Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A long road to transgenic animals

SEPTEMBER will be a hectic month for those involved in biotechnology and biosafety with two prominent international meetings – the APEC High Level Policy Dialogue (Beijing) and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP7 (Pyeongchang, South Korea). Important decisions on the regulations of GMOs will be taken here.

In fact, I attended a workshop on animal biotechnology in Brasilia last month and realised that commercialising transgenic animals is a bigger challenge than putting GM crops on the table. There is much more regulatory hurdles for introducing transgenic animals than GM crops, in spite of the fact that animals can be reared in confined environment and the “gene flow” cannot happen randomly, whereby biodiversity can be threatened.

                                            Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan presenting on communication strategies at the Animal Biotechnology Workshop in Brasilia
A professor from UC Davis who is working on transgenic goat that can produce lactoferrin to treat diarrhoea in infants has been waiting for approval for more than 15 years. If this gets into the market, it will have a huge socioeconomic benefits to developing countries where Global deaths from diarrhoea of children aged less than 5 years were estimated at 1.87 million,  approximately 19% of total child deaths. 78% of this happens in Africa and South East Asia regions.

 Another case in point is the Enviropig which was genetically modified to produce the enzyme phytase to digest phytate in the feed. When phytate is digested, the phosphorus released in the manure is reduced by 50-75% which otherwise will contaminate the land and waterways. Farmers also will not have to supplement the feed with mineral phosphate or commercial phytate.

The AquAdvantage Salmon is a genetically modified Atlantic Salmon that can grow twice as fast as the wild Salmon and FDA is yet to give its green light.

There are a number of companies in the USA that are working on cloning better livestock lines but the approvals for these are not anywhere in the horizon. All these initiatives are still snagged in the workbench without regulatory approval.

I feel the USA should show some leadership in this area as the risk assessment and management is well studied and transgenic animals are so much easier to handle than crops.

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jolting July

WHAT  an eventful month July turned out to be. After an exciting month for football fans all over the world in June, there was a series of  shocking airplane tragedies in July – the worst being the loss of our own airplane – MH17 which was downed by a surface-to-air missile.

Just too many innocent, aspiring and promising lives were lost in a blink of an eye over the Ukrainian airspace. While we lost big number of IT engineers in the MH370 tragedy in March, this time around the world lost a number prominent AIDS scientists and a spokesperson. Another potential scientist is Malaysian Mohd Ali Salim, future lecturer in the field of Neuropsychopathology Development. But no life is above another. The Petri Dish and MABIC team is saddened by every single life that perished in this disaster. We hope the families and the loved ones of the victims will stay strong.

On a lighter note – some takes from the World Cup. I am not a big football fan and would not like to sacrifice much of my sleep to watch the game, but every World Cup I do catch glimpses of important matches. Germany vs Argentina was a must and I made sure to set my alarm clock. While our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak urges Malaysians to emulate the teamwork among Germany players, I saw something else which is equally worth of emulating – an investment and hard work of 10 years. Joachim Loew says the victory was the culmination of a project they started 10 years ago.  It simply goes to say that we cannot achieve anything with flip flop policies and direction, be it in education or research. This is something we really need in Malaysia. I have said this many times and I will repeat myself here – advancement in science and technology does not come overnight. We need to set our research priorities and follow it through till we achieve the desired results. This may take decades but perseverance is the key to success in research, development and commercialisation.

This month I am very happy to announce that the Petri Dish now has an on line version, where the content is partially available. Please visit: www.thepetridish.jimdo.com. We are hoping this will increase the newspaper’s visibility and add value to our partners who are supporting by taking up space, e.g. BiotechCorp, University of Malaya, MARDI and Monash University. I also trust this will help public research to really go public through the centerspread ResearchDigest.

Incidentally, last month we received two opinion pieces from two of our scientist readers – Dr Subhash Bhore from AIMST University and Prof Kalai Mathee, a Malaysian at Florida International University;  on antibiotic resistance. Their articles are published on page 5 & 9 respectively.

We hope you enjoy reading this issue. Your comments are most welcome as usual.

By Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan