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by Marvyn N. Benaning
27-September-2010 Manila Bulletin
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The University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) is leading the campaign to upgrade biotechnology education nationwide and Chancellor Dr. Rey Velasco is proud that it was his institution that took the cudgels for it.

Dr. Velaso said UPLB has pioneered an academic program that grants baccalaureate degrees for agrobiotechnology, which emphasizes on using biotechnology to develop new crop varieties suited to Philippine conditions.

In contrast to traditional plant breeding that has gestation periods ranging from 12 years to 15 years, biotechnology can produce new strains using shorter production cycles.

Velasco said biotechnology develops new varieties with better qualities, something like designer plants, and these could be armed with genetic traits that make them durable to grow under extreme weather conditions.

“With biotechnology, because you’re directed, whatever gene it is you need you can put in, that will shorten the gestation period to about half the time. So in five years, six years, there is something you can produce because you already know what gene gives you the desired effect. Unlike before, it was a random selection more like trial and error,” Velasco said.

As a result of this UPLB’s efforts, the country has already produced Pinoy GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

“Japan is into harvesting new molecules from insects with the use of biotechnology, serving notice that entomology can be more than interesting. They now source new gene material from insects. There are many tools for biotechnology and we need to expand on them,” Velasco said. “These new avenues for research compelled me to think seriously about BS Agrobiotechnology as a degree,” Velasco said.

He said that the search for new genetic material to improve the traits of plants and animals that even insects have become a significant source.

“I saw the trend already in agriculture, that biotechnology will be a very important tool in agriculture,” he said.

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