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RECENT MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN THAILAND : BIOTECHNOLOGY
Morakot Tanticharoen, Rudd Valyasevi, Jade Donavanik and Thippayawan Thanapaisal
National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC)

The Scope of Biotechnology


                            Biotechnology is any technique that uses living organisms or substances derived from these organisms to make or modify a product, improve plants or animals or develop microorganisms for specific uses.  It has found diverse application in medicine, agriculture, food processing, chemical compounds and environmental management.  The term “modern biotechnology” is used to distinguish activities from traditional biotechnology, which included fermentation technologies, such as fish sauce, soyasauce and beer making. Modern biotechnology has developed rapidly since the elucidation of the structure of DNA, with subsequent major developments including the advent of recombinant DNA technology, advanced cell and tissue culture techniques and modern immunology.  Modern biotechnology has already provided a number of benefits in health care, agriculture and other industries.  Biotechnology-derived drugs [biopharmaceuticals] are now routinely used in medicine and over 25 industrial and food crops have been genetically modified.  For example, gene technology has enabled the production of insulin that is identical to that produced in healthy individuals, replacing insulin derived from pigs in many applications.  Novel therapeutic and diagnostic products for the prevention and treatment of thrombotic [blood clotting] disorders.  In agriculture, biotechnology has produced biotic and abiotic-resistant crops, and foods with improved nutritional qualities.  The development of pest and disease resistant crops has increased yields and reduced the application of agricultural chemicals. For example, Bt cotton varieties grown in China, USA and other countries.  Golden rice [higher vitamin A content] is an example of food with improved nutritional qualities.

                           The completion of entire genome sequences of many organisms including human provides a major impetus to understanding the complex nature of living cells.  The international Human Genome Project stimulated developments both in high-throughput DNA sequencing, and in powerful computational tools for sequence analysis.  Recently, the challenge turns from identifying the genome sequences to understanding their function.  The post-genomics era refers to as functional genomics, the ability to monitor simultaneously potentially all events, whether it be the expression of genes at the RNA or protein level, protein-protein interactions, all alleles of all genes that affect a particular trait, or all protein-binding sites in a genome.  DNA arrays can be used, most prominently to measure levels of gene expression for tens of thousands of genes simultaneously.

The Growing Significance of Biotechnology  

                           Worldwide biotechnology markets amounted US$ 43 billion in 2000.  Among the markets, the value in food and agriculture based on biotechnology was US$ 20 billion.  The global market for biotechnology is expected to grow at 12 to 20% per year.  Biotechnology is having a major impact on almost all the major sectors of industry.  Its relative importance* in industrial production and processing is estimated below.  From the beginning of “new” biotechnology, the pharmaceutical and agri-chemical industries are being radically transformed by the application of recombinant and cell technologies.

Industry

Relative importance

Biopharmaceuticals                                    

               +++

Specialty chemicals

               +

Colorants, food additives, cosmetics

               ++

Vaccines

               +/++

Edible and commodity crops [agri-food industry]

               ++/+++

Biological clean up [bioremediation]

               ++

Biomining/ bioleaching

               ++

                
                     *    Number of [+] indicates relative importance [more=higher]

                            Commercial biotechnology is a very research-intensive activity and driven by state-of-the art and private venture capital.  Biotechnology is long dominated by the United States but it has now grown strongly, particularly in Germany, Britain, Israel and China.  U.S. biotech firms total more than 1,300 compared with about 700 in all Europe.  United States federal spending on biotechnology is US$ 6 billion annually, while many States have additional biotechnology programs.
Canada Government expenditure on biotechnology research and development is estimated to be about C$ 300 million.  An additional C$ 880 million was earmarked for a national genomics work.  Germany has embraced biotechnology as key to its long-term competitiveness.  In 1993 the government passed new legislation designed to streamline decision-making in biotech projects.  In 1999, German researchers claimed 14% of all biotech patents applications, up from 10% five years ago and with more than 400 biotech-related start-ups now.  Moreover, the country will channel $175 million over the next three years into a National Genome Research Network to work on the systematic functional analysis of genes and the use of those research results in the fight against widespread diseases.  The new Genome Research Network involves at least 16 universities, several MaxPlanck institutes, and four national research centers.  The Japanese Government spent US$ 2.5 billion in 1999 on biotechnology, an increase of 12.3% from the previous year.  Major funding increases are focused on new research infrastructure in bioinformatics and genomics and on research commercialisation initiatives.

                           Among the developing countries, the India government took the first step in encouraging a biotechnology industry back in 1986, by establishing a separate government department charged with increasing the number of biotechnology graduates coming from universities.  Fifty universities now produce about 500 biotech scientists annually.  In addition, the government began funding more than 50 centers around the country to collect genomic data.  China is reported  to have 24 field tests and 20 commercialized of genetically engineered crops in 1999-2000.  Comparing with the above mentioned countries, biotechnology in Thailand has grown at a lesser extent even though Thailand has substantial and unique genetic resources of plants, animals and microorganisms.  Biotechnology can bring the enormous benefits and to maintain the competitiveness of Thailand’s existing agricultural exports.   A new era of biotechnology was started when The Thai Government established the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology [BIOTEC] in 1983.  Two years later, two specialized laboratories of BIOTEC, namely Plant Genetic Engineering and Microbial Genetic Engineering Units were initiated at Kasetsart and Mahidol University, respectively.  Now, modern biotechnology is well developed in most universities and research institutes.  The use of gene technology applications is wider and appreciated in the diagnosis of human and animal diseases.  But the barriers of biotechnology development are adequate and effective funding of public and private sector research and Thailand’s ability to commercialise its research.  Seventeen universities can now accept up to 600 biotechnology students annually.  A survey by the Thai Society for Biotechnology showed that  biotechnology scientists [with Bsc] have worked mainly in food and food beverage industries and only few with biotechnology industries. Co-ordination of research efforts across government portfolios is also important. There are no existing mechanisms for such co-ordination which bring together all portfolios and public funding agencies with a biotechnology interest.   
Agriculture and Gene Technology

                            Gene technology promises to become new molecular tools to greatly accelerated and more precisely target conventional breeding.  Today, recombinant DNA technology has reached a stage where short sections [genes] isolated from the genetic material of any organism can be transferred into the cells of a different organism.  The process is known as transformation.  The term genetic engineering thus refers to the application of recombinant DNA technology.  Organisms with at least one foreign gene are known as genetically modified organisms [GMOs] or transgenic organisms. Genetic modifications can be carried out in almost any life form-microorganisms, animals, or plants.  The combination of cloning with genetic engineering provides many opportunities for both agriculture and medicine, for example, production of new protein [medicines] in the milk of animals.  The other applications of gene technology is the use of genetic markers, maps and genomic information in marker-assisted and gene-assisted selection and breeding for crop improvement.            
    
                             By the mid-seventies, with the dawning of new biotechnology centered in genetic engineering and molecular biology, Thailand was ready to adopt the new tools and apply to various practical problems.  A few specific examples will be given here to highlight the applications of molecular biology and genetic engineering on agricultural development in Thailand. 

Plant transformation

                            The area of plant transformation should lead to the production of transgenic plants with superior properties including the resistance to diseases, insect pests and abiotic stress.  The Plant Genetic Engineering Unit [PGEU], the specialized laboratory of BIOTEC at Kasetsart University, Kamphaengsaen Campus was established in 1985 to carry out the work on plant biotechnology and genetic engineering.  Transgenic tomato plant carrying the coat protein gene of  tomato  yellow leaf curl virus was first developed to control the serious virus disease of tomato.  The same approach was taken to develop transgenic papaya and pepper for the resistance to papaya ringspot virus and chilli vein-banding mottle virus, respectively.  Development of  transgenic rice varieties has been supported by the Rice Biotechnology Program launched by the BIOTEC and the Rockefeller Foundation.  The example is transformation of Khaw Dawk Mali 105, an aromatic Thai rice with  pyrroline-5-carboxylate synthetase [P5CS] for salt and drought tolerance.  Most of transgenic plants are now being tested under greenhouse conditions in accordance with the Biosafety Guidelines.   The viral resistance papaya developed by Department of Agriculture is now undergoing field trial and being environmentally assessed for possible release. 
                       
Marker assisted selection
            
                            Tomato production in the tropics and subtropics faces serious constraints due to bacterial wilt, a disease caused by the bacterial pathogen recently reclassified as Ralstonia solanacearum.  In Thailand, an endemic outbreak of bacterial wilt [BW] in tomato, potato, pepper, ginger, and peanut occurs each year, causing a total yield loss of approximately 50-90% depending on growing conditions.  BW resistant varieties cannot easily be accomplished due to the nature of the [quantitatively inherited] resistance that has several genes involved.  Marker assisted selection [MAS]-a breeding method of selecting individuals based on markers linked to target genes in addition to phenotypic measurement only is essential and useful for enhanced resistance to diseases.  Tomato germplasm containing resistance genes and the location of the genes of tomato molecular map allow the use of DNA markers located near the resistance genes as a tool in selection for the resistant traits.  Currently, the breeding project for resistance tomato has conducted marker assisted selection not only for wilt disease caused by Ralstonia solanacearum but others such as, nematode, tobacco mosaic virus and powdery mildew.

                            There have been many approaches to agricultural development, however, few have been successful as well as sustainable.  A long research effort started in the early 1950’s resulted on the first officially approved maize variety, Suwan-1 which was released in Thailand in 1973.  The research was initiated to overcome drought stress and other production constraints, most notably, sorghum downy mildew disease.  Nowadays, downy mildew disease seems less severe in the farmer fields, but it is still the first rank of important diseases of maize in Thailand.  Breeding for downy mildew resistance is based on selection and hybridization of selected plants in screening nursery.  The effectiveness of selection depends highly on environmental conditions of disease nursery.  The molecular techniques such as Simple Sequence Repeat [SSR] are being used to define marker positions which link to QTLs of sorghum downy mildew for the application of breeding programs through marker assisted selection.

                           Molecular genetic markers can now find direct application and should greatly assist for selective breeding programs of commercially important marine species in Thailand.  Species-specific markers found in several marine species are used for identification of correct broodstock and seed species and for quality control of commercial trading of oyster, mud crab and abalone seed.  A population-specific RAPD marker found in black tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon)  from the Andaman sea can be used to verify growth and survival performance among different black tiger prawn  stocks in commercial culture settings.

                            Due to powerful application of DNA-based technologies to identify DNA markers which are associated with nuclear loci that control economically important trait [quantitative trait loci, QTLS], marker assisted selection has great potential and gain more attention in breeding programs for plants and animals, for examples, rice  resistance  to bacterial leaf blight and leaf/neck blast.

Challenges in Product Development using Gene Technology.

                            Thailand similar to other developing countries, needs to form network with other laboratories to facilitate technology transfer and get accessed to genetic material important in the construction of genetic modification. The construction of genetically modified organisms is usually intertwined with license fee and intellectual right obligations. For example, the construction of vitamin A enriched rice involves more than 70 licenses. Usually the reliance on the expertise of other collaborators means that strict restrictions are imposed on the use of the products. Capacity building and human resource development via research is a long-term solution for Thailand to become more independent in the product development using gene technology. BIOTEC as a research funding agency, is working actively towards this objective. One notable example is the US$ 3.5 million funding for the rice functional genomics project. BIOTEC on behalf of Thailand has joined an International Collaboration for Sequencing the Rice Genome [ICSRG]. This project will form network with researchers worldwide as well as within the countries.  Joining ICSRG will allow Thai Scientists to directly access the rest of the genome sequence made available by the other collaborating members.  Moreover, BIOTEC hopes to discover several important genes and regulatory elements such as strong inducible promoters for use to improve the genetic transformation process as well as the genetic improvement of rice.  The project will bring Thailand to international scientific arena, incorporate state of the art technology and finally improve the competitive edge of Thailand in the international market.

Success story: Development of molecular diagnostic tools for shrimp viruses

                            Since the beginning of the 1990’s Thailand has led the world in the export of farmed shrimp.  In 1999, there were 25,000 shrimp farms producing 240,000 tons of exported black tiger shrimp at a value of 87,000 million baht and employing approximately 130,000 people.  Thus, cultivated shrimp is one of the top 10 exports from Thailand, generating approximately 1.5 billion dollars in yearly export earnings.  These earnings are especially important because they are based very largely on inputs of local origin.  Modern biotechnology has a major role to play in the shrimp cultivation through breeding, feed development and supplementation, disease control, quality assurance and waste treatment and recovery. The important milestones in the biotechnology application has been the development of DNA probes for the rapid detection of major shrimp pathogens [Flegel, T. W. 1997. Special topic review : major viral diseases of the black tiger prawn [Penaeus monodon] in Thailand.  World J. Microbiol. Biotech., 13:433-442.]  These probes are essential for the development and monitoring of certified shrimp broodstock and fry.  They are also critical tools for the prevention of shrimp diseases which may cause disastrous production losses, even though they present no health risk to shrimp consumers.  The development of a DNA probe for one of these pathogens, white spot syndrome virus [WSSV], has yielded a benefit that can be valued at approximately 1 billion US$ per year since 1996. 

                           WSSV   probably originated in China in 1993 and gradually spread from there to the rest of Asia in succeeding years.  In China, it resulted in a drop of shrimp production from approximately 155,000 metric tons in 1992 to 35,000 metric tons [77% decrease] by 1994.  [Rosenberry, Bob. 1994. World shrimp farming 1994.  Shrimp News International, San Diego.]  During that time [1994-1995], the virus had not yet caused any known farm losses in Thailand.  In the meantime, work was done at Mahidol University, Thailand to investigate the nature of the virus and to develop diagnostic probes for it. [Wongteerasupaya, C.,  Wongwisansri, S., Boonsaeng, V., Panyim, P., Pratanpipat, P., Nash, G.L.,  Withyachumnarnkul, B.  and Flegel, T.W. 1996. DNA fragment of Penaeus monodon baculovirus PmNOBII gives positive in situ hybridization with viral infections in 6 penaeid shrimp species. Aquaculture 143: 23-32].  A major discovery with the probe was that shrimp fry used to stock shrimp ponds could be the source of the virus.

                            WSSV  began  to cause Thai farm losses in late 1995.  The research allowed for the development of effective prevention programs which included the use of DNA technology to screen stocking fry so that WSSV positive batches could be rejected.  As such, a loss of 60,000 metric tons or 27% of production from the preceding year was recorded.  Without research results, the losses would have reached 170,000 metric tons [i.e., 77% of the previous year’s production, like China].  The research allowed for the development of effective prevention programs which included the use of DNA technology to screen stocking fry so that WSSV positive batches could be rejected.

                            The loss from WSSV is international.  Equador shrimp production dropped from 144,000 tons in 1998 to 95,000 and 45,000 metric tons in 1999 and 2000, respectively.  Due to an out brake of WSSV in South America, which is a main shrimp exporter to U.S.A., the shrimp production in Thailand rose to 280,000 metric tons in the year 2000 compared to 243,000 and 230,000 tons in 1998 and 1999, respectively.  The example given here serves to illustrate the research invested can yield substantial returns.          
Biosafety of GMOs in Thailand

                            Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that is not a signing member of the Rio de Janeiro Agreement on Convention of Biological Diversity.  However, Thailand has adopted the Biosafety guidelines in 1992 for laboratory work and field work and planned release. The Biosafety protocal was initiated by National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) and the completion was largely the efforts of relevant government agencies. The chronology is as appeared in Appendix 1.
 
                            In 1990, a biosafety subcommittee was established largely to oversee the drafting of the guidelines for laboratory and field trials of genetically modified plants. Thailand’s first biosafety guidelines were completed in June of 1992. Subsequently in 1993, the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) was established with BIOTEC served as the coordinating body and secretariat. At the same time, Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs’) were established at various major research and academic institutes throughout Thailand. Currently, there are 14 IBC’s including 1 private enterprise laboratory overseeing all the research activities involved the use of genetically modified organisms.
[Napompeth B. 1997. Status of Biosafety in Thailand and Development of Biosafety: International Level.  A paper presented at the Asia-Pacific Workshop on Biosafety: Environmental Impact  Analysis of Transgenic Plants. Madras (Chennai), India, July 21-26, 1997.]
 Perhaps, the first request of introduction of genetically modified organism in Thailand was the field trial of FLAVR SAVR tomato. The Department of Agriculture (DoA) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives acted with the technical recommendation of NBC, granted permission for the field trial of FLAVR SAVR tomato in 1994. The purpose of FLAVR SAVR tomato field trial was for seed production destined for export only. The request for field trial of genetically modified cotton with toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis was made in 1995. The field trial of Bt cotton started in March of 1996 and until today, permission for the commercial release of Bt cotton is still pending by the DoA.

                            In October 1999, with the controversy of the safety of GMOs escalated particularly in the European Union countries, Thailand’s Committee for International Economic Policy issued a guideline for the commercial release of seeds derived from genetically modified plants. The national guidelines prohibited any commercial release of plant seeds. However, field trials are permissible under the jurisdiction of DoA. The 1964 Plant Quarantine Act and the 1999 amendments have restricted importation of over 70 different varieties of transgenic plants. Moreover, products derived from genetically modified plants must be proven as safe before they can be permitted to use as foods or food ingredients. Food safety is to be under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Committee for International Economic Policy also agreed to exempt the import restriction of  transgenic  soybean and maize [ Notification of Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives]

                          As the technical support to various government agencies in the decision making of the safety of genetically modified organisms, NBC established 3 specialized subcommittees on plant, microorganisms and food. These subcommittees are to be the technical experts and to work coordinately with relevant government agencies in the approval process.

                          The subcommittee for Food drafted a guideline for safety assessment of genetically modified foods in 1999.  It is now being considered by the Thai’s FDA for use as a national guideline. The guidelines followed the internationally accepted concept of substantial equivalence. The first transgenic food plant product that is seeking approval for use in food industry is the Bt cottonseed oil. The decision is still pending by the Thai’s FDA. Currently, the products being assessed by the Subcommittee includes genetically engineered papaya for viral resistance developed by BIOTEC and DoA and both Bt and Round up Ready maize varieties from Monsanto.
Public Awareness and Information

                            From the 1970s when genetic engineering just began, we saw the modification of over 60 plant species and nearly 3000 field tests of GM-crops.  Now across the world, thousands of varieties are being tested.  But while genetically modified organisms have moved rapidly from laboratories to big business, many scientific and technological questions remain.  At the same time, public fears over safety and lack of trust in government and private sector management and regulation of the new technology have led to widespread concern over GM-food. Anyhow, biotechnology and gene technology are increasingly becoming part of our world.  It is important that people in our community are made aware of the nature of these technologies and the issues surrounding them.  The single biggest problem is public confidence in science.  As such, public awareness program is needed to inform the public of biotechnology issues, including benefits, risk factors and the measures used to manage these.  It is necessary to consider ways to effectively develop and deliver information to the public.  Several booklets on biotechnology and its application. Including GMOs, cloning and world of microbes were published by BIOTEC and distributed to schools across the nation.  A BIOTEC Website [http://www.biotec.or.th] on biotechnology provides access to relevant document and information on latest developments in biotechnology.  BIOTEC has also established an electronic forum on GMOs [http://policy.biotec.or.th] for questions and answers and open discussion.  A wide-ranging public dialogue on hot issues could be pursued by holding meetings in public and posting minutes to the web. This is one way the government agencies could engage with the public in the decision-making process.  But although everyone has bought into this idea, it will take quite a while to ensure that this culture change takes hold.

Ethical Issues

                            The explosion of genetic knowledge comes with some heavy ethical and social baggage.  It is not clear how society will deal with the growing potential to manipulate genomes and ethical issues bring on dilemma which could not be clearly defined.  The U.S. government is grapping with how to protect individual rights once the technology exists for reading each person’s genome.  Meanwhile, it established an Office for Human Research Protections within the Department of Health and Human Services.  The U.S. government spent about 5% of its human genome project to study the ethical, social, and legal impacts of genomic research.  The German government plans to use US$ 10 million on this issue. Meanwhile, there are attempts from international organizations to set up guidelines for ethical committee. UNESCO set up International Bioethics Committee (IBC) to set standards and regulations. World Medical Association announced through Helsinki Declaration on Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects. WHO proposed International Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Medical Genetics and Genetics Services.  All of which are prerequisites for newly developed biotechnology-related guidelines which will potentially be established in the near future.  In Thailand, some guidelines, particularly in genetics, will be initiated directly by BIOTEC, in co-operation with WHO and UNESCO.

                            For Thailand, ethical considerations regarding biotechnology are becoming focus, particularly on advanced biomedical research area. BIOTEC and National Health Foundation are joining hands on the special project namely “Bioethics and Advanced Biomedical Research”. As some advanced technologies bring along new frontier confrontation of ethical issues, therefore, specific technologies are chosen as high-impact ones. These are gene therapy, gene hunting, stem cell research, genetic testing, human genome database, human cloning and intellectual property on human genetics. Problems and dilemmas are provoked upon such technologies regarding discrimination, human rights, eugenics, and  rights on one’s own genetic materials. BIOTEC, therefore, initiated Bioethics Advisory Committee in order to consider, analyse and make recommendations on such special issues. The committee comprises experts from science, research, medical, religion, law and human rights sectors. Web site (www.policy.biotec.or.th) and InsightBio newsletter are actively created, updated, produced and widely distributed among potential stakeholders in order to pass on information and create awareness throughout Thailand.  Moreover, in-dept research and seminars on ethical issues are continually supported.  Public understanding, both directs to public and pass through news agents, is considered as a significant process to stimulate public understanding. Above all, the reasonable and acceptable policy on bioethics will be strongly initiated and clearly issued for the sake of Thai society.
Biotechnology and Intellectual Property Rights

                            The field of intellectual property protection for biotechnology is somewhat new, as is the biological technology itself.  The current impulse that influenced the expansion of intellectual property protection to biotechnology was the advancement of recombinant DNA technology in 1970’s.  Nowadays, biotechnology is relatively important in multiple practices.  Consequently, sufficient intellectual property rights for new inventions and other progresses in biotechnology have been called for by the developed countries who dominate this field.  Thus far, many developed countries tried to embody the recognition of biotechnology in various intellectual property regimes, such as the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), an agreement under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Many forms of intellectual property rights, e.g., patent, protection of trade secret, and plant variety protection, may be applicable to biotechnology.

                            With respect to patent protection, developed countries, especially the U.S. tried to include protections for every kind of living thing, beginning with microorganisms, in the framework of the WTO, specifically in TRIPS. Developed countries went further, asserting that the existing intellectual property regimes in most countries should be reformed to include the protection of biotechnology, and that the new intellectual property rights should be extended to developing countries like Thailand as well in order that the rights granted will be recognized worldwide. The law of trade secret may also be a practicable form of protection for particular forms of biotechnology. When the biotechnology invention cannot be effortlessly reverse engineered the law of trade secret may be preferable to patent. Trade secret may also be an alternative, if patent protection is not available for an invention. Today, research and development in biotechnology is believed to be enhanced with the support of intellectual property rights.  New techniques for improving cells promise to aid in the production of useful substances, whereas intellectual property rights vow to confer the ultimate benefit on inventors of the said techniques. In the biotechnology industry of many industrialized countries, scientists use genetic manipulation techniques to modify animal and plant’s genes and cells to find new hybridizes which are more productive than the parental.  These technologies would succeed in a country like Thailand if they are used with conventional breeding by providing agricultural services, incentive price policies for agricultural products, and effective marketing network.

                            With respect to intellectual property protection, Thailand has enacted several laws that are applicable for the protection of biotechnogical products and processes, e.g., the Patent Act, the Plant Variety Protection Act, the Bill on the Law of Trade Secret (draft of the Trade Secret Act), etc.  The most used and relevant protection for biotechnology industry is, however, the law of patent similar to any other existing patent laws worldwide, Thai patents are given to inventions and processes, which are new, possess an inventive step, and are capable of industrial application.  The protection is given to both product and process of biotechnology.  Notwithstanding, patent eligibility is not given to naturally existing microorganisms and their components, animals, plants or animal and plant extracts.

                            Ironically, the law always finds a hard time coping up with technologies.  Intellectual property law is no exception to such matter of fact.  As may be seen from this paper that the advancement of biotechnology in Thailand has moved further into gene technologies, and to genomic and proteiomic inventions: nevertheless the Thai Patent Act is still struggling with protection for DNA, genes, and proteins, especially those extracted, isolated, and purified from plants or animals.  This is because the products of which are considered animal or plant extracts that hold no patentability under the Thai law.  The issue of patentable subject matters is indeed not only the question of law but also the consideration of policy.  Patent protection as well as any other intellectual property rights could be one of the promising tools to confer incentive on biotechnological research and development.  Therefore,  Thailand should think through carefully, especially in the post-genomics era, as to what role would intellectual property rights be playing in order to enhance the progression of the country’s biotechnology industry so as to scale up the overall economic development and the betterment of science and technology sector as a whole.

                           Initially, Thailand should not focus on competing with industrialized countries in sophisticated biotechnologies, such as gene transfer and genetic engineering. The country should take advantages of simple biotechnology, for instance, simple technologies of plant tissue, in order to achieve swift vegetative propagation of valuable crops. There should be an adoption and improvement of specific plant biotechnology methods that are less expensive, easy to establish, and appropriate to transfer and adapt to local situations. Moreover, in avoid using sophisticated technologies developed by industrialized countries, Thailand would be immuned from the intellectual property right infringement: and, in developing her own technologies, the country would possess intellectual property rights of her own.  This suggestion does not mean that Thailand will not have access to sophisticated biotechnologies.  In fact, biotechnologies vary in complexity and sophistication; therefore, they should be distributed to communities by the ability of development techniques.  The national scientific or technological community should be responsible for sophisticated technologies then adapt them to development projects to serve local needs and keep abreast of new trends in biotechnology.

                          Thailand needs to determine her priorities by identifying economic objectives and considering how to maximize the value of available resources. The government should support research and development in biotechnology by funding national scientific communities and credit loans to the private sectors. The government should  ensure the transfer of technology to the local communities in order to enhance techniques of traditional breeding, and increase quality and quantity of agricultural products.

Conclusion

                             Modern biotechnology is already making important contributions and poses significant challenges to agriculture, health and environment.  Biotechnologies are a new group of powerful tools for research and ultimately for accelerating development, and not an end in themselves.  Modern biotechnologies should be used as adjuncts to-and not as substitutes for conventional technologies in solving problems and that their application should be need driven rather than technology-driven.

                            Biotechnology is research based and multidisciplinary.  Successful development and application of biotechnology are possible only when a broad research and knowledge base in several subjects such as, microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and plant breeding exists.  Biotechnological programs must be fully integrated into a research background and a continued commitment to basic research is a must to fulfill benefits offered by the emerging technologies.  Thailand’s strategy is to keep biotechnology in a balanced perspective by undertaking activities within the framework of existing national research agendas and priorities. 

     
Appendix 1: Thailand's GMOs Chronology

Date

Events

1983

Inauguration of Thailand's National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (NCGEB, now BIOTEC)

1985

Establishment of BIOTEC's Plant Genetic Engineering Unit (PGEU) in Nakhornpathom, Thailand

1986

BIOTEC commissioned a status report on the prospects of biotechnology in agriculture stated the need for the country's biosafety regulatory system

1990

A feasibility study on biosafety by BIOTEC

1990

Biosafety Subcommittee was established under BIOTEC

April 1992

BIOTEC appointed an ad hoc subcommittee to draft Thailand's first biosafety guidelines

June 1992

Complete draft of biosafety guidelines (for laboratory and for field test)

January 1993

National Biosafety Committee (NBC) established with BIOTEC as secretariat, followed by establishment of Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) at various research institutes.

1993

First application for importing transgenic plant for field test on seed production (Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato)

1994

A list of 40 prohibited transgenic plants added to the 1964 Plant Quarantine Act

1994

Flavr Savr tomato granted permission for field test

1995

Application of Monsanto's Bt cotton.

1995

Establishment of DNA Fingerprinting Unit, BIOTEC in NakhornPathom, Thailand

March 1996

Bt cotton field test experiment started in northeastern Thailand.

1997

Establishment of Plant Biosafety Subcommittee under NBC

1998

Establishment of Food Biosafety Subcommittee under NBC

Appendix 1.  (continue)

Date

Events

1998

Establishment of Microbial Biosafety Subcommittee under NBC

1999

Trade dispute between Thailand and some EU countries over detention of tuna in oil from Thailand. Other trade dispute cases follow suit.

1999

Subcommittee for Policy on Trade of Biotechnology Products set up under the Committee for International Economic Policy

1999

Amendment of the 1964 Plant Quarantine Act to strengthen regulation of transgenic plants

September 1999

A report "Status of GMOs in Thailand" published by BIOTEC

September 1999

First public hearing on GMOs organized by Department of Agriculture (DOA) held in Bangkok

October 1999

First survey in Bangkok by BIOTEC on public awareness and attitude towards GMOs

December 1999

Inauguration of Thailand Biodiversity Center (TBC) as the potential national focal point for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Thailand has not yet signed the protocol). NBC's secretariat (including subcommittees) moved to TBC.

2000

Establishment of DNA Technology Laboratory (former part of DNA Fingerprinting Unit), with a mandate to detect GMOs on service basis, among other tasks.

2000

Establishment of two separate GMOs detection laboratories in Department of Agriculture and Department of Medical Science

2000

Thailand Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioned a work group to consider labeling method for GM foods

March 2000

Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives' declaration on import prohibition  of 40 transgenic plants (revised) with exceptions for grains of GM corn and soy bean

April 2000

Trade dispute between Thailand and Kuwait / Saudi Arabia over tuna in oil (suspected to be made from GM soya bean)

October 2000

A National Subcommittee on Biosafety Policy proposed to the National Committee on Conservation and Utilization of Biodiversity (NCCUB), with TBC as secretariat office.

January 2001

Trade dispute between Thailand and Egypt over tuna in oil reached its peak. Both party agreed to sign MOU.

February 2001

A draft of GMOs policy approved by the Subcommittee for Policy on Trade of Biotechnology Products

March 2001

BIOTEC starts a series of consultation meeting with stakeholders on GMOs issue


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