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With the advent of trade liberalization, the sugar industry is forced to
reduce its production costs to be competitive with other sugar-exporting
countries. Faced with increasing prices of fertilizer, labor, as well as
fuel, the sugar sector has turned to modern biotechnologies for a needed
boost, May 2005 .
The government has made a paradigm shift in its approach to agriculture.
From the traditional resource-based strategy, the government has advocated
the use of new technologies, including biotechnology, to modernize its
agriculture program. Molecular marker technology is one of the modern
biotechnologies that have been well accepted and adapted," said Dr. Desiree
M. Hautea, research professor and director of the Institute of Plant
Breeding-University of the Philippines in Los Ba?os, Laguna.
She added, "The number of Philippine institutions that are capable of
conducting marker analysis have increased over the last three years.
Noteworthy among these institutions is the Philippine Sugar Research
Institute Foundation, Inc. [Philsurin], which has dedicated considerable
resources to build physical and human capacity to use modern biotechnology
for sugarcane improvement."
To ensure the production of disease-free sugarcane varieties, Philsurin is
working to identify reliable molecular markers that would determine whether
or not sugarcane is susceptible to diseases such as smut and downy mildew.
The most reliable and cost-effective approach to planting sugarcane, in
Philsurin?s view, is the use of high-quality, disease-resistant varieties
resulting in a yield increase of as much as 13%.
While traditional screening may take two years to produce results, molecular
marker-assisted selection produces outcomes at half the time, accelerating
the breeding process.
"This technology allows breeders to eliminate the susceptible varieties
right away, and select only the resistant types," Philsurin Director-General
Leon M. Arceo said.
In pursuit of higher-yielding sugarcane varieties, Philsurin also utilizes
DNA (deoxyribonucleic) microsatellite markers to fingerprint canes. A method
that identifies genetic similarities and differences between organisms, DNA
fingerprinting renders the selection process more precise. This is a big
leap from the often confusing, subjective and tedious conventional
"DNA fingerprinting reveals the unseen DNA sequences, making it easier for
sugarcane breeders to identify the true genetic traits of a variety.
Breeders are assured that only distantly related varieties are crossbred for
excellent hybrid vigor," Philsurin research associate Dr. Rosendo Muyco
To date, the Philippines is the only country in the world fingerprinting its
sugarcane germplasm collection. The utilization of molecular markers and DNA
microsatellite markers are part of Philsurin?s activities under the
CFC/ISO/20: Sugarcane Variety Improvement Project in Southeast Asia and the
Pacific, which is funded by the Common Fund for Commodities.
Wanting to offer planters an alternative to chemical fertilizers, the
organization has embarked on a continuing research to develop a
biofertilizer for sugarcane. Philsurin microbiologist Dr. Lucille C.
Villegas said the development of biofertilizer is justified by the rising
costs of chemical fertilizers and the environmental and health damage
associated with their usage.
"If the utilization of biofertilizer is maximized, it will eventually lead
to the reduction of sugarcane dependence on chemical fertilizers and a
corresponding savings in the amount of inputs," she said.
A highly active micropropagation program also has played a major role in the
43.55% increase in sugar production to 2.34 million metric tons in crop year
2003-2004 from 1.63 million metric tons in 1999.
An advanced multiplication method utilizing tissue culture procedures,
micropropagation involves small parts of a plant such as shoot tips and
nodes grown in an artificial medium in a germ-free environment.
Micropropagation has increased the multiplication rate of HYV (high-yield
variety) planting material exponentially, helping planters improve farm
yields. The cutting-edge technique has reduced the lag time between the
introduction and the full adoption of new varieties because it enables
breeders to generate hundreds of thousands of plantlets in a short span of
time. Philsurin?s micropropagation laboratory in the Victorias mill
development district council alone produces 40,000 plantlets weekly.
The Philippines also banks on its growing number of sugar experts likewise,
to sustain advances made in biotechnology.
Partnerships with local and international research and development
organizations such as the Sugarcane Variety Improvement in Southeast Asia
and the Pacific and the IPB-UPLB, as well as firm backing received from the
Sugar Regulatory Administration beef up Philsurin?s efforts to harness
Boon To R&D
As with other industries, the sugar sector is forced to cope with a
fast-paced and technology-oriented environment. While those with the
know-how and resources lead the pack, countries that lack the expertise get
Fortunately for the industry, it is able to bank on its growing number of
Armed with a Fulbright scholarship, 32-year-old Jie A. Arro recently earned
his master?s degree in agronomy from the Louisiana State University, USA.
With his up-to-date knowledge in sugar biotechnology and active
international ties gained from his two-year study leave, the Negros native
is ready to get back to work and apply what he has learned to the local
Mr. Arro is an assistant breeder at Philsurin, where he, along with a senior
breeder, plant pathologist, agronomist, microbiologist, crop physiologist
and molecular plant breeder, are immersed in the un-ending quest for a super
Mr. Arro comes from a family of agriculturists. His father is an agriculture
graduate from the Central Philippine University in Iloilo, and his brother
has a degree in plant pathology from the University of the Philippines-Los
Ba?os. Mr. Arro?s particular interest is the emerging field of molecular
"There?s a paradigm shift in sugarcane breeding. Because of the rapid
advances in biotechnology, there are now more precise tools that allow
breeders to take shortcuts in improving the genetic make-up of a crop," he
With conventional breeding methods, giving rise to new and better-yielding
sugarcane varieties takes as long as 10 years. Modern biotechnologies and
concepts seek to change this.
Mr. Arro?s master?s thesis focused on the application of molecular
techniques to allow breeders to assess sugarcane?s genetic diversity at the
Employing the molecular marker called target region amplification
polymorphism (TRAP), he studied genetic differences among sugarcane clones.
Molecular markers are utilized extensively by plant breeders to identify
useful agronomic traits.
Exposure to technologies utilized by advanced countries such as the United
States has strengthened Mr. Arro?s resolve to find appropriate applications
"While any new technology learned helps bring improvement, copycat
techniques will not work because of the differences in the cultural
dimension between developed and developing countries. We have to cultivate
technologies specific to our environment."
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