Archive for October 6, 2011


October 6, 2011


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day from this humble people servant & development expert from Luzon!

Genetic engineering with its state of the art R&D has been developing in the Philippines since the 1960s yet. The birth of the International Rice Research Institute in 1964, which its international sponsors decided to base in Laguna, Philippines, provided a huge impetus to the birth and growth of the life sciences using genetic engineering methodologies.

The spread of biotechnology to fruits, vegetables, livestocks, aquatic and marine was gradual, proceeding silently though surely in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Then, there came the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization or WTO that suddenly raised issues related to GMOs, with detractors demonizing biotechnology with acerbity and hostility. I myself was surprised at the attacks, since I was aware that genetic engineering had already been in operation in the country for almost four (4) decades before PH’s signing of the GATT-Uruguay Rounds in 1994!

Fortunately, the social media have shown a welcoming attitude towards genetic modification, with only a few journalists and tv reporters manifesting antipathy that is, to my mind, based on ignorance and superstition. The increase in the numbers of science journalists, some of whom are faculty members of top universities while others (e.g. medical doctors) are veteran medical practitioners, surely helped to catalyze public acceptance of genetic modification as a promising methodology to improve life and contribute to economic development.

Below is the gladdening news about the Philippines’ biotech boosted by social media as reported in the

[Philippines, 05 October 2011]
Media coverage boosts biotech in the Philippines
Nora O. Gamolo
16 September 2011
[MANILA] Favourable media coverage may have influenced public acceptance of biotechnology in the Philippines, according to researchers.
A ten-year study published in the latest issue of The Journal of Science Communication of the coverage of agricultural biotechnology in the Philippines’ three leading newspapers showed that they published an average of 136 articles a year.
In comparison, a similar study from 1990 to 2001 showed that The Times in London and The Washington Post published a maximum of 80 articles per year.
So far, the Philippines is the only Asian country to have approved the commercial planting of Bt corn, a genetically modified crop. Despite being a relatively small player in the biotech field, the Philippines is ranked eleventh worldwide in terms of area planted to biotech crops.
The researchers points out that although the news on agricultural biotechnology was generally positive, the issue was not high on the media agenda, usually appearing on the inside pages of newspapers.
All three local dailies have dedicated science or agriculture sections, and the researchers found that 85% of the biotech articles were in news form, usually in these sections. They noted that in contrast, in the United States, only 4 per cent of the articles appeared in science sections.
“News coverage was also timed with important events, with reports peaking during 2002 to 2005, largely because of developments concerning Bt corn,” said lead author Mariechel Navarro of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications in Manila.
Biotechnology had to compete with other reports on political and economic controversies that besieged the Philippines, the researchers noted. Many articles concentrated on biosafety issues.
Daniel Ocampo, campaigns coordinator for Greenpeace, said that reporters often missed out on other dimensions of biotechnology in the Philippines.
“What was being covered were only genetically modified crops, but these were not the whole of biotechnology,” said Ocampo. Efforts by scientists and civil society groups to develop saline-tolerant and water-tolerant crops, for example, were not written up, he said, “because these were not scandalous”.
Others point out that journalists writing about biotechnology need support to sharpen their skills. “Writers need training, orientation and exposure, even including laboratory exposure, to write about biotechnology and make it real to themselves,” said science writer Melody Aguiba.
Joel Paredes, a biotechnology advocate and journalist, believes that scientists do not do enough to help. “Writers find it hard to write about and simplify biotechnology,” he complained, adding that the Bt corn controversy in the Philippines arose from scientists’ refusal to share information.
He was recently put off by one scientist involved in developing genetically modified ‘golden rice’ because the scientist needed clearance before he could release information about his agency’s involvement with the crop.


October 6, 2011


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

One may wonder whether countryside dengue patterns would differ much from urban dengue in the ‘emerging markets’. As studies in Vietnam have shown, dengue incidences in both rural and urban areas hardly differ in the country.

A factor analysis could show the differences, if ever. In the case of Vietnam, the lack of potable tap water seems to buttress dengue occurrences in the rural areas. The study though doesn’t show the side of mosquito breeding which I think should be addressed squarely across regions.

In my country the Philippines, the recurrence of dengue year in and year out has made me exasperated with public health and life science experts. I am particularly disappointed at the continuous usage of chemical-based solution at a time when genetic engineering has already attained maturity in the life sciences here, genetics that is sufficient to produce genetically modified mosquitoes that can severely cut down both dengue- and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue is rising as a global pandemic, yet public experts refuse to perceive it that way. Dengue is still perceived as a localized epidemic, which to me is rather Jurassic a mind frame that deserves my guffaws. There has to be a quick retooling of epidemiology, which ought to be tied up to genetics research & development.

Below is a discussion report from the about the subject.

[Philippines, 05 October 2011]
Study highlights rural risk of dengue in Vietnam
Mike Ives
16 September 2011
[HANOI] In a challenge to conventional scientific wisdom, a study in Vietnam has claimed that people in rural areas — not cities, as widely believed — face the highest risk of contracting dengue fever.
Tests on about 3,000 hospital patients conducted in south-central Vietnam between 2005 and 2008 found that rural areas “may contribute at least as much” to dengue epidemics as cities do.
This is despite the fact that cities “contribute substantially” because they are more populated, according to a team of researchers led by Wolf-Peter Schmidt of Nagasaki University’s Institute of Tropical Medicine.
The study, whose results are published in the August issue of PLoS Medicine, draws attention to the link between high dengue infection rates and a lack of tap water in rural areas.
In villages with minimal tap water supplies, water storage vessels are breeding sites for dengue-infected mosquitoes, says the study.
“There is probably a location-specific element to their findings, so if you replicated [the study] in northern Vietnam, you might have a different set of findings,” said Cameron Simmons, an immunologist at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam’s southern hub, Ho Chi Minh City.
“Nonetheless, it’s important for people to understand that dengue transmission is not just restricted to big, crowded areas,” Cameron told SciDev.Net.
Dengue fever infects 50 million people living in tropical and subtropical regions each year. There is no vaccine available, but the French company Sanofi plans to release one in 2014.
The disease occurs throughout Vietnam, particularly in the southern provinces in summer, and is typically accompanied by headaches and other symptoms.
Vietnam should provide steady supplies of tap water to rural villages, said Vu Dinh Thiem, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Hanoi and co-author of the study.
In a typical case, Thiem told SciDev.Net, “a village will have water for two days, but the next day they won’t. The people have to use a container to store the water, which increases the risk of dengue.”
The study is being submitted to Vietnam’s Ministry of Health.
Link to full paper in PLOS Medicine
PLoS Medicine doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001082 (2011)