BIOTECH: 36 and beyond

  • Written by  Carlo G. Custodio, Jr.
  • Published in Features
BIOTECH facade © OVCRE/Lawrence N. Garcia BIOTECH facade

Last 9-12 February 2016, BIOTECH celebrated its 36th anniversary with the theme “BIOTECH @ 36 and beyond: Getting more relevant towards national development.” The week-long affair included events designed to showcase BIOTECH’s products and its current initiatives. Seminars and dialogues with experts were also held. There was also a presentation of career opportunities for high school and college students accompanied by interaction with private companies and the sharing of experiences by former BIOTECH staff. Since its establishment in 1979, the Institute has used its expertise in biotechnology to serve the Philippine society.

The start of BIOTECH

During the 1970, the Philippines was going through an energy crisis while Brazil became successful with the technology of producing alcogas from sugarcane to run their vehicles. At the same time, there was an increasing interest in biotechnology as the possibilities of genetic engineering were being realized in the USA.

The President at the time, Ferdinand E. Marcos, instructed then Energy Minister Geronimo T. Velasco and UPLB Chancellor Emil Q. Javier to explore potential linkages in Brazil and the USA. Upon their return, they formed two working committees at UPLB to study the possibility of creating an institute. One group headed by Dr. William G. Padolina prepared a program in applied chemistry and another group worked on applied microbiology with Dr. Ponciano S.M. Halos and Dr. Ruben B. Aspiras as members. The outputs of these groups served as the basis for a proposal submitted to President Marcos for the formation of a national institute for biotechnological research and development.

On 20 December 1979, the establishment of the National Institutes of Biotechnology and Applied Microbiology in UP Los Baños was approved during the 92nd meeting of the UP Board of Regents. In March 1980, President Marcos, through Letter of Instruction No. 1005, directed the National Treasury to release PhP 10 Million out of the Energy Special Fund for the institute.

In March 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos issued Proclamation 526 constituting a Network of National Institutes of Biotechnology in the UP System consisting of institutes in UP Los Baños, UP Diliman, UP Manila and UP Visayas. BIOTECH - UPLB was renamed to National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

Where we are now

BIOTECH’s mandate is to develop cost-effective and environment-friendly technologies to produce goods and services that are comparable or better alternatives to conventional products for use in the following sectors: agriculture, environment, energy and industry.

At present, BIOTECH has four research programs: 1) Biotechnology for Agriculture and Forestry Program; 2) Biotechnology for Food, Feed and Specialty Products Program; 3) Biotechnology for Industry and Environment Program; and 4) Biotechnology for Natural Products Program.

The Institute also has a Technical Services Program, a Communication and Technology Transfer Program and the Administrative Services Unit.

Of the four service laboratories of BIOTECH, two are now ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accredited namely, the Philippine National Collection of Microorganisms and the Central Analytical Service Laboratory.

The institute employs 176 personnel wherein 94 are administrative and research support staff, 75 are researchers and professional staff (REPS), and 7 are faculty/research academic professional staff (RAPS). The staff of the institute consists of 21 Ph.D., 26 M.S. and 80 B.S. graduates.

Products for the Filipino people

BIOTECH’s products are helping the Filipino people. As an example, Bio NTM, a biofertilizer, has been used in an estimated average of 48,000 hectares annually from 2010 to 2014. Mixing plants to produce the technology is present in almost every region of the country.

From May 2012 to April 2013, the National Greening Program implemented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) used 156.65 tons of Mykovam. From 2012 to 2015, farmers purchased a yearly average of 29.33 tons of Mykovam. A farmer would only need 5-8 kilos of Mykovam per hectare of tomato plants, or 1 kilo per hectare of coconut trees or 5 kilos per hectare of cassava plants.

Aside from the two mentioned above, BIOTECH has other biofertilizers intended to help Filipino farmers enhance the growth of their crops. These can be classified as nitrogen fixers, phosphate solubilizers (mycorrhizae and phosphate solubilising bacteria), plant growth-promoting bacteria and compost inoculants. It is interesting to note that these microbial-based biofertilizers can be used in organic farms under the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010.

BIOTECH has also produced animal vaccines, enzymes for different uses, animal probiotics, biopesticides, microbial rennet, virgin coconut oil products, specialty fats and oils, essential oils, bacteriocins of lactic acid bacteria, pili oil, bacteria-derived colorant, microbial exopolysaccharide, PCR-based detection kits for food and feed bacterial pathogens and diagnostic kits for mycotoxins, plant diseases, and red tide toxins.

BIOTECH will continue to search and produce more technologies, products and services that will help address the needs of the Filipino society. Current research endeavors of the Institute include second generation biofertilizers, biocontrol agents, reduced-risk insecticides, thermotolerant high-ethanol yielding yeast cultures, improved microbial rennet, natural functional food ingredients, and specialty oils.

BIOTECH is striving, in collaboration with partners, to commercialize its technologies and make these more accessible to stakeholders.