universiti Putra Malaysia (formerly known as Universiti Pertanian Malaysia) should be geared to become one of the best agriculture universities in the region. Instead of competing with each other, duplicating research, and working in isolation, local universities should identify their areas of expertise, focus on this and excel further to become world class institutes.

Scientists from various institutes and universities should collaborate on priority research areas in this field. Crops should be identified, e.g. rice, fruits, ornamentals and flowers, feed crops, etc for improvement. Research teams should be formed at national levels based on expertise and funds should be channelled in a transparent manner by independent bodies headed by impartial personnel.

Malaysia could be one of the key exporters of agricultural products in the region. Our tropical fruits and ornamentals is one of our strengths. However, it is disheartening to see that agro-based industry still largely revolves around making snacks. We should move on to produce the best seedlings and planting materials. Prolonged shelf life, enhanced flavour, and disease and pest resistant tropical fruits should be explored. Feed crops should be researched more to reduce our dependency on imported feed.

Where is our seed industry and business, in spite of all the talks of transforming our agriculture sector?

Let us walk our talk before it is too late!

Mahaletchumy Arujanan