Development in Biotechnology

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One goal of NAP3 is to strengthen the economic foundation for the development of agrobiotechnology and specialty natural products industries. Government support and commitment for strong research and development (R&D) and human resources development (HRD) programs will be intensified to build a pool of world-class researchers and technical personnel. The current incentive framework to accelerate establishment and development of these industries will be continued. That includes funding for research facilities and the setting up of more incubation centers.

Significant support for biotechnology began in the mid 1980s when the Government first allocated substantial R&D funds to public institutes under a national program for Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA). IRPA coordinates the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (MOSTE). In the 1980s, R&D in agricultural biotechnology was carried out in R&D institutions, local universities, and in the private sector. The main activities were:

(i) Micropropagation.

(ii) Microbial fermentation for the production of koji for soy sauce and other fermented foods.

(iii) Solid state fermentation for producing compost.

The second phase began in the 1990s with substantial support for high-end advanced biotechnologies involving genetic manipulation of plants and microbes. Molecular biology and other specialized biotechnology laboratories were set up in many public sector R&D institutions and universities.

To manage R&D in biotechnology, an ad hoc National Biotechnology Working Group was initially formed under MOSTE. In 1995 the National Biotechnology Directorate (NBD) was established as a more permanent structure within MOSTE. This was an important turning point as NBD took over the management of biotechnology research, development, and commercialization in the country. Today NDB spearheads Malaysia's progress toward becoming an important center for biotechnology industries.

1. National Biotechnology Directorate

NDB has two major objectives:

(i) To initiate and develop collaboration with research organizations and industries that will lead to commercialization of biotechnologies and promote sustainable economic development.

(ii) To build national research capability in biotechnology.

Seven biotechnology cooperative centers (BCC) have been formed under NBD to support the major biotechnology-based activities in the country: plant, animal, food, biopharmacy, environmental/industrial, molecular biology, and medical biotechnologies.

The centers are located in nine institutions and seven universities identified as having the best infrastructure to coordinate the activities expected of a BCC (Table A6.1). Agrobiotechnology R&D is mainly covered under the plant and animal BCCs, but is also represented within the food, environmental/industrial, and molecular biology BCCs. Information on R&D activities at the organizations listed in Table A6.1 can be accessed through the NBD home page (

Table A6.1: Malaysian Research and Development Organizations in Biotechnology


Forest Research Institute Malaysia Institute for Medical

Research Malaysian Agricultural Research and Develop-

ment Institute

Malaysian Cocoa Board

Malaysian Institute for Nuclear Technology Research

Malaysian Palm Oil Board

Malaysian Rubber Board

Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia

Veterinary Services Department


Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Universiti Malaya

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Universiti Malaysia Sabah

Universiti Putra Sarawak

Universiti Sains Malaysia

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

2. Policy and Priority

The policies currently guiding biotechnology development are mainly based on two documents: the Third National Agriculture Policy (19982010) and the Second Industrial Master Plan.

(i) The Third National Agriculture Policy (1998-2010) was formulated with the main objectives of: (a) improving food security, (b) increasing productivity and competitiveness of the agriculture sector, (c) strengthening relationships with the other sectors, (d) establishing new industries, and (e) conserving and using natural resources.

(ii) The Second Industrial Master Plan has identified the following areas for exploitation under the agriculture sector: (a) agro-based and food products industry, (b) fruits and vegetables, (c) floriculture, (d) chemical industry, and (e) natural products.

Under the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1995-2000), agrobiotechnology research has focused on (i) genetic engineering for crop improvement, disease and herbicide resistance, and value-added products; (ii) increased rice yields; (iii) increased shelf-life of fruits and flowers; (iv) improved flower color; (v) cell culture/bioreactor for producing chemicals; (vi) tissue culture; (vii) vaccine development and livestock production; and (viii) advanced reproductive biotechnology for improved beef cattle production.

3. Human Resource Development

Human resource development is of utmost importance for the success of biotechnology. Great emphasis is placed on developing sufficient human capital to support this high-technology, knowledge-based discipline. Local universities offer degree and postgraduate programs and conduct short training courses in many important biotechnology areas. A special National Science Foundation (NSF) has been created to sponsor postgraduate studies, especially in key areas such as bioinformatics, which lack key personnel. These and other government-sponsored fellowships are available through NBD for short courses locally or temporary postings to overseas laboratories.

4. Research and Development

Biotechnology R&D has been conducted primarily in nine government research institutes and seven universities (Table A6.1). More recently, with attractive tax-incentives from the Government, there is growing collaboration with the private sector. Under the Seventh Master Plan, 11 top-down programs projected to be of national importance were identified by NBD and approved for IRPA funding (Table A6.2).

Another key development has been the funding of 11 developmental projects (Table A6.3) by NBD. These projects, arising from results of earlier projects under IRPA funding, were deemed to be at the precommercial stage and thus approved for funding with NBD grants.

A number of international bilateral collaboration programs in biotechnology have also begun (Table A6.4); three others are in the pipeline.

Table A6.2: Malaysian Top-Down Biotechnology Projects


Molecular Manipulation and Engineering of Rice for Resistance to Diseases

(tungro and sheath blight) Improvement of Orchids and Tulips Through Genetic Engineering Construction of Recombinant Bacteria for Vaccine Delivery Development of DNA Markers for Identification of Color Varieties and Sex in Tiger Barbs

Molecular Approaches to Determination of Biomarkers for Diseases and Disease Susceptibility and Development of Appropriate Techniques for Diagnosis Interaction of Tumor, Host and Virus Factors in Growth and Progression of Malignant Lymphomas

Production of Sodium Citrate by Fermentation of Aspergillus niger Using Sago Hydroly-sate

Development of an Integrated Landfill Treatment System Using Microbial Processes Biodiversity Prospecting and Screening

Exploration of Gene Function and Organization During Developmental Events Studies on Gene Structure and Function: Cloning, Sequencing, Expression, and Modification of Selected Genes from Bacteria and Fungi Application of Biotechnology for the Production of Flavor Ingredients Utilization of Microorganisms and Enzymes for the Production and Improvement of Starch-Based Foods and Food Ingredients

DNA = deoxyribonucleic acid.

a Funded by Government of Malaysia Intensification of Research in Priority Areas Program. Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

Table A6.3: Developmental Research Projects in Malaysia

Year Project Title

1997 Scale-Up Production and Market Testing of Clarified Tropical Fruit Juices Semi-Scale Production of Goniothalamin Through Bioreactor Propagation for

Clinical Trial

1998 Commercial Production of Bacterial Innoculants as Biofertilizer and Enhancer Further Improvement of Pasteurella Spray Vaccine Against Pneumonic

Pasteurllosis in Sheep and Goat Commercial Production of a Local Live Infectious Bronchitis (UREMIA) IB (U) Vaccine

Development of Fermentation Biotechnology for the Commercial Production of Malaysian Isolates of Bacillus sphaericus, a Mosquito Control Agent

1999 Production of Molecular Biological Reagents for Local Market

Commercialization of Brugia malayi Research and Development Findings Into Diagnostic Kit

Commercial Application, State of the Art Biotechnological Advancements for

Clonal Propagation of Bananas Commercial Environmental-Controlled Production of Tulips and Ornamental Bulbs

Development of Prototype Kit for the Rapid Diagnosis of Typhoid Carrier

Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

Table A6.4: Malaysian Bilateral Collaborative Projects In Agricultural Biotechnology

Partners Project Title

Table A6.4: Malaysian Bilateral Collaborative Projects In Agricultural Biotechnology

Partners Project Title

Malaysia -


Cryopreservation of Bovine Oocytes and in vitro

Produced Bovine Embryos Development of Biosensor for Application in Environment and Food Industry

Malaysia -


Genetic Engineering of Chili for Disease Resistance Recombinant Vaccine for Infectious Boval Diseases

Malaysia -

New Zealand

Properties and Application of Starch-Based Food Ingredients Produced Through the Use of Microbial and Enzyme Technologies Development of Transformation and Regeneration System for Genetic Manipulation of Flowering and Insect Resistance in Teak (Tectona grandis)

Advanced Animal Reproductive and Embryo Transfer Technologies to Produce High Quality Animals from Sexed Embryos


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Biotechnology Partnership Programme

Subprogram: Oil Palm Biotechnology Subprogram: Natural Product Discovery

Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

Source: Nair and Abu-Bakar (2001).

5. Some Achievements to Date

The achievements in agribiotechnology during the past decades can be summarized as follows:

(i) Tissue culture and micropropagation protocols for the regeneration of several useful tropical forest plants and woody trees, as well as plantation crops and horticultural crops, have been developed in public and private research laboratories.

(ii) Good progress is being made in developing genetic manipulation and transformation systems, and inserting genes of interest into several plants including rice, papaya, banana, orchid, pineapple, oil palm, and rubber.

(iii) Many genes useful for crop improvement have been isolated and cloned, and their gene sequences deposited in international gene banks.

(iv) A number of patents have been obtained; others are pending.

(v) Facilities are being built to house the increasing number of transgenic plants being produced.

(vi) NBD is taking the initiative to develop infrastructure for R&D in genomics and proteomics to facilitate further understanding and cloning of new useful genes.

Rice. The transformation system for local rice varieties has been established. Transgenic rice containing the coat-protein gene for the tungro virus has been developed. Glasshouse screening has been completed and field trials are being planned for 2001. Transgenic rice with herbicide resistance has also been produced and is currently in glasshouse trials. Transgenic rice resistant to sheath blight disease is being developed. MARDI's rice biotechnology project was part of the Rockefeller Foundation Network on Rice Biotechnology that has just ended. Rice biotechnology is still being given top priority through top-down funding.

Papaya. Work on gene cloning for papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) coat protein gene and the ethylene gene ACO (1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid oxidase), for shelf-life, started concurrently with the development of the transformation system for papaya. Now transgenic papaya containing the shelf-life gene are being produced. Field trials are planned for late 2001. Transgenic papaya containing PRSV coat protein construct are being produced and analyzed. Both papaya projects are part of the Papaya Biotechnology Network of Southeast Asia under the auspices of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The project to develop papaya with increased shelf-life using the ethylene gene ACO is carried out in collaboration with the University of Queensland with funding by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Orchid. The ethylene gene ACO, related to the senescence of orchid, has been cloned along with genes involved in flower color. The transformation system for Dendrobium has been established and transgenic plants containing antisense ACO have been produced.

Chili. Coat protein gene to cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) has been cloned. A successful transformation system for chili is yet to be developed.

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