DA stresses support for biotechnology

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has reiterated its support for biotechnology-related research and development activities implemented by various agencies and schools to help develop superior agricultural commodities.

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Antonio Alfonso, director of the DA-Biotechnology Program Office, said these projects include genetic improvement and molecular characterization of rice, abaca, coconut, tomato, eggplant, papaya, cotton, water buffaloes, sea cucumber, pili, and selected high-value aquatic species.

“We welcome the use of any available techniques that allow our researchers to achieve their target of producing superior varieties of agricultural crops and other commodities for as long as safety and sustainability are taken into consideration”, said Alfonso.

He expounded that these techniques may include conventional hybridization, induced mutation, tissue culture, use of DNA markers and even genetic modification.

Alfonso further explained that a combination of these tools not only help fast-track varietal improvement but also help elucidate genetic and molecular control of the traits of interest. Such information will be useful in guiding the researchers in their work.

He cited the work being done at UPLB-Institute of Plant Breeding where abaca mutants with multiple virus resistance were generated and are now being studied to identify the mutated genes and their role in resistance.

DNA marker technology is being used not only in abaca but also in other crops to facilitate the work of plant breeders in evaluating large populations and selecting individual plants that possess the traits of interest. Unique DNA sequences physically linked to the genes serve as markers and allow selection for the trait even without looking at the trait itself.

DNA marker-assisted selection saves time and resources, and increases selection efficiency, Alfonso added.

The DNA markers also help generate unique DNA fingerprints that allow validation of the identity of planting materials, similar to the way researchers in the University of Southern Mindanao target preferred and popular varieties of durian.

Further, DNA patterns allow generation of “DNA barcodes” that are useful not only for varietal identification but also for elucidating genetic relationships and diversity, information that is useful to breeders and conservationists.

Among the organisms being barcoded are various kinds of commercially important fishes in a project being conducted at the Central Luzon State University. Similarly, the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI) under BFAR also uses DNA barcoding for the country’s endangered and regulated fishes.

Other DNA barcoding activities focus on traditional and wild varieties of rice being implemented by PhilRice, and registered plant and fruit varieties being conducted by UPLB.

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