Skudai, JB. Sept 18th. In line with the university’s initiative in encouraging greater knowledge culture in UTM and to intensify international research networking, Professor Roger Beachy, a Professor of Biology in Plant Science from Washington University, USA, was invited to deliver a lecture in UTM’s Premier Lecture Series entitled: “Role for Science and Technology in Creating a Sustainable Agro-Economy” on the 18th of September 2012 in UTM Johor Bahru Campus.
Prof Beachy also delivered a similar topic in UTM’s International Campus in Kuala Lumpur on the 14th of September entitled “Role of Science and Technology in Agriculture to Ensure Sufficiency and Sustainability”.
The session was chaired by the Vice Chancellor of UTM, Datuk Prof. Ir. Dr. Zaini Ujang in Johor, and UTM’s Pro-Chancellor, Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor in Kuala Lumpur, respectively.
As the founding president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Prof Beachy was appointed by President Obama to be the first director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) at the USDA within 2009 to 2011.
He has won the Laureate of the Wolf Prize and currently a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science.
In his lectures, Prof. Beachy stressed the importance of empowering scientist and engineers to continuously making significant contribution to fulfil world food demand through advanced technologies, notably the GM (genetically-modified) food technology which still faces resistance for social acceptance at large.
Despite many scientific evidence showing insignificant impact or differences of GM food in terms of food and environmental safety compared to the cross-bred crops by nature, the fear factors on GM still prevails mainly due to dissemination of information through the media mainly by the Greenpeace groups, he said.
He emphasized that scientists should proactively validate the great potential of GM food in tackling world food demand through good scientific approaches and evidences.
He adviced that scientist should be empowered to outreach their research outcome in this field and interface the outputs with policy-makers and farmers so that the techonology can benefit the society in long run to improve the quality of human life through better plants.
He warned on the cost human being has to pay in denying the great potential of GM food, especially in fulfilling the needs of the very poor people for affordable and nutritious food in time to come. This is because the advancement of hi-tech requires huge commitment and long term plan to realize.
Prof. Beachy was also concern on Malaysia’s direction in tackling increased cost of food and its policy on sustainable agriculture in Malaysia.
Both sessions received stimulating questions from the audience on a range of negative claims on GM food where Prof Roger responded most of them as hoax and lack of scientific evidences. He recommended the audience for the release of a publication entitled “The postmodern assault on science”, in EMBO Reports written by Dr. Marcel Kuntz (CNRS, Grenoble, France) which references unwarranted attacks on the safety of GM foods.
Prof. Beachy was one of the world pioneer researching on GM crop, during his early career at Washington University, in collaboration with Monsanto Company which has led to the development of the world’s first modified food crop, a variety of tomato that was modified for resistance to virus disease.
His technique to produce virus resistance in tomatoes has been replicated by researchers around the world and his groundbreaking work has led to the production of many types of virus-resistant plants which improve the quality of fruits and vegetables and has the potential to reduced significantly the use of insecticides which are used to control insect vectors of viruses.
Prof. Beachy has served on numerous boards and committees of public sector institutions as well as companies that operate in the private sector including as consultant in plant biotechnology. He frequently lectures on the applications of biotechnology in agriculture, nutrition, and human health. He currently serves on board of directors of several for-profit and non-profit entities that deal with plant science and biotechnology.
Prof Beachy’s visit to UTM signified the initiation of future collaboration efforts between UTM and the key research centres in the US pertinent to empowering scientist to spearheading frontier research in agriculture to ensure sufficiency and sustainability for world food production. He also visited and had discussion at Institute of Bio-product Development and the Faculty of Bioscience and Bioengineering in UTM.
Prof Beachy also visited MARDI in Serdang and The Performance Management & Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) in Putrajaya on the 19th September 2012 on discussions relevant to Malaysian government’s future direction to support sustainable food sufficiency.