Thursday, February 11, 2016

Savants ponder future of GMOs

The future for Genetically Modified Organism or GMO in the Philippines is on hold. And scientists are alarmed on its impact on research and development.

Last December, the Supreme Court permanently stopped the field testing of Bt eggplant and upheld the Court of Appeals ruling in 2013 to stop the field trials of the Bt eggplant, a GMO crop.

“It affects the whole scientific procedure because GMOs are products of science,” says Dr. Gelia Castillo, a rural sociologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. “It will impact on research and development and hinder progress in science.”

“It’s political, it’s not the science of biotechnology,” says Castillo, a National Scientist recognized for her research on the Filipino farmers’ response to new technology and the factors that affect agricultural and rural development.

Science Secretary Mario G. Montejo says the science community “will have to follow” the ruling. He agreed, however, with Dr. Castillo’s observations: the Supreme Court ruling questions not the science of biotechnology but Administrative Order No. 8 issued in 2002 by the Department of Agriculture. The AO covers the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology. That includes Bt eggplant.

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a common soil bacterium that contains a gene which produces a protein harmful to the fruit and shoot borer, the pest that destroys as much as 70 percent of eggplant harvests. Scientists have incorporated this gene to give insect resistance to the vegetable that Filipinos eat most; local farmers plant over 21,225 hectares of eggplants annually.

The High Tribunal’s decision does not bode well for the science communitysays former Science Secretary William S. Padolina, now President of the National Academy of Science and Technology, the government’s advisory body on science and technology policy.

R&D remains suspended for biotechnology crops, says Dr. Evelyn Mae Tecson Mendoza whose research interests include molecular mechanism of plant resistance to pests and disease, biochemical factors affecting nutritional quality and acceptability of plants foods, as well as plant biochemistry, molecular biology and biotechnology applications in plant breeding.

“It’s very sad,” says Dr. Dolores A. Ramirez, a National Scientist recognized for her research in biochemical genetics and cytogenetics, the microscopic analysis of chromosomes in individual cells.

“There’s no study so far that shows GMO crops are detrimental to health or harmful to the environment,” says Dr. Ramirez. “My worry is that it bans the import of GMO medicines.”

The Supreme Court ruling affects not only GMO crops but also organisms that might include even those used for medical purposes such as vaccines that are genetically modified, says Mr. Padolina. “You will restrict this if that is the interpretation.”

Dr. Ruben Villareal, former Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, laments that field testing of Bt eggplant is permanently stopped. “We cannot proceed with R&D,” says Dr. Villareal who, as Principal Plant Breeder and Research Program Coordinator at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan, developed heat-tolerant tomato varieties now grown commercially or used in breeding programs in 40 developing countries.

Contained laboratory R&D on GMOs may also be affected, says Mr. Padolina who, in 1979, was running the first biotechnology R&D institute in the Philippines. “It’s detrimental. Even in European countries that don’t allow the commercialization of GMOs, they spend a lot on GM research.”

“Studies outside of the Philippines, in academies, in advanced countries, have already made the position that biotechnology is just like conventional breeding, that compared to conventional breeding, there is no additional risk incurred when you do genetic manipulation.”

In fact, he explains, conventional breeding involves thousands of genes that are recombined. In gene manipulation, he explains, once the desirable gene itself is identified, it’s then determined where to incorporate it in the genome of a particular organism. “That’s when you conduct confined trials to confirm it, then field tests—they’re all part of the scientific method,” he says. (SciencePhilippines)

No comments:

Post a Comment