Although the Philippines is lagging behind the industrial countries and their ASEAN neighbours in terms of R & D in biotechnology, many windows of opportunity are open. Biotechnology provides the opportunity for researchers to improve plant growth, development and yield by providing for the basic needs of the plant, such as biofertilizers and biocontrol agents.

The country recognizes the tremendous potential of improved crop plants containing genes that provide pesticidal properties, resistance to herbicides, tolerance to pests, diseases and stress (salt, heavy metals and drought), or combinations of these. Such improved plants are expected to reduce production costs. Once the issues of biosafety regulations and intellectual property have been settled, the country will be able to use such new plant technologies, which are now limited to only a few countries.

Marker technologies may help speed up the selection and production of more effective hybrids. Most breeding work in the Philippines is now using this technology, particularly in rice, maize and coconut.

Tremendous opportunities are available for livestock biotechnology, including the production of vaccines for foot-and-mouth disease and haemor-rhagic septicaemia, for diagnostics and for in vitro fertilization.

Opportunities are available to use microorganisms for biofertilizers, biopesticides and bioremediation of the environment.

The Philippines is blessed with rich genetic resources waiting to be tapped for food, fibre, enzymes and drugs. New beneficial genes are expected to be discovered in the highly diverse species of plants, animals, microorganisms and marine organisms. The challenge is to save and use judiciously the rich biodiversity of the country.

This biodiversity offers many opportunities in the search for novel genes and gene products. The Philippines has in place a law governing access to genetic resources by foreign and local bioprospectors. This law is designed to protect the bioresource and the bioprospectors.

Because of the importance given to R & D in biotechnology under AFMA, the introduction of foreign technologies, including genes that offer unique advantages, may have great potential for the country. For example, the sugar industry had been declining because of competition with high-fructose syrup and other sugar substitutes. There are opportunities to use sugar cane, a highly efficient plant, to produce high-value products, such as oral vaccines, biodegradable plastics and other products.

Collaboration between Philippine and overseas researchers is one opportunity that is now well in place. Many researchers actively collaborate with researchers from Australia, Canada, the USA, Japan, South Korea and countries of the European Union.

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