Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It’s that time of the year again and BioMalaysia rolls around for the Malaysian biotech industry to showcase the progress being made in the country.

This year’s edition comes with a twist as the conference is bundled together with the BIO Pacific Rim Summity on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy 2011, a prestigious international event by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

This is the first time the Pac Rim Summit is being held outside of North America.

The conference kicked off with a bang as our Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak highlighted the potential of the Bioeconomy (newly coined buzzword) in Malaysia.

The other key announcement, which quite seems to be quite starkly carried over from the World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology in Toronto this year, is the National Biomass Strategy, which seems to be the answer to the world’s cry for sustainable biomass to be produced and supplied to the world to produce renewable energy.

As Malaysia hopes to leverage on the miles and miles of palm oil plantations, there’s a belief that this could be the next big thing for wealth creation in Malaysia.

Other interesting items on the agenda were the sessions on the use of microalgae for generating biofuels, as well as discussions on food security.

Malaysia has also been busy enhancing services for conventional agriculture through the establishment of the Centre for Marker Development and Validation.

This centre utilizes proprietary technology to assist conventional breeders in identifying and selecting hybrids for commercial purposes. The centre is based in the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institution.

Friday, November 18, 2011

2nd National Intervarsity Biotechnology Debate Competition!

After last year’s successful Intervarsity Biotechnology Debate Competition, the 2011 edition was held in AIMST University, all the way up in Semeling, just outside of Sungai Petani in Kedah.

Besides having the chance to visit AIMST’s gorgeous campus, it was also a good eye-opener into the world of debating, something not many science types are aware of.

The intervarsity debate scene in Malaysia is very much its own subculture with a variety of students from different backgrounds (mainly LAW but also literature, medicine, dentistry, actuarial science and what not).

This competition was a great avenue to expose non-science students to the intricacies of biotech-related issues and controversies surrounding the industry.

Additionally, it was a chance for students to mingle and get to know their counterparts from different universities over the quick fire British Parliamentary style debates.

The quality of the debaters was very impressive and renewed a lot of confidence in the visitors (yours truly) of the quality of our graduates.

A quick word goes out to Tiffeny and the rest of the organizers for a job very well done as well!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reaching the Grassroots

MABIC was given the opportunity to reach out to Form Three students in Sri Dasmesh, a private school, recently to talk about the opportunities that come from studying biology.

We were asked to come in as the teachers were concerned about an increasing trend among students to drop biology in Form Four.

This was due to students believing that biology was merely memorizing facts and regurgitating it during the exam.

So from the get go, we had an uphill task ahead of us.

It’s always an interesting experience going to schools to build interest in science, because that’s truly where the rubber meets the road.

Having been doing this for a few months now, there’s nothing more hard-hitting than when you are standing in front of 15 year olds, trying to convince them that life sciences is worth their attention.

It’s a whole other challenge to speaking to university students or PhD candidates, where facts, numbers, policies and abstract designs hold value and are relatable.

Truly, when communicating with those who are taking baby steps into science, the key is to communicate essence of science and the reason for technology.

It’s interesting that in GCE A-levels, in Biology in the American syllabus, and in first year university, the first lecture is always a quick study in the philosophy behind the life sciences and biology.

Nonetheless, I do work for a not-for-profit, so I have every right to be idealistic. J

Anyway, back to the story, we managed to get the students pretty excited especially after a quick play with DNA in the lab. We are heading back to Sri Dasmesh to speak to the teachers in Dec!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Communicating Agribiotech in Muslim Countries

Welcome to the rebooting of the Malaysia4biotech blog!

Things have been pretty intense here in MABIC as we steady the Petri Dish ship. Our national holidays have given us some interesting challenges as we squeezed out the past few issues.

September was best remembered for a workhop we conducted in the island of Langkawi regarding communicating agribiotechnology in Muslim countries.

Langkawi because:

We could take advantage of some low peak rates.

We could provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city

Chocolates! (Among other things J

We could show off Malaysia’s inherent biodiversity to our guests.

This was a natural progression from our Ulama workshop held last year and gave us an opportunity to sit down with some of the top science communicators in the Muslim world to talk about their experiences, challenges and pleasant surprises.

We had delegates from (from West to East): Egypt, Uganda, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Conclusions were that:

· Islam supports the scientific innovations and human endeavours.

· Both scientists and Ulama have been supportive of the development and use of modern biotechnology for human welfare.

· Science communication is a crucial component of the process of technology acceptance and adoption.

The recommendations put forward through the workshop included:

· Foster the appreciation of science in journalists and train scientists to engage the media.

· Empower and engage farmers through farmer organizations.

· Produce simplified information on modern biotechnology in local languages through the relevant medium.

· Update and promote understanding of modern biotechnology among Islamic scholars.

· Identify and nurture media champions from the various stakeholders.

All in all, an amazing time of brainstorming, learning, fist wringing, and reflection on the importance of air-conditioning (especially how sweaty things get when it breaks down before a full day of workshop... grumble).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Get your own Petri Dish at your Doorstep

The Petri Dish – the first of its kind newspaper in the region is receiving raving responses from the biotechnology community. A number of them have expressed interest to subscribe to it, though it is a free newspaper and is being sent their institutions and companies. The reason being – they want to have their own copy. Some would like to bring it home to share it with their family members. Others complained about dirty issues and missing pages at their common reading lounges in their offices.

Whatever the reasons maybe, we are happy to cater to the regular subscribers and send them regular copies right to their doorsteps.

You too wish to have your personal copy of The Petri Dish? It is just two steps away from you:

  1. Write to us at Send us your personal details: name, address, email address, telephone number, and designation.
  2. Send us cheque payable to “Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre Berhad”.

Yearly subscription (12 issues) is RM96 (for locals) and USD96 (for foreigners).

To view the on line version, go to:

The Petri Dish is an excellent reading material for students, undergraduates and post graduates.

Get your own copy today!


Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spiders weaving silk

During the recent Earth Hour season, my colleague, Nicholas Boo Tzyy Guang happened to be in Sunway Giza one weekend. While walking along the eateries, he stumbled upon an eye-catching exhibition by an owner of an organic shop. I am sharing two photos taken by Nicholas.

For ease of reading, I am reproducing the captions provided by the organizers.

Do you know frog genes are inserted to your brinjals so that they have unusually broad spectrum and monstrous power to resist various infections?

Do you know the delicious tomatoes on your plate are inserted with spider genes so that the evil corporations can earn billions of dollars from the silk extraction from tomatoes?

I also shared these photos with my daughters as they are the environmental preachers at home, who constantly remind me of recycling, renewable energy sources, and sustainability of natural resources.

My daughters asked me to verify this information and when I explained to them that there are no frog genes in brinjal nor spider genes in tomatoes, they were perplexed. I further explained that even if some companies wanted to extract silk from tomatoes, why would they then let us have the “silky” tomatoes on our plates when it was meant for extraction of silk. Isn’t it silly to sell these tomatoes in the market for the same price of the normal tomatoes? And also, how can genes from spider produce silk? It is like saying I sow apple seeds and get oranges… If spiders could weave silk, I wouldn’t be dusting off the spider webs in my house. I will collect them and make a beautiful sari for myself or even start a silk business…

I also explained to them Bt brinjal which carries genes Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium used as pesticide even by organic farmers. And that Bt brinjal is not in the market yet. Lucky me, my daughters are technology savvy and were quick enough to grasp my technical explanation. But what was difficult to answer was their question on ethics:

“Why then these exhibitors lie so blatantly? Won’t they feel ashamed of themselves saying all this silly things?”

Now, that was a difficult question to answer. But since when did these scaremongers feel ashamed to lie. If only this information came from a mainstream scientist, he or she would be a laughing stock among his/her peers.

I can only hope the public has a good sense of judgment, critical thinking and some science knowledge so they don’t fall prey to all this pseudoscience.

Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Raving responses for The Petri Dish

We are into the third issue of The Petri Dish – the first popular biotechnology newspaper in the region. Ever since it hit the public domain in February, we have getting many emails and phone calls congratulating MABIC in publishing this newspaper. The content, language, pictures, print quality and the design impress our readers.

The Petri Dish is now being circulated to universities and colleges, research institutes, ministries, government agencies, industry, and selected hospitals. Soon it will hit secondary schools in Malaysia in phases. The PDF version is also on our website: For those who are not on our mailing list, you can read it on line. It has also been linked to BICs in Iran and India. More will follow suit soon.

We are also getting calls from biotechnology industry for advertisement space. We started off printing 2,000 copies, 12 pages. And now there is a strong urge to increase both the circulation and pagination. In the course of next few months, we expect to increase both circulation and pagination.

Here are some of the testimonies from our readers, from Malaysia and outside Malaysia.

Well done! A good start to introduce biotechnology to the community. - Datin Paduka Prof. Dr. Khatijah Yusoff, Deputy Secretary General, MOSTI

The Petri Dish.................How exciting to finally have a uniquely different and freely circulated S&T newspaper that just focuses on the all important world of biotechnology. The inaugural issue was informative, without being boring, revealing but not dogmatic, and newsy but not gossipy or political. It captured happenings in the biotech world at home and abroad while also giving space for fun items like a crossword puzzle and brainteasers. The language, content and presentation has made it an easy-to-read paper, that offers choice pieces that would be particularly appealing to each individual reader according to the area of interest, be it in the biotech fraternity, business, research or fun areas. Congratulations to Ms. Maha and her remarkable team. Looking forward to more!! - Prof (R) Dr. Helen Nair

To me The Petri Dish is a very effective means of educating Biotech to the public, it always works when you it in a simple and colourful story. – Dr. Umi Kalsom Abu Bakar, Director, Biotechnology Research Centre, MARDI

Petri Dish to me is the window to the vast and complex world of Biotechnology but rendered in a simple layman term, thus making good sense of what the world of Biotechnology has to offer – Tengku Nila Putri Tengku Ilham, Vice President, BiotechCorp

The Petri Dish serves scientific news with relish! – Munirah Abdul Hamid, Executive Director, MGRC.

The Petri Dish is a timely publication, one that addresses the need to not only reach out to, but also to bring attention to the biotechnology industry in an accessible and easy-to-read manner. - P.Kandiah, MD, Kass International

Refreshing & illuminating. – Dr. K. Harikrishna, Senior Vice President, Sime Darby Technology Centre

I think it is a really neat publication - it is a sharp and very attractive publication that I am sure you are very proud of - on behalf of the ISAAA Board I am certainly very proud of it and you - I particularly like the style of clean, attractive and bubbly writing which reveals the excitement and the dedication and commitment of the contributors, ably guided by you as Editor in Chief - do as I do NOT do as I say. Carry on the very good and creative work you are doing at MABIC - Dr. Clive James, Chair ISAAA Board

We would like to congratulate MABIC and team for initiating a much needed effort to mainstream the science of biotech, agriculture and food with society by creating a new main line news paper “The Petri Dish”, which is the need of the time not only in Malaysia but also in Asia and Africa where agriculture needs an immediate attention amidst rising food prices and poverty. MABIC has been at forefront in introducing new concept and creative ideas to bridge the knowledge gap between science and society especially science of biotechnology with the society. We would be talking full advantage of “The Petri Dish” in India and convey our best wishes to MABIC and team in this successful endeavour. – ISAAA India

I am impressed by the Petri Dish!!! – Brigitte, ISAAA AfriCentre

I found “Petri Dish” a very effective to for communicating biotech. I think every country in the region need one “Petri Dish”. I am so pleased to see that a newspaper of this kind is produced and distributed for the first time in Malaysi, where both biotechnology proponents and activists are have strong presence. Petri Dish can fill the gap – the gap of truth. In the community filled with wrong and baseless accusations against modern technologies including biotechnology, everyone needs one “Petri Dish” – Dr. Behzad Ghareyazie, President, Biosafety Society of Iran

Your comments and suggestions are valuable to us to improve The Petri Dish. Enjoy reading!


Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Petri Dish: Bridging Biotech and Society

For the past four months, MABIC office turned into a mini pressroom and will remain so indefinitely. We have initiated another first-of-its kind in Malaysia, or perhaps in the region. MABIC is now publishing a free newspaper on biotech that aims to bridge biotech and the society. It is named The Petri Dish. We hope with The Petri Dish we will be able to dish out all the interesting and innovative research work at universities, research institutes and industry and make it palatable for the society.

Biotech research has remained in the ivory tower, far from the reach of average citizen for very long. This is a global phenomenon and more in developing countries where tools and media are not available to popularize science. Media often shy away from publishing science news. Almost all Malaysian mainstream newspaper does not have a science desk and news is source from wire sources. On the other hand, scientists often see media with suspicion as they are often misquoted. A preliminary research on cancer makes headlines like “Scientist finds cure for cancer”. This kills the reputation of the scientists among their peers.

So, at MABIC we took the onus to bridge the knowledge and communication gap. The Petri Dish will demystify biotech and translate it into simple laymen language. It is a free monthly newspaper that will be circulated to universities, research institutes, ministries, government agencies, industry, schools, hospitals and doctors’ offices, and public places.

We hope to instill the interest on biotechnology among schools students through The Petri Dish. This, we believe will help develop human capital for this industry. We also hope to develop a biotech-literate society who will be able to discriminate between science and pseudoscience. The Petri Dish will also highlight the accomplishment of private biotech entities that contribute to the GDP of the country.

The Petri Dish will ensure that MABIC’s efforts to create awareness on biotechnology will not be confined to seminars, workshops and events in closed rooms.

It is our hope that The Petri Dish will one day be part of the mainstream media and a household name.

For those who have read the first issue, give us your comments and suggestions. We are more than happy to improve it.

Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Myanmar Greens Its Map

For the first time, Myanmar makes headlines for different reasons. This time it is not about its Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Ski nor its military government. Myanmar has emerged as the second nation in Southeast Asia to grow GM crops. The jolting news is Myanmar cultivated BT cotton last year for the time – up to an astronomical 270,000 hectares through the sweat, toil and ingenuity of 375,000 small farmers. I can’t help imagining, the experience gained on “risk assessment and management” by this restive country. Science is certainly advancing in Myanmar despite the political flashpoints that make the rancid headlines. This is the revelation made by Dr. Clive James in the recent “Global status of Commercialized Biotech/GM crops: 2010”.

Twenty nine countries, 15.4 million farmers and 148 million hectares are the magical numbers for 2010.

Pakistan for the first time planted GM crops (legally). The other new countries on board are Sweden and Germany. For Pakistan Bt cotton is not new to its farmers. They have been getting their share of this crop from neighbouring India for some time now. However, 2010 saw them planting this crop legally. Sweden planted “Amflora”, a potato with high quality starch for industry purpose. Germany resumed cultivation of GM crops, also by adopting Amflora.

Mexico, the centre of origin for corn, successfully conducted the first field trials on Bt and herbicide tolerant corn. This was after 11 years of moratorium.

GM crops have continued their legacy in:

· Contributing to food, feed and fibre security and self-sufficiency, including more affordable food, by increasing productivity and economic benefits sustainably at the farmer level

· Conserving biodiversity

· Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger

· Reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint

· Increasing efficiency of water usage

· Helping mitigate climate change and reducing greenhouse gases

The countries that grew GM Crops in 2010 are (in order of hectarage): USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, Portugal, Czech Republic, Poland, Egypt, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Romania, Sweden and Germany. The crops cultivated are: corn, soybean, cotton, canola, sugarbeet, alfalfa, papaya, squash, poplar, tomato, sweet pepper, and potato.

While 29 countries planted GM crops, 30 other countries have granted regulatory approvals for GM crops for import for food and feed.

For full report, log on to:

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Organic vs GM: Comparing apples to oranges

Time and again I have encountered arguments or comparisons between organically grown crops/plants and GM crops. The recent one was in a local newspaper sometime during the Chinese New Year. The article was about a homemaker who rears chicken in her backyard to serve a sumptuous meal during the New Year celebration. She prefers chicken that are not hormone-fed. Great idea, I thought.

But as I read further, I realized the ignorance when she said the chicken cannot be termed “organic” as she feeds them with imported corn that is GM.

One has to understand that when they compare organically produced crops and GM crops, they are actually comparing apples to oranges. Organic agriculture is a matter of agronomic practice. The crops in anyway have been modified either through traditional methods such as breeding, selection or even modern biotechnology methods such as marker assisted selection. It could even be GM, for that matter.

How about this situation: if a farmer grows GM corn organically, and this corn is fed to the chicken – does that make the chicken “organic chicken”? (Though, as a matter of fact, I have not heard about inorganic chicken. All edible stuff is organic anyway…)

I have written before on how GM crops make the best candidate for organic agriculture practices.

I hope time will come when the organic lovers realize that this agriculture practice actually does more harm to the environment than introducing GM crops. Farmers would require more land area to produce the same amount of yield organically as loss of yield to pest and disease would be higher. On the other hand, GM crops have managed to reduce the use of chemicals and the yield has been much higher, thus reducing the pressure to open up new forest land for cultivation.

And when the phytase corn is introduced which will reduce the amount of methane produced by livestock, will ardent organic lovers embrace the technology?

I hope those who are against GM in the pretext of environment safety will do good to the environment by really understanding the science behind GM technology.

This is what Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace in 1970s and left the organization in 1986 due to ideology differences has to say:

“Farmers planting Bt cotton have experienced dramatic improvements in yields and in reduction of chemical application. Bt cotton is really promising, and farmers want to use it. They know how important this is, and yet you have these intellectuals and academics claiming that they're speaking on behalf of the small farmer and the poor. It's just a complete hoax”.


Mahaletchumy Arujanan