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