The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), via the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and other partners, taps the potentials of genomics to come up with better sugarcane varieties through a research that would help boost the sugar industy and improve the livelihood of 62,000 sugarcane farmers all over the country.

Faster, more effective selection via genomics
Through genomics, scientists in the country aim to produce sugarcane varieties with high sucrose or sugar content, fungal resistance, high tillering and ratooning capabilities. Ratooning is a method of harvesting in which the roots and the lower parts of the plant are left uncut. Out of this stubble, a new crop is grown which matures earlier and gives the same yield.

Scientists also aim to bring down the breeding cycle of sugarcane from seven years, using traditional breeding techniques, to just two years. This is made possible via a method called marker-assisted selection which involves the identification of desirable traits in plants at the early stage of the breeding cycle.

Traditionally, plant breeders select plants based on their visible characteristics. They have to wait for the seedlings to mature to know if these carry the desired characteristics from the parent plants. With marker assisted selection, doing tissue analysis of the seedlings will show whether they contain the desired genes. If not, the breeder can move on to producing other seedlings, thus reducing time and costs in producing a new variety of sugarcane and other plants.

Marker assisted breeding is one application of genomics, or the study of all the genes in an organism and how these genes interact among themselves and the environment. Genomics is one of various emerging technologies promising enormous rewards for different industries, farmers and other workers, and investors. As one of DOST’s main priority initiatives, genomics and its applications in agriculture, health, energy, biodiversity and forensics will be showcased during the National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) on July 23-27 at the SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia.

Aside from sugarcane, PGC also aims to identify markers for bunchy top virus-resistant abaca, drought-resistant eggplant, bananas and others important crops in the country.

Set up in 2009 at theUniversity of the Philippines with initial funding from DOST, PGC is stepping up efforts to increase the country’s capability in genomic research with its new facilities for researchers: the DNA Sequencing Core Facility and the Bioinformatics Core Facility, a dedicated computing facility for analyzing large data from the DNA sequencing facility.

PGC and its technologies will also be featured at NSTW in July. Organized by DOST, the annual event highlights the significant contributions of science and technology (S&T) to national development and serves as a platform for heralding S&T advocacy in the country.

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