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Mardi helps boost farm productivity

23rd November 2011 –

Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) is playing a key role in increasing the productivity of agriculture by ensuring crops and livestock have disease resistant traits and high fertility.

To that effect, Mardi is putting a lot of focus in breeding activities to ensure that produce has traits that are desirable to the consumers, such as rice that is fragrant.

The research institute has set up the Centre for Marker Discovery and Validation (CMDV) to lead seed and brood-stock research, initially in Malaysia before expanding to the region.

Through collaboration with a leading Canadian research centre, DNA LandMarks, the CMDV is designed and built to support high throughput screening of genetic materials to discover molecular markers for desired traits.

“This will enable the production of planting materials or brood-stock that are certified to contain desired attributes, thus enabling Malaysia’s sales of these products to increase and capture significantly higher value,” Mardi director general Datuk Dr Abd Shukor Abd Rahman said in an interview.

For example, normal seeds for some crops can cost RM2.50 a kilogram but plantlets with confirmed attributes of high fertility and disease resistance can fetch RM25 each.

With no established seed or livestock research centre for tropical crops and livestock in the region, BiotechCorp acquired the CMDV technology under a technical services agreement signed in June 2009.

Mardi was selected as the custodian of the technology due to its extensive experience in the field of molecular agricultural genomics.

Malaysia is the first to establish a regional breeding centre, capitalising on the expected growth of the agriculture sector in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak officially launched the CMDV at the recent BioMalaysia 2011 Conference and Exhibition held in Kuala Lumpur early this week.

Additionally, the CMDV can serve the regional market, positioning Malaysia to capture the high value add segment of the regional agriculture sector.

The CMDV is a component of the the Agriculture National Key Economic Area (NKEA) with a targeted gross national income contribution from this Entry Point Project at RM467 million and job creation for 5,400 people.

In conjunction with the launch, strategic collaborations involving BiotechCorp, Mardi and three other parties were inked to utilise one of the platform technologies acquired namely the Marker Assisted Selection (MAS).

According to Abd Shukor, MAS uses markers in the process of selecting desired plant varieties to speed up the plant and animal breeding process by enabling variety development through selection of desired genotypes during the early stage of the breeding programme.

Mardi will use the MAS platform technology for genotyping the palm oil crop with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, breeding of shrimps and other aquaculture products with Jefi Aquatech Resources Sdn Bhd and to develop hybrid vegetable seeds of various crops for Green World Genetics Sdn Bhd.

Mardi’s Biotechnology Research Centre director Umi Kalsom Abu Bakar said MAS offers several advantages over other breeding methods that are currently available. This includes saving valuable time by reducing the number of breeding steps needed to produce a crop variety.

“The technology will enable us to systematically organise a plant breeding programme to select the desired traits and expedite the process shortening the time to achieve the desired results from five to six years to 2 year,” she said.

The CMDV will benefit the domestic agriculture sector by concentrating research and development resources and enabling better selection of planting materials before they are planted in the field, thereby increasing yield.

Originally published in The Business Times

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