Nobel laureate urges PH to form biobank

A Nobel laureate recently suggested that the Philippines form a biobank and urged governments to invest more in basic research.

In a press conference in Manila, 1993 Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts noted that collecting biological resources is inexpensive, while the price of DNA sequencing goes upward.

“The Philippines have the resources — vegetation, animals, bacteria, biodiversity; things that are not available everywhere in the world,” he said.

Roberts said the country should start collecting these now, since collecting materials does not need much money.

“The idea is that in the next five to 10 years, you can sequence everything living on this planet,” he said, adding it would be easier for the Philippines to sequence its own materials.

“If you would want to sequence a blue whale, for instance, how much would it cost to find a blue whale? By building a biobank for biological resources now, you can do something relatively inexpensive. You can even get school kids involved. Get them interested in science,” he added.

The scientist said the country may get local citizens involved in forming a biobank.

“I encourage all countries who have biological resources to collect species. Because the cost of collecting goes up and up. But over time, the cost of sequencing would go down,” he reiterated.

Roberts is known for his co-discovery of split genes and mRNA splicing.

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato dela Pena asked Roberts his advice for a country like the Philippines, which has a very limited research fund.

Dela Pena said the challenge, usually, is that the Congress would ask the DOST to generate something out of a given fund. This expectation from the Congress, he said, is the reason the DOST seems to be investing more in applied science.

“But we don’t forget that we also need to invest in basic research,” dela Pena clarified.

The Science chief said among the DOST’s basic research investments are in biology, biotechnology, genomics, and the like. “It’s expensive to put up facilities for these,” dela Pena said,

Richards answered that very often governments don’t want to invest in basic science.

“When you do applied science, you are using other people’s intellectual property, so you are paying them for these,” Roberts explained, adding that the country should do basic research, so that eventually, other people would pay for the intellectual property.

“This is something that governments should really think about. Invest in basic research, so you could have discoveries that everybody would want to use,” he said. (PNA)

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