Sidra Saif

ISLAMABAD: The future of biotechnology has brightened one again as the government of Pakistan has taken a major step forward for coordinated and targeted initiatives meant for research and development in biotechnology, which, subsequently would improve the engineering of medicines, food or other sector.

Biotechnology has a considerable potential for promoting the efficiency of crop improvement, food production, and poverty reduction, especially in developing countries like Pakistan. The agriculture biotechnology has proved a potential source to provide people with more and better crops, food and holds even greater promise for the future.

“Yes, serious efforts are being made to revive the biotechnology in the country as re-establishment of the National Commission on Biotechnology and charging it with the task of coordinating nationwide research programmes in different areas where biotechnology can be applied is under consideration,” said an official, who was among the participants of a recently held meeting in the Ministry of Science and Technology, while talking to this scribe.

He said that the meeting, held with Secretary SandT in the chair, discussed in detail the research and development in bio-technology for application to industry.

The secretary told the meeting that more focus is being put to promote Nano-Technology and Bio-Technology for socio-economic development in the country through establishment of a Centre of Excellence and Foundation.

Dr. Anwar Nasim, an expert on biotechnology and had attended the meeting on special invitation, told the participant that biotechnology was a success story. He was of the view that Bio-Technology was being used in different fields and research being done in different centres. Therefore, there was a need of coordination between these centres. He gave an example of Indian Department of Bio-Technology headed by a full time Secretary that coordinate with the Ministry of Science and Technology.

During the meeting, the Secretary also asked the participants to look into the issues why the earlier National Commission on Biotechnology could not deliver and whether it is advisable to establish a new Centre of Excellence in Bio-Technology or the existing facilities might be upgraded.

The government is also planning to review the draft of National Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Policy and Action Plan and implement it with the support of relevant organisations. “Limited resources, inadequate stock of trained manpower and lack of proper coordination among the institutions are some of the reasons, owing to which biotechnology sector has not been fully developed,” remarked the official.

According to experts, biotechnology has a wide scope ranging from diagnoses to treatment, agriculture to medicine, and from bioremediation to gene manipulation. They argued that biotechnology has devised such techniques and procedures which can provide the mankind with the safest, germ free and highly nutritious food, which is also resistant to pathogens, along with providing the shelter against the fetal diseases

The use of modern biotechnology started in Pakistan since 1985 when most of the crop improvement activities using modern biotechnology are focused on rice and cotton, which are among the top five crops of Pakistan. However, cotton is at a fairly advanced stage of commercialization while evaluated of basmati rice has been done in the field for two years although not yet submitted for approval.

It is to be mentioned that national bio-safety rules by the Ministry of Environment have now provided an opportunity to evaluate the GM crops for safe release into the environment and for commercial cultivation. Pakistan has made considerable progress in the research and development sector of agriculture biotechnology and has developed several GM crops. However, commercial release is hampered due to delays and weak capacity of regulatory bodies related to bio-safety.

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